Rainbow Moon review: A real grind

Playing the PSN exclusive Rainbow Moon evokes an unusual sort of frustration: it's a victim of wasted potential. This kind of game does a lot of things right, features some neat ideas and fun play elements, but is crippled by one or two major problems – problems so significant that they drag the rest of the product down. All it would take are a couple of fixes to make a great game instead of a merely passable one but, alas, you're stuck with a product that, for everything it does right, is damaged by very obvious flaws.

In Rainbow Moon's case, the novel idea is to blend two distinct types of role-playing game into a unique experience. Exploration is done in the overhead, isometric perspective of classic dungeon-crawlers, and both the overworld and the puzzle-filled labyrinths you'll wind up spelunking are littered with copious amounts of loot and roaming beasties out for your blood. Touch one of the monsters on the map, however, and you'll be spirited off to a new playfield: a miniature version of the grid-based arenas so common in strategy-RPGs like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics.%Gallery-158468% Here, both you and the enemy forces (which frequently outnumber yours) will take turns moving around and attacking. There's more to combat here than just constantly throwing out attacks while trying to keep yourself alive. You have limited resources – amount of actions per turn, items, points to use more powerful techniques – and you have to manage these while also keeping tabs on things like your position on the battlefield. If you get backed into a corner or against an object that leaves all the attacking beasties out of range, for example, things can become incredibly messy. You'll earn a steady stream of new abilities over time, which gradually expands the depth and nuance of fighting.

It's always risky to combine genres like this, but Rainbow Moon mostly succeeds in that respect. The exploration element is enjoyable. There are lots of loot and secrets to discover, and the game gladly rewards you for treading a bit off the beaten path. Even with some ill-conceived, tacked-on elements (such as character hunger levels and a constant need to light torches in dungeons), puzzling your way through a tricky cavern and emerging with plenty of loot and fetch-quest items proves satisfying. And while it takes a few hours for the full potential of combat to be unlocked – initially you only have a single party member and a single command per turn – once I had more options available to me, I found myself really starting to dig it.

That is, until I hit that first wall where I started encountering enemies way over my head. As I spent up my limited healing items and skills each battle, I realized that, despite all that time and money I just invested in gear and boosting stats, I still needed to gain a few levels just to be able to fight off some skeletons without quaffing a gallon of potion. Yes, your strategy might be solid, and you may have found some great skill combinations or exploits to lock down certain foes, but if you can't last more than a few fights without exhausting your healing supplies, then you just have to get stronger. And that's where the grinding starts up.

Grinding is a common element in most strategy RPGs, and the best examples of the genre know how to either disguise a grind or make it more enjoyable. Disgaea does it with the Item World, randomizing layouts, treasures, bonuses, and enemies to make each session a unique adventure. Final Fantasy Tactics rewards a grind by offering you new abilities and classes to play around with.

Rainbow Moon, however, doesn't offer much in the way of these incentives: eventually you're just going to have to grind to get better stats to get past the next dungeon. Since on-field enemies vanish after you defeat them, you'll have to go for random encounters (which, in a welcome twist, you can willingly choose to engage in or not with a simple button press). Even this is a bit broken, as sometimes you'll fight manageable mobs while, at other times, you'll get a constant spate of 10 high-level foes at once. As there's no option to speed up character movement or action during fights, you may find yourself quickly growing weary of what was once a fun combat engine.

It's this grind, more than anything else, which drags down Rainbow Moon, dividing your time almost equally between genuinely enjoyable dungeon-crawling and frustrating, level-building slog. It's a real shame, as the game has great ideas and a lot of retro charm to it, but it's hard to justify investing so much time into it when you're not really enjoying yourself. There's no denying that Rainbow Moon offers a lot of game time for its $15 price tag – I just wish more of that time was dedicated to fun exploration and fighting instead of tedious grinding.

This review is based on a PSN download of Rainbow Moon, provided by Eastasiasoft.

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