I’m conflicted. Rainbow Skies, the sequel to 2012’s Rainbow Moon, is one of the most frustrating RPG’s I have ever played. There were times when it had me screaming obscenities at my TV causing our cat to look at me in that judgemental way that only cats can. There were times that I was convinced that I genuinely hated the game and was playing it purely out of obligation. So imagine my surprise then, when after almost 80 hours, I finally finished Rainbow Skies and discovered I actually quite enjoyed it.
• Developer: SideQuest Studios
• Publisher: eastasiasoft
• Reviewed on: PS4 and PSVita
• Also Available On: PS3
• Release Date: Available Now
The plot follows three main characters, Damion, Layne, and Ashly, who due to some rubbish wizarding courtesy of Ashly end up bound together. The trio then set out across Lunah to try and discover a spell to undo the binding, and in the process end up on a quest to save the world that not only spans the land of Lunah but time itself.
The story is as basic as you like and certainly won’t be winning any awards, but it works for the game, and I have to admit there were a couple of twists and reveals that got a genuine reaction out of me. For the most part though it’s a lacklustre offering filled with immature and forced humour (towns have names like Boreville and Jerkwater) that seems to be swinging a little too hard for Pratchett-esque and missing rather severely.
The three protagonists, are highly unlikeable and fall into the overused and tropey roles of The Hothead, The Straight Guy, and The Crap Wizard. They have no real character development (at least not until the very end of the game) and their irritating dialogue goes on for way too long, which only emphasises how poorly written and realised they are.
Exploring the world of Rainbow Skies is your standard RPG affair. You talk to NPC’s in a town to move the plot forward and pick up sidequests, use the shops to buy items and equipment, then move on to the next town/story destination fighting monsters along the way. Anyone who has ever played a JRPG before will feel right at home here. However, the games isometric camera angle and 8 directional movement can make exploring awkward.
The world feels cluttered and exploration feels restricted, and it gets irritating quickly. There are invisible walls everywhere, the the design of the world makes it feel like you’re being pushed down a winding corridor. This isn’t so bad when you’re in a dungeon or cave, but being funneled along a path in a forest or desert area feels unnatural. Lunah itself is small, towns are never any more than a couple of minutes walk away, and although this is useful when you need to heal or stock up on items it makes the scale of the adventure feel tiny.
My biggest issues with Rainbow Skies are with the combat and character levelling system. Early on in the game Rainbow Skies makes the bold claim that you can play the game any way you like. It sounds too good to be true, and that is because it is. I was already late starting my review for Rainbow Skies so having the option to run through the story without grinding and distractions seemed perfect. And as nice as it was for the first few hours it soon became an unbearable challenge.
There are just enough mandatory battles on the field and in dungeons to keep your party levelled up, which is great, I absolutely love that. However, levelling up attributes is a different story. When a character levels up they receive a tiny boost in HP and MP, and unlock attributes to upgrade themselves, allowing you to customise your character to your play style. In theory. Upgrading an attribute costs Skill Stones, a currency that is randomly dropped by enemies, found in treasure chests, or given as quest rewards. The problem is, once you use Skill Stones they are gone, the upgrade is not reversible, and if you upgrade your character the wrong way the game severely and unfairly punishes you for it.
As I said earlier the first few hours were fine, and then the battles became unbearable. Fights in Rainbow Skies are turn based and play out on an isometric grid. Each character has a set number of actions per turn with which they get to move, attack, or perform another action. Movement range is displayed as blue squares, and enemies that can be attacked that turn are highlighted with an orange square.
These rules also apply to the enemy, and some battles can see you fighting as many as 20 enemies at once, meaning that sometimes you can be waiting for 2 to 3 minutes as the enemy takes up to 60 actions. It’s ridiculous and makes fights feel like a drag, and if you upgrade your character incorrectly you will find yourself losing before you even take your first turn as I did.
