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Although you'd be forgiven for thinking that PSN exclusive Rainbow Moon sounds like some Sailor Moon spin-off, it’s a tactical role-playing game. Rainbow Moon is a fairly typical take on the genre: You’ll be spending a lot of time moving your chess pieces around a grid, taking turns, trading MP for spells and thwacking bees --a lot of them-- with swords.
In the game, you step into the boots of hero Baldren. On his way to an annual duel with his arch-rival, Baldren is suddenly flung into a portal and transported to Rainbow Moon, a colorful celestial body. A horde of monsters has also gate-crashed his dimensional hopping, making his quest to return home all the more difficult. If you don’t like the sound of the story, don’t fret, because it doesn’t play a big role in driving the game forward.
One of the high points of Rainbow Moon is how the game handles enemy encounters. In the game world, you’ll see enemy avatars that spawn battles when you run into them. But there are also random encounters that may pop up. All you need to do is press X and start slaughtering some bees, imps and maybe a golem. But mostly, it feels like it's bees. It’s a great way to let players battle as much as they want without forcing combat too excessively.
In Rainbow Moon, each character/bee takes an individual turn, rather than on a per-party basis. Each character’s turn is also split up into sub-turns, which characters are free to do whatever they want with. They can move one square per sub-turn, attack, cast a spell or chug a potion.
It’s nice to be able to attack multiple times per turn, but the restriction of moving one square per sub-turn feels extremely inefficient and bogs down the action. All too often, you'll spend a turn lining up a spell, only to have the target bee move out of range on their move. When you do get into position you find yourself just casting the same move until you run out of sub-turns. It can get a bit repetitive to move one square and then cast the same spell three more times each turn.
Once you get into the rhythm of the game, enemy encounters can fly by much faster than other strategy RPGs. Making decisions doesn’t take a lot of button strokes to execute and there aren't many menus to navigate mid-battle. But with this speed comes a price and there is no way to take back decisions once you make them. It's extremely frustrating when you accidently press the wrong direction while moving or enter the “defend” command when you didn’t mean to.
Though many bemoan the SRPG as a genre for being too slow, the cost is too high to bear when trading precision for speed. When carefully laid strategies mean everything, it's a nasty compromise.
Unfortunately, the game is too fast in regard to combat and too slow in actual progression through the game. At times, it feels like trying to run through honey. It takes about 2 hours to get the first party companion, and it takes a few more hours after that to get out of the game’s first zone. And by then, you’ve killed more bees than colony collapse disorder. You swap out your character’s equipment every few hours, and new spells trickle in like glacial melt. And more than 20 hours into the game, you’ve just recruited your first magic-casting character and it’s still explaining important concepts.
Although Rainbow Moon promises six main characters,the game limits your active party to three at a time. Once you fill out your team for the first time, it's unlikely you'll throw additional characters into the mix. Additional team members are under-leveled when they join, and character progression is so slow and clunky that you probably won’t want to bother getting them up to speed.
The main road to character progression is by spending Pearls to advance character stats such as speed, defense and attack. Characters earn this currency by killing enemies, but they don’t share the credit for kills, thus each character hoards their own Pearls.
This system slows the game down even more and imbalances it so a strong character can hog all the Pearls. That means if you want your weaker characters to progress, you’ll have to idle your stronger characters during battle, leaving them with nothing to do but defend themselves. But for most battles there is a good mix of strong and weak enemies. So if you engage the opposing force well enough, each one will have a challenging and rewarding fight. But more often than not, there isn’t enough slaughter to go around.
The group does gain regular group experience that levels up surviving party members. But, as established regarding the game's slow execution, level progression won’t be breaking any speed records.
Rainbow Moon also has a habit of throwing in systems and then giving the player spells that makes those systems inconsequential. Each of your characters has a hunger bar, which it never really addresses, but then there’s a spell that gives you fruit to eat. You also can carry around torches for when it get dark, or you could just use the “Magic Light” spell you're offered an hour into the game. So ultimately, these systems translate into you schlepping more items around without making the game more fun.
Upon first glance, Rainbow Moon seems like a lot of game for a $15 downloadable title. And after sinking nearly 25 hours into it, it is a lot of game. Unfortunately, we can’t vouch for how fun all that game really is. SRPGs are an inherently slow genre, but this one's long for all the wrong reasons. Instead of deliberately paced combat, the level progression crawls. It's imbalanced. Its systems negate themselves. Ultimately, the game doesn’t do much to make itself standout with a vanilla fantasy environment, minimal story and flat characters with no real personality. The game starts out at a tortoise’s pace and never gains any speed. It’s a 20-hour game that’s stretched out twice as long as it should be. If you are really hungry for some strategy fantasy fun this summer, consider other superior battles of wit in the PlayStation Store.