Rainbow Moon

Originally released on the PlayStation 3 in 2012, Rainbow Moon brings tactical grid-based action to the PlayStation Vita for the gamer on the go. The game works well within its handheld environment, offering a solid and lengthy adventure lasting nearly 40 hours with additional content designed specifically for the Vita. However, the sheer amount of grinding required to get through each area in the game causes notable wrinkles to form on the game's otherwise smooth design and presentation.

Baldren, a noble knight, is locked into a fierce battle with an evil arch-nemesis. During the battle, a portal mysteriously forms without warning and drags Baldren and his opponent into the peaceful world of Rainbow Moon. Seeing an opportunity for mischief and malevolence the scoundrel brings with him an army of monsters and other ne’er-do-wells through the portal, unleashing them upon the hapless and marginally defenseless citizens. With an entire world’s anger directed towards him, Baldren takes responsibility for the repercussions of his arrival by taking up his sword in order to bring peace back to the land.

As with any roleplaying game, advancing through the story is accomplished by progressing through a series of primary quests that will lead to Baldren closing the portal, battling through an army of monsters and bosses along the way. He will also have the chance to help out individual citizens in Rainbow Moon through side quests. Presented from an isometric point of view, each area has towns and dungeons to explore and getting around is as easy as moving the analog sticks in a desired direction. Getting around is no walk in the park due to the presence of monsters. Initiating combat with monsters is done in two ways. During your first visit to an area, creatures will mill about the map waiting for you to fall within their aggro range. After they are killed, monsters will no longer appear on the map physically but instead as a notification on the lower left of the screen. Encounters that appear in this form are completely optional and can be skipped. This notification window also details the exact number and enemy type for that particular battle which lets you know exactly what you’ll be up against (at the expense of taking away the mystery and unknown of battle). There’s no penalty for skipping a fight but in order to progress you’ll want to make sure your character is physically prepared to face upcoming dangers.

The combat system is similar to the Fire Emblem series as each battle takes place within grid-based areana. Character actions, be it movement or combat, is dictated by the number of Moves available to them. Secondary characters are limited to a specific number but as Baldren levels up, he’ll see an increase of reserves. To properly engage an enemy, that must fall within the character’s range which is noted by a series of blue squares that turn orange if the target can be successfully attacked. The range for certain actions can be as simple as a straight line or a block of alternating target zones. The input commands for attack moves are a little tricky to grasp at first as the orientation of the directional pad tends to conflicts with the isometric camera angle and the direction the character faces. Although the enemy may be standing to your left, because the character is facing forward you will have to tap the Right on the pad. Its confusing at first but easy enough to grasp after repeated play.

The penalty for death in Rainbow Moon is almost negligible as losing a fight doesn't mean game over or having to restart a dungeon. Instead, you’re dropped back onto the map before the fight, free to heal up and try again or turn around and grind for more experience. Winning a fight, on the other hand, offers the familiar genre rewards: loot and experience points. You’ll also collect Rainbow Pearls which are used to boost Baldren's attributes like strength, defense and luck. With each new level gained, the caps for these attributes increase allowing you to feed additional Pearls into each slot, making it easier for your hero to cope with enemies that tend to be far more stronger than they should be.

And with that, we get to Rainbow Moon’s biggest concern. Progressing through the game often slows to a snail pace because of how often you’ll need to grind in order to get Baldren up to snuff. It is fairly common to spend a couple hours grinding one area for experience before moving onto the next only to encounter a new set of enemies that seem much more powerful than they should be and requires spending another hour or two grinding and levelling up. With so much time spent fighting monsters, I found it easy to lose focus on current goals. I lost interest in the quests I was given, skipping past the dialog in order to get back to the joyless grind.

Better weapons would help break the monotony of the combat but effective loot is few and far between. For the first four hours of the game, I was left using the sword I was given during a tutorial early on in the game because it was better than what I found in the field. The lack of meaningful gear ends up making your character feel mostly weak for a good portion of the game. The practice of modifying weapons and armor with special weapons curbs the frustration of not finding any worthwhile equipment in the field. However, the down side to that mechanic is the perceived inability to remove those modifications and replace them with something better. You’re free to spend money in shops for goods but even that has its fair share of problems. Money doesn’t flow greatly in Rainbow Moon and most of my financial gains were spent purchasing recovery items or visiting wandering NPCs that will refill health, magic and revive dead party members for a nominal fee.

With grinding getting in the way of the story (and often a complete chore) and the amount of useful item drop leaves much to be desired, Rainbow Moon is a solid tactical RPG. Those without a Nintendo handheld system that want to know what the Fire Emblem noise is all about will find this to be a decent and competent, though not overly compelling, PlayStation analog.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.