Rogue Galaxy Import Hands-On

We live the life of a space pirate in this new RPG from Dark Cloud developer Level 5.

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Rogue Galaxy definitely sparked our interest at the Tokyo Game Show this year, and we've finally got the finished game in our hot little importing hands. The newest invention of Dark Cloud series developer Level 5, this role-playing game wraps up a neat real-time battle system in a world of unique and great-looking characters and environments. We were only too happy to check out the opening sequences of this game, and so far Rogue Galaxy issues forth a lot of the same good vibes that Dark Cloud 2 did way back in 2003.

It's not Dark Cloud 3, but Rogue Galaxy feels much like a spiritual successor to Dark Cloud 2.
It's not Dark Cloud 3, but Rogue Galaxy feels much like a spiritual successor to Dark Cloud 2.

The game follows the adventures of one Jester Rogue, a fair-haired young man who's got a good amount of prowess with a sword and aspirations to one day leave the dusty earth behind and roam the reaches of space. As things kick off, though, Jester's stuck in a backwater desert town, running some work for the local authorities, and he's not very happy about it. Things get turned upside down when a giant beast appears outside the gates of the settlement, and the streets fill with all kinds of nasty creatures. Just when it looks like our hero's going to have his first blond moment and get wiped out by a horde of beasts, a mysterious masked man sweeps down from the rooftops and annihilates the encroaching enemies. Clearing out the town brings Jester into the company of a short man and his robot assistant, Steve, who turn out to be space pirates. Mr. Mysterious takes his leave, and Jester gets rolled up into the jolly life of a pirate, surfing the expanses of space in an airship.

But things aren't quiet in the vacuum of space (despite what they may have taught you in physics class), and soon monsters attack the ship and its crew. Our brief stay on the ship introduced us to a variety of characters, including a true buccaneer sporting an eye patch and a rather boisterous cat. It's worth mentioning that not only was the cat white and fluffy, but it could speak, and it set about wildly gesticulating with his little paws, giving us orders. While we've only scratched the surface of the game, there's already plenty of evidence that the cast is going to be filled with eclectic and fascinating personages.

As you settle into pirate life, ease up on the grog, lest you start seeing things like talking cats giving you orders.
As you settle into pirate life, ease up on the grog, lest you start seeing things like talking cats giving you orders.

The battle system is real time, and fights also load in real time, with no shattering screen or other such conventions. As you move through zones, a warning message will flash, and enemies will spawn around you in a localized area. You'll be able to control Jester directly during battles, and any friends you have traveling with you will act according to the party AI you have set. You'll be able to move and jump freely through the battlefield, and you'll 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 press a button once for a single attack, or you can string attacks together in a combo to pummel your enemies repeatedly. Jester has a meter above his head that runs low as you attack, and when it gets low enough, an exclamation point appears over his head, and he can no longer attack. At that point, you'll have to wait a bit until the action meter refills so you can launch your offensive again--unless you happen to successfully guard against your enemies' assault (by pressing the R1 button), in which case your meter will quickly pop back to full. Battles have a nice flow to them, and the action meter doesn't seem to get too much in the way of the fun as you hack and shoot things to pieces.

In addition to those basic attacks, you can leap to attack enemies floating around in midair and lock onto your targets using the directional pad on the controller. Pressing down will lock you onto the closest enemy, and once you establish a lock, it will automatically switch to the next-closest foe when the original target is dead, so you won't have to fumble around for a new monster to smash. If you'd rather not target the closest enemy, you can also hit the left and right directionals on the D pad to change targets manually. As you fight and roam about, you'll discover a variety of helpful items that do more than just mundane things like heal your hit points. Once you've attained certain items, you can use them to discover new special attacks for your characters by placing them in a gridlike system accessed through your main menu. Each slot can be filled only by a very specific item, so it's likely you'll be spending a lot of time seeking these items out to continue to build your characters' abilities.

You'll be able to learn a variety of skills to help make the pirating business go a bit more smoothly.
You'll be able to learn a variety of skills to help make the pirating business go a bit more smoothly.

As well as Jester's own special skills (which you can select to use manually during battle), your party members will have their own abilities that you can trigger at certain points during a fight. A message will appear toward the bottom of the screen showing the skills they can use and which shoulder button you should press for each. You can choose to let the five-second timer run out and not trigger the abilities at all, or you can quickly tap the required button for the skill. One of our newfound friends came equipped with a healing skill and was generous in offering to use it as we were wounded in battle. The system looks like a nice way to take advantage of other characters' abilities while still leaving the focus on your main character.

Once we exited town and came face-to-face with the giant lizard-beast, at first he rebuffed all our best slashes to his ugly mug. As it turned out, he had shackles on each of his four clawed feet that we could hack off, and we quickly did so. As the last binding came off, a compartment on the lizard's back opened, showing off a vulnerable-looking spot. The only question was how to get there, seeing as the giant lizard loomed well higher than we could simply leap. This is where one of our party members came in handy, lending us a ranged weapon that was a gun that could set energy fields on the beast's head and spine for us to use as platforms to jump on. After a few times whacking away at the monster's vulnerable bits, he finally gaped open his impressive maw and started spewing fire at us (how rude!). Now we could attack him up front and directly in the face, and after we did this, he finally went down. If all boss fights are like this one, they'll be full of large and imposing foes you'll have to use your noggin to defeat.

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 ordinarily 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 were 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.

Adventure ahoy!
Adventure ahoy!

So far, Rogue Galaxy looks to be shaping up as a fun, action-oriented RPG with lots to offer. The manual even offered inklings of an invention system for creating our own items, which we can't wait to check out. While there's no news on a domestic release date for Rogue Galaxy, we'll be sure to update you on all the latest murmurings. Until then, keep watching our coverage and new media of the game, and be sure to set your spyglasses to this gamespace for the latest space pirate developments.

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