Ever since I played Final Fantasy Tactics, I’ve loved tactical RPGs. Sadly, the decent ones are few and far between, so I was really excited to get my hands on Rainbow Moon, a new tactical RPG from SideQuest Studios. I hacked, slashed, and…err…tacticked my way through the game to bring you this review.

Tactical RPGs have a long, rich history, and includes such game series as Ogre Battle, UFO: Enemy Unknown, Disgaea, and of course, Final Fantasy Tactics. If you’ve not really played any of these games, you’ve missed out on some amazing gaming in the past. In fact, Final Fantasy Tactics A2 on the Nintendo DS is still one of the most entertaining tactical RPGs that I have ever played. All of these games are the basis on which Rainbow Moon stands.

Rainbow Moon follows the tale of Baldren, a delightful chap who, while enjoying a duel with someone called Namoris, gets sucked through a portal and into the alternate world, where he has to make his way back to his own home world. During the course of the game, you meet up with the many NPCs who grace the towns and villages and who, of course, send you on your various quests throughout the world of Rainbow Moon, and in some cases, join you on your quest.

It must be said that the world of Rainbow Moon is true to its name: the graphics are simply stunning to behold, and the world is realized in a beautiful array of colors. It’s more than just enjoyable to play a game that doesn’t consist of a palette of 50 shades of…brown. The entire presentation of the game exudes a certain kind of charm that I last saw when I played Bastion. Don’t be fooled by the charming exterior of the game, though—there’s a fairly challenging, brainy, and lengthy game underneath it all.

Rainbow Moon takes a unique approach to enemy encounters. Baldren and his allies are able to freely walk around the world and explore the land. Some encounters can be seen from the overworld, and are represented by an enemy wandering around. Other encounters are random, and all that you get is a prompt to say that a random encounter can be triggered. That is to say, you don’t HAVE to trigger the random encounter, but running into an enemy on the world WILL cause a battle to occur.

Battles themselves are nothing different if you’ve played a tactical RPG before. The battlefield is represented by an isometric grid, and battles are turn-based. A display at the top of the screen indicates the lineup of the next six turns, enabling you to plan your moves and battle strategy accordingly. It’s not as strategically heavy as, say, Disgaea or Tactics, but some element of planning still comes into play while you’re in battle. For example, if you decide to move your character around the battlefield, you can position yourself in such a way that enemies come into range of your weapons, instead of you going into range of theirs. It comes to you as you play. Thankfully, if all the party members are killed, it won’t cause a game over; instead, you’re dumped back onto the overland area with a single hit point to the character in the leader’s position. On the other hand, other party members remain in KO status until revived by a healer (and revival costs money, natch).

By and large, Rainbow Moon follows most of the RPG gameplay tropes to a fault, including the standard experience points to level up and gain hit points and mana points. One very interestingly different aspect of the game, however, is the way the game makes you level up abilities such as luck, defence, etc. Each battle nets your characters “rainbow pearls”, and you trade these pearls to savant NPCs for increases in skills. What makes this entire mechanic interesting, however, is that only the characters that land kills on the battlefield obtain the pearls, so battles become a strategic balancing act, with some characters softening up monsters or acting as passive tanks while characters who need the pearls whittle away at the foes. Some people hate that level of cranial activity in battle; I love it.

One of my biggest gripes with the game is the control method during battle: moving around is completely wonky and counter-intuitive if you try using the D-pad, despite there being an on-screen display of which button will send you in which direction. To be honest, the fact that the developers had to insert a visual reminder of which button does what is an indication of how broken the movement is. On the other hand, it’s far less a problem when you’re using the analog stick, but even that is not as precise as a D-pad for movement. My other criticism of the game is just how much grinding is necessary to get anywhere, especially as your party grows in size and rainbow pearls have to be shared amongst the group. Of course, you could do what the developers want you to do, and spend money in the PSN Store to buy pearls and coins, which does help get rid of having to strategically decide who gets to kill which monster. But it DOES increase the cost of playing, so you need to decide just how much grinding you want to do versus how much real money you want to spend. (To be fair, the packs of pearls and coins aren’t exorbitantly priced, so if you have, say a spare R5 in your PSN wallet, you can give one character an extra 500 pearls, enough to see you through several levels worth of ability increases).

Another criticism of the game is that the story and characters are quite shallow. Don’t expect the same level of intricately detailed story as Final Fantasy Tactics. You’ll certainly get through the game quite nicely without, but if you’re used to something more cerebral in your stories and character development, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

On the other hand, the game is a brilliant amount of fun, and you’re getting a massive amount of value for money, considering that the game can easily last you well over 100 hours (the top-ranked player on the leaderboards has racked up over 250 hours of playtime!) You can certainly spend a lot of time playing Rainbow Moon, especially when you start gaining more party members and need to keep the numbers of pearls fluid throughout the party.

Personally, I’d heartily recommend it, especially if you enjoy tactical turn-based RPGs, and enjoy games that span tens to hundreds of hours. If you’re not into grinding through a game, you’re probably either not going to enjoy it, or will be better off buying packs of pearls and coins from the store. (It’s a way of getting around the issue, really!) RPG fans should definitely give this game a go, considering the stunning look of the game, the strategy gameplay, and the sheer length of the game.

Final Score: 8 rainbow prawns out of 10

Detailed information:
Developer: SideQuest Studios
Publisher: EastAsiaSoft
Platform: PS3 via PSN
RRP: R125
Website: http://www.rainbowmoongame.com