E3 06: Rogue Galaxy Preshow Impressions

We get a look at Sony's upcoming PlayStation 2 role-playing game.

At Sony's recent pre-E3 event, we had the chance to speak to Sony reps about the upcoming US release of Rogue Galaxy. The role-playing game is being developed by Japanese developer Level 5, whose star has risen exponentially since its first PlayStation 2 game, Dark Cloud, hit the PS2 in 2001, with games such as Dark Cloud 2 and Dragon Quest VIII. Rogue Galaxy is an original action RPG set throughout a vast galaxy. You take on the role of Jaster Rogue, a young adventurer living on the outskirts of the universe in the galactic equivalent of a hick town. But, much like one Luke Skywalker, Jaster gets sucked into an epic adventure when he's befriended by a space pirate and whisked away into space. Though the playable demo of the game that will be shown at the Electronic Entertainment Expo will be localized into English, the version on display at Sony's event was the final Japanese version that was released late last year. Despite the language barrier, Sony reps were on hand to show off the demo areas and tell us about the enhancements the game is set to receive for its stateside release.

Our demo of the game consisted of the two areas that will be showcased in the localized version at E3: an area from the jungle planet Juraiko and another from the mining planet of Vedan. The areas showed off a mix of indoor and outdoor adventuring and had Jaster and his posse running around and doing their thing. Besides offering a sampling of the way you'll navigate through the lush game, the demo showed off the real-time combat system. Rather than sticking with the standard screen-dissolve convention of most RPGs, Rogue galaxy's battles happen quickly. You'll be tipped off by a warning message that pops up. Shortly thereafter, enemies will spawn around you. When combat begins, you'll be able to control Jester directly, while your party members will react according to the party artificial intelligence you have set. As Jaster, you'll be able to move and jump freely through the battlefield and attack with either a close-range weapon (by pressing the circle button) or a long-range gun of some kind (by pressing square). You can perform single attacks, or you can string attacks together in a combo to pummel your enemies repeatedly. Your attacks will be governed by a meter that is depleted as you attack; when it gets low enough, an exclamation point appears over Jaster's head, and you won't be able to attack for a bit until it refills. You can wait for it to refill over time, or you can speed things up by successfully guarding against your enemies' assault (by pressing the R1 button), which, if done correctly, will charge your meter to full. In addition to these basic combat moves, Jaster will have special skills that he'll be able to use in battle--and you'll also be able to tap into the special abilities of your party members during combat when you really need a hand.

This solid gameplay base is set to be expanded for the US version of the game, which will feature a number of refinements and all-new content. In the refinement department, Level 5 is tweaking the AI in the game and expanding the combat system. You'll find that the oh-so-useful chain attacks that occurred randomly in the game can be manually triggered, thanks to items dropped by your foes. Weapons will also offer unique motion during battle. In terms of content, you'll find an all-new chapter tucked in about halfway through the story that will introduce you to a planet that wasn't included in the Japanese version of the game. Finally, Level 5, never a stranger to stocking its games with items to collect, is packing the US version of Rogue Galaxy with a host of new items for you to discover.

Rogue Galaxy's presentation is looking and sounding as good as ever and is helping to raise the bar for Level 5's work on the PlayStation 2. The clean visuals show off a cel-shaded art style that's well done and, while reminiscent of Dark Cloud 2, stands on its own as unique. Animation for just about everything you'll see in the game benefits from the seasoned developer's sharp attention to detail. The art style is kept consistent throughout, thanks to in-game cinematics that stick to the cel-shaded look and eschew the somewhat-plastic CG look of many RPG cinematics. Best of all, the game runs like butter, with only minor frame-rate issues here and there, and rarely interrupts the gameplay with significant loading screens, which is a great boon. As far as the game's music goes, Rogue Galaxy's soundtrack is a robust and varied assortment of tunes that fit its epic scale. While some may lean a bit toward what's been done before in these games, there really are only so many ways you can score a galaxy-spanning RPG with talking cats.

The visual style of the game is strongly inspired by cel-shading techniques, but the characters here aren’t the flat and cartoony sort that you might associate with the cel-shaded style. They exist and move in full 3D, with lots of attention to detail in their attire and their movement, and they look great. The game's cutscenes use a slightly more refined version of the same art and are dominated by clean lines and lots of depth. The game's music fits the action well, and the characters are almost fully voiced in Japanese, with some text-based conversations with the townsfolk and pirate crew trading off with lots of story sequences full of speech.

After playing the import last December, we were pleased to hear that Rogue Galaxy would be making its way to the States. The Japanese game offered a rich, fun adventure that's always welcome on the PS2. The fact that the US game will have refined gameplay and new content is a cool bonus. Rogue Galaxy is slated to ship this October for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game from E3 and in the months leading up to its release.

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