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SummaryRogue Galaxy is a great last hurrah for the PS2 and a superb contribution to the RPG genre.
The GoodI have to admire any game development studio who, upon release of a product, feels so strongly about perfecting it that they spend an additional two years perfecting it and release it again as a Director's Cut. Such is exactly the case with Level-5's Rogue Galaxy. Both versions of the game were released in Japan, but (thankfully) only the improved version was translated and shipped to North America.
I'm a firm believer in the philosophy that graphics don't make the game, but they certainly can make the game better, and Rogue Galaxy's graphics are top-notch. Level-5 employed the same style of cel-shaded sprites that they used on previous efforts, such as the Dark Cloud series. What really thrills me about the graphical style used here is how well the 2D cel-shaded sprites blend with the 3D backgrounds. There were times when I completely forgot that I was looking at cel-shades at all. All the characters and creatures are well designed and possess an impressive level of detail, and the environments (which will take you through dark jungles, bustling cities, and one disturbingly active volcano) are vibrant and alive, never giving off the impression that you're just going through a bunch of pre-rendered set pieces.
The game's battles are fought in real time, which is refreshing break from the endless turn-based "you-hit-me, I-hit-you" combat models found in more conventional RPGs. It's also a pretty simple set up: each character has a primary weapon and a secondary weapon, as well as an easily accessible menu for casting spells or distributing items. You can freely switch between your teammates during skirmishes, and the computer does a fair job of handling the combatants that you don't control -- in fact, CPU teammates will oftentimes make suggestions to you, offering to use a healing potion when someone's health dips to dangerous levels, or to cast a big spell when things get hairy. What's unique about this feature is that the player has the final say on whether or not the CPU takes these actions that will eat up SP or items -- hitting a trigger button will engage the the suggested action (there's usually two to choose from), while hitting a face button will order your teammate to hold off. This gives the player a level of control over the action without stopping to fumble around in a bunch of menus to find the command you're looking for.
The main story quest is a well-written romp through space, but Rogue Galaxy totes an unbelievable amount of activities that have nothing to do with the main game at all. You can hunt down specific unique creatures, engage in a factory-based puzzle game, or capture little bug-like creatures called insectrons and square off against other trainers in a galaxy-wide tournament. Apart from those activities, there's also a plethora of items to hunt for that will bestow new special abilities to your characters or be used in recipes to create new weapons or items. There's even a system for combining your old, outdated weapons to make new ones. If you're the kind of player who likes to complete everything a game throws at you, then Rogue Galaxy will keep you busy for a very long time.
The BadMy worst gripe about the game is how it handles character advancement. After playing for a while, you'll realize that all the characters in Rogue Galaxy develop in the same way. Everyone gets some screen-clearing attack spells, a few buffs for both them individually and for the party, and a few combination attacks that require certain characters to be in the active party. While this serves to simplify the game a bit, it means that no one has a clearly defined role in the group. Everyone is equally good at healing others, casting destructive magic, and (more or less) fighting in melee. As such, the process of selecting team members to take out into the field becomes a seemingly arbitrary choice, as any one of them is as capable as anyone else.
A few of the English voice actors are a little off in their performances, but it's not enough to detract from the game. There's also a character in your party that's bound to give you Jar Jar Binx flashbacks -- you've been warned.
The Bottom LineRogue Galaxy succeeds in breathing some temporary life into the PS2 in its waning years. Superb graphics, a decent storyline, and addictive gameplay coupled with a generous selection of side-quests ensure that RPG-lovers and gamers in general will be busy for a long, long time.
If you pick up one more PS2 title before you retire your console for good, you owe it to yourself to make that title Rogue Galaxy.