Rainbow Moon PS Vita Review: addictive grind in portable form

Tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaia are not games I enjoy, traditionally, and no matter how much time i give them, I cannot get into their pacing. Something really special is required for me to get into a tactical experience.

That’s where Rainbow Moon comes in.

A little of the old combined with the new has a chance of putting this potential franchise on my radar for a long time.

Baldren, the mute protagonist of Rainbow Moon, wakes up on the unknown side of a dimensional portal known simply as Rainbow Moon. Plot exists in this RPG like conversation bubbles do on phone games, but the focal point isn’t the lack of narrative at all. Rather, the simplicity that the story delivers works much better in portable form, so having it on the PlayStation Vita feels more natural than the version previously released on PlayStation 3.

Again, the focus of Rainbow Moon is gameplay, and I cannot stress enough how immersive the upgrading becomes. Up to three players take to the fight on Baldren’s side while up to 20 can go against him, making the strategy of combat rooted more in one’s ability to channel the flow of enemies for better clearing; so standing in the middle of the map is not a viable option. Any battle can be entered without taking a single hit, and that merely requires hindsight and memorization to familiarize oneself with enemies and their movements. As each character progresses through leveling, more options open up and more commands can be placed each turn, and the execution of those commands is borderline instantaneous, making the pace of the game much faster than most tactical games. Instead of going in phases, Rainbow Moon figures each combatant’s turn much like how Final Fantasy X did: cards that represent each fighter appear in a line at the top left of the screen, scrolling from right to left, showing who goes when.

Most battles required for plot progress, as well as a hefty amount of extra ones, are represented by monsters on the map; but random battles also appear through prompts that show what monsters and how many are waiting in the optional fight. These combat initiations leave control of what comes next entirely to the player, so things like Zubat bombardment do not frustrate this RPG experience.

Two currencies exist in Rainbow Moon, those being Rainbow Coins and Rainbow Pearls, and they follow RPG tradition: leveling and upgrading. Coins, as to be expected, merely buy new weapons and equipment. The Rainbow Pearls, on the other hand, are spent on character stats. Each character is awarded a certain amount of pearls for beating enemies, and the count increases based on enemy difficulty and quantity. These pearls are then spent at a stat vendor who requires quantities of the pearls in exchange for permanent stat boosts. Each character level that’s gained through traditional battle experience allows each stat a certain amount of upgradeable slots, and more slots become available each level. Initially, upgrading everything is simple, since the amount of pearls more than compensates all level requirements, but later levels necessitate more pearls per stat increase, so players will begin to focus their development as the game progresses almost naturally.

The retro feel is overwhelmingly refreshing. Everything in Rainbow Moon looks crisp and colorful, and the OLED screen (repping the original PS Vita) reflects the original vision of its PS3 counterpart in honorable ways. Animations and character models have become high resolution versions of what one would find in the early bitrate RPGS, and the linear, almost robotic, movements of tactical games accentuate this retro feel appropriately. The soundtrack is decent as well, allowing for commuting enjoyment in whatever time slots that life allows.

Rainbow Moon supports Cloud Save, and this is not an exclusive feature to PlayStation Plus subscribers. Previous owners of the PS3 version can send their saves to the Rainbow Moon cloud—the NPC in charge of this process can be found in-game near the dimensional portal—and download them to the PS Vita version, which means that the investment made on console will continue on-the-go. PS Plus subscribers may wish to buy both versions (sadly, it’s not Cross-Buy), since Sony is set to release a PS Plus bundle of Rainbow Moon in the North American PlayStation Network update for a very attractive price.

Getting through the game is a very long grind, so having the ability to jump in and out of Rainbow Moon makes the game that much more attractive. Still, the lack of palpable narrative can make a grind, however enjoyable that grind may be, feel like a drudge. Addictive is a word that’s applicable to a leveling system like that in Rainbow Moon, and marrying that with the fast pace of combat is genius, but the harsh reality is that Rainbow Moon differs from the best in one aspect: reason to keep going. Exploring is fun, especially since finding new enemies and areas award new items for permanent upgrades, but exploration that’s embedded in loose questing that requires finding some NPC or killing X amount of enemies for quest items feels a bit too much like what keeps most basic MMOs from success. I cannot say enough how much fun spending Rainbow Pearls for stat upgrades is, because earning the pearls is as rewarding as taking the responsibility of building the characters statistically from the ground up.



The Final Word

The portability of Rainbow Moon makes the game that much more attractive, allowing for addictive grinding in convenient spurts that the PS3 version couldn't allow. The retro presentation and leveling systems work in tandem extremely well, even if the narrative-less grind to max level will take a while.