SCEA has been handing out a foretaste of Level 5's anticipated "Rogue Galaxy" in the form of a handy little demo disc. Yeah, we played around with it.
The demo truly is little, especially when compared to the game's scope. Instead of starting from the game's beginning and cutting off after so many events into the game, the player is able to choose from one of three options: "Departure from Burkaqua Village," "Hunt Down the Quarry!," or "RG Promotional Trailer."
The first option allows for some simple town and field exploration, giving the player a chance to learn about the game's basic mechanics. Each of the three team members randomly shoot off comments to one another while you walk around, though they do vary in relevancy. The marketers will probably shove this point down your throat, but it's true: the game doesn't have loading times, and it feels great! As you move from the town into different parts of the field, the name of the area you've moved into will flash on the screen, but as you go, there are no load times and no graphical errors (pop-ups, etc). You're gonna like the way it feels, I guarantee it!
At first glance, the combat feels like that of Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts games, but it's much more complex (and, in many ways, much better) than KH. The camera angles and options are impressive. The right analog stick traditionally serves as the "camera" control for PS2 titles. Yet, when working from a 3rd-person perspective, rarely do you have the option to invert the way it's set standard. In Rogue Galaxy, you can invert up/down, left/right, or both, should it feel better to you. It's about time.
Though you yourself only control one character at a time (and leave the rest up to AI), you are not relegated to playing only one character. Within battle (seamless random encounters, a very startling but unique experience), one can instantly change control from one character to another, much like Square's older Seiken Densetsu games for Super Famicom. As you play the part of one character, the others will frequently suggest to you that they can and should do something. At that point, a little menu appears on the screen (along with the real-time fighting) letting you choose which action the character ought to take with the L buttons. Should no choice be made after a few seconds, either nothing will happen, or the AI will act on its own to decide what's best. This is functionality at its highest.
The second option of the demo, which starts you at the beginning of a short dungeon and leads you to a monstrously difficult boss, further displays the game's difficulty. Hack 'n slash? Not exactly. Without careful consideration, supply conservation, and strategic play, one is bound to fail. Graphically, the production that goes around a boss battle (including the boss's introduction) shows just how much Level 5 wanted the game to feel spectacular.
Finally, the lengthy trailer tells not only of the game's basic story and play (introducing the eight playable characters, etc.), it also outlines the additions to the North American version (which we first got word of at E3 2006).
There's no doubt that the US version of Rogue Galaxy is shaping up to be one excellent game. Will the final game stand up to the hype? Personally, I hope so; but we'll let you know at the end of January what the verdict is on Level 5's original RPG.
Rogue Galaxy has been out in Japan for the better part of a year now. Unfortunately, SCEA recently announced a delay in the North American release, pushing the game into the first quarter of 2007.
As was reported in an earlier news update, the US version of Rogue Galaxy will include new areas and features not placed in the Japanese version. SCEA Producer Nao Higo was firm on this point: that Americans, not the Japanese, will be getting the "complete" version of the game.
I myself have had the chance to play through some of the early areas and events of Rogue Galaxy, both in Japanese and in English: the latter being based on the E3 2006 demo version. The game left an immediate impression on me that I can only describe as exhilirating.
Though Chris goes into further detail in his First Look Preview below, it's only fair that I summarize the exposition of the game's plot. You control the protagonist, "Jester," resident of the planet Rosa. Jester quickly tires of living on this boring, desert-like planet, and through a series of fortunate events, hitch-hikes his way onto a space pirate ship and begins an incredible journey. It's been said many times before, but the opening sounds a fair bit like Star Wars. These and other similarities to Star Wars -- including robots that vaguely resemble C3PO and R2D2 -- seem to be intentional on Level 5's part.
The basics of gameplay -- specifically battle -- have been changed for the American version. I've noticed the difference in having played both the US and Japanese versions. Most of this is positive, if only because it's less monotonous. The difference is in combos, which happen after building up a "combo meter." In the US version, you can now execute the combo when you are ready to unleash it, and the combo continues as you press any one of the four PS2 buttons (square, circle, etc.) as you are told to do so in the game. The Japanese version of this combo system was more simplified, and less player-controlled.
Though I didn't get to personally witness it, the US version of the game will also include a new planet to explore with its own storyline, much like the "Last Mission" addition to Final Fantasy X-2 International.
The sound and music are timed well with the cutscenes and gameplay. The graphics of course, are beautiful. A modified form of cel-shading is employed here, and the cutscenes are simply phenomenal. Most impressive is a complete lack of loading time. Changing areas doesn't involve a screen change in any way. The game is continually loading areas in the background, yet it didn't seem to slow down the gameplay at all. I'd consider this an achievement in programming.
Rogue Galaxy boasts a minimum of 45 hours of play, with anywhere between 70 and 100 hours to "complete" the game (finishing all side quests, including the additional planet's scenario). The game is currently scheduled for a first quarter 2007 release. Keep your eyes peeled!