Remember when I said the open gameplay of Rainbow Skies seemed too good to be true? This is why. I was upgrading my characters HP, Defense, and Strength whenever I could. However, I soon found myself no longer striking first in battle, and then a little later I was taking my turn last, and soon after that I was starting a battle and waiting 2 to 3 minutes as my entire party was taken out before I could take a go.
I was at an impasse. I had to check gamefaqs to see what I was doing wrong. It turns out I was supposed to put all my Skill Stones into Speed first. Nowhere in the games opening hours or endless tutorials does it explain this, you just have to find out for yourself. And when you do you then have to spend hours grinding, hoping that the random enemy drops will include Skill Stones, materials or money so you can upgrade your speed and carry on with your adventure.
This is not ‘playing any way you like’, this is bad game design. A similar system to this existed in the games predecessor, Rainbow Moon, where it is possible to BUY that games version of Skill Stones with microtransactions. It’s an outdated character upgrade system that forces a long a drawn out grind, unless you want to pay up. Rainbow Skies does not have this pay to win feature (yet), although I won’t be surprised if it pops up on stores soon, so grinding is 100% necessary if you hope to make any progress.
Stats can be increased in other ways too, such as buying new armour, accessories and weapons, or upgrading your current armour and weapon set at the blacksmith using materials dropped by monsters. However, monetary amounts are minuscule and material drops aren’t as frequent as they should be, so this adds to an already extensive grind. Thankfully Layne has a some useful steal skills which can slightly speed up the process.
Battles themselves can feel like they’re taking forever, and sometimes they do; some bosses can take upwards of an hour or more to beat if you don’t have the best equipment. They are full of long, drawn out and uninteresting spell animations that can’t really be skipped or switched off. An option to hold down one of the right shoulder buttons to skip the animation pops up occasionally, but not as often as it should do and it barely works when it does. An option to switch off these animations would have been a godsend. While we’re here, an option to switch off the awful character voices would have been appreciated too. And an option to increase battle speed.
After several hours of frustration and some of the most boring grinding I have ever encountered in an RPG I was back in the game and beginning to enjoy myself. I was especially grateful to the fact there is no Game Over in Rainbow Skies. If you lose a fight you are simply kicked back onto the field with 1 HP and all items used during the battle gone. However, any items picked up during the battle are kept, so all you need to do is wander back to a healer and try again. It takes the punishment out of losing, but heightens the feeling of accomplishment when you finally defeat that enemy you’ve been throwing yourself at the the last hour or two.
There is so much content on offer too. On top of an already hefty 70-80 story, there are a tonne of side quests to complete, secret treasures and areas to find, and monster eggs to collect, hatch, and use to fill out your party, each with their own abilities. It’s also possible to change the difficulty of combat, which itself rewards you with more treasure and secret areas to find, and after finishing the main story the game opens up even more with a load of post end game content. To call this game value for money would be an understatement. Also there is fishing.
Rainbow Skies is Cross-Buy too and plays like an absolute dream on the Vita. I started off playing on PS4, switching to Vita when I was travelling or in bed, but ended up spending the majority of my play time on Vita. It’s fine on PS4, but the simplicity of the graphics becomes apparent, and for some reason there are huge black borders around the edge of the screen unless you play on a Pro, so in my opinion it runs better on Vita anyway.
Upon finishing Rainbow Skies I realised that my frustration was due to the fact I was trying to rush it. And that’s the major problem with reviewing an RPG with a self imposed deadline (especially when you’re already late and have missed a deadline). Rainbow Skies is definitely a game that you need to take your time with to fully appreciate.
Although I’m not a fan of the writing and feel that either the combat or character progression system need to be rebalanced to allow actual player freedom I ended up enjoying my time with Rainbow Skies in the end. If you’re a fan of content rich strategy RPG’s to be enjoyed in your own time (or a fan of Rainbow Moon) then this is one for you, and at £21.99 it’s an absolute steal.