Just in time for this year's Christmas season, Japanese RPG fans will be in for a special treat from Kyushu, as Sony Computer Entertainment will deliver Rogue Galaxy, Level 5's fourth PlayStation 2 RPG, to Japanese retail store shelves in early December. Described by Level 5 founder and president Akihiro Hino as his biggest project yet, Rogue Galaxy has been dubbed a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest killer by its makers. And while the ambitious project will probably have a hard time challenging the likes of Dragon Quest VIII or Final Fantasy XII for the title of best-selling PlayStation 2 RPG, it has already generated a significant amount of pre-release buzz in Japan.
Visually, Rogue Galaxy is yet another testament to the level of development expertise Level 5 has accumulated since the studio has begun working with the PlayStation 2 hardware seven years ago. Similar to the second Dark Cloud game and Dragon Quest VIII, Rogue Galaxy will feature Level 5's trademark cel-shaded visuals. This time however, the company is aiming to create visuals mimicking an anime movie with this particular visual style. Judging from the trailer movie on display in retail outlets throughout Japan, the development team indeed managed to accomplish this feat. Apart from CG sequences rivaling those made by Square Enix or Namco, the aforementioned trailer also offered a glimpse at the game's varied, massive environments. While characters were seen running through forest and desert environments, the most impressive location was a major city with streets full of NPCs and futuristic vehicles flying through the sky above. Seeing that the game's galaxy will feature several large planets, one can expect many different kinds of locations.
While little can be said about the game's music and sound at this point, Level 5 has hired J-Pop sensation Aya Ueto and actor Hiroshi Tamaki to lend their voices to the game's lead characters.
The game's protagonist is 17-year old Jester Rogue. Born on the desert planet of Roza, he dreams of flying through space at some point. The optimistic and straightforward young man gets his chance when he becomes the scout for a gang of space pirates. Rogue Galaxy's heroine is Kisara, the daughter of the sky pirates' leader. Despite her cute looks, the 17-year old is more than tough enough to handle her dad's rude male subordinates. Zeglam is the group's troublemaker. He frequently behaves suspiciously and it looks as if he is plotting something. Luluka is a female warrior living on the forest planet Julaika. While she is a very proud person, she also continues to suffer from a trauma related to an incident in her past. Steve is a polite robot working on board the pirate's ship. Another member of the crew, Simon is always wearing a spacesuit, because his body was deformed in a certain incident. Other characters include the sharp and able alien engineer Jupis, the former elite soldier Deego- a masked man with extraordinary power, the galaxy's best bounty hunter Desert Claw, the pirate ship's captain Dolgengoa and his white cat Monsha. Furthermore, there is the president of spaceship maker Dytron Walkog Drazer who secretly plans to become the galaxy's emperor, Walkog's secretary Norma and Dr Izel, the head of Dytron's research division.
System-wise, fans can expect fast-paced battles thanks to a real-time battle system. In addition to standard attacks, combination attacks and abilities (death blow techniques) will be at the player's disposal. Similar to Square-Enix's Kingdom Hearts, the player will be in control of one character at a time, while the other two members of the active party will be AI-controlled. Players can configure the action patterns of these two characters and even during battle tell them to focus on one particular enemy, attack all enemies, fight at full strength or lend the player-controlled character a hand.
Each character can wield two different kinds of weapons. While protagonist Jester uses guns and swords, the heroine prefers knives and boots (the latter effect her ability to execute kicks.) During battle, weapons will gain experience and can therefore be powered up. Once a character has learned a certain ability, he or she can use his or her ability points to unleash it. Depending on one's playing style, the types of abilities a character has mastered at a certain point can differ. An alternative way of attacking enemies is jumping on top of them or throwing objects found on the battle map or other enemies at them. To make the duo of AI-controlled party members more human-like, Level 5 has implemented the Suggest system. During battle, the two characters will offer their own suggestions regarding the next action. In the end however, it is of course the player who will have to determine, whether he gives them the go-ahead or not.
The so-called Battle Recorder will keep track of every foe you have defeated in battle. It will not only list the types of enemies, but also how many enemies of a particular kind you have defeated so far. These quantities are important for the Hunter Ranking. Said Hunter Ranking will offer various missions to players, for instance hunting down 30 enemies of type A. Once the player has accomplished this mission, he will receive a point bonus and his Hunter Ranking will increase. Along the way, he can obtain various items as rewards for his labor. Those who manage to reach a high ranking can look forward to rare items. One way to reach such a high ranking is to hunt down and defeat large monsters that have bounties placed on their ugly heads. Those beasts are hard to find however, as players first need to collect clues as to their whereabouts, and then use a certain item to lure them out of hiding.
Level 5 promises a seamless adventure without loading times. Players will also be able to change characters' costumes. The effect of a costume change will be visible on the field and in battle.
Following the success of the two Dark Cloud games and Dragon Quest VIII, the expectations for Rogue Galaxy are definitely anything but low. While Rogue Galaxy won't be a match for the eight installment of Japan's most popular RPG franchise sales-wise, fans probably will be content if Level 5 delivers an original, high-quality title at a time when most companies aren't willing to take few risks and stick to their established franchises. Rogue Galaxy at least has the potential to become yet another chapter in the successful Level 5 story when it hits Japanese retail store shelves on December 8th.