The concept of grinding – repeating the same exact actions for small gains – has never been an idea I was terribly fond of. In terms of narrative, it might make sense that your characters hit a virtual wall, one where their opponents are more seasoned, but it never makes sense to us, the players. Once you’ve found yourself grinding, you’re no longer playing for enjoyment; the game has changed the rules and now you’re just trying to keep pace. Rainbow Moon, it seems, was designed for the grind.
For the first 10-15 hours (roughly a third of the story’s length) Rainbow Moon is an enjoyable mix of dungeon crawling and straightforward strategy RPG-like combat. The colorful world, upbeat music and breezy grid-based fights create a cute, unbecoming compulsion loop that it’s remarkably easy to get sucked into. However, following that initial period, the game stays long, long beyond its welcome.
Rainbow Moon’s biggest fault is pacing. As an RPG it needs a steady dose of the new to keep the experience fresh for its prolonged runtime. The problem here isn’t the lack of the new, but rather the slow-drip of it. New characters are few and far between; gear and scrolls (which teach new combat actions) are preposterously expensive; prolonged sections of the game take place in the same world region. Too often the game is content to maintain the status quo, which creates the title’s unique take on the grind: soldiering on in the hope of new content.
Even the smallest of tasks are designed to pad the game’s length, as if the developer’s primary aim was to run up your hours-logged, rather than provide engaging moment-to-moment gameplay. The majority of the narrative’s thrust – if one can call it such – is laid forth via fetch quests. Some of these quests will quite literally require you to run back-and-forth between two adjacent NPCs, multiple times to receive the whole bit of story exposition. I’d like to say this sort of pointless meandering isn’t the norm, but it is, and it highlights just how uninteresting Rainbow Moon’s characters and fiction are.
It’s obvious from the beginning that story was never a focus of SideQuest Studios’ effort. And that’s fine, dungeon crawlers are generally not remembered for their stories, but with the amount of dialogue there is to read, it feels like SideQuest hoped you would care about its fiction. If that’s the case though, there’s almost no personality put into the storytelling. Everything and everyone is there to tell you what they need and why they need it, but none of them are able make you care.
Combat, on the other hand, is Rainbow Moon’s central hook. One of the most clever systems in the game is the manner that encounters are dispersed, mixing on-screen enemies with random encounters, which can ingeniously be accepted or declined on the fly. This means there is a lot of combat to be had, but it also means you can avoid as much of it as you desire, until you’ve struck that virtual wall. Though the majority of battles are optional, fighting regularly is a necessity to avoid long spells of grinding later on.
The fights themselves can sport up to three teammates at once (which feels limiting) and dozens-upon-dozens of enemies (which feels awesome). Combat is turn-based and order is dictated by a character’s speed. The twist is the manner that AP (action points) works in the game. Moving one square or making any sort of an action, whether it be an attack, item or special move, requires one AP. Learning the constraints of your characters and the enemies is the crux of the game’s tactics.
As great and as addicting as combat is, in the long run it succumbs to the same issues of variety as the game on a whole. Too often you’re engaged in fights that are nearly identical to the last one you fought, if not the last ten. At that point it’s just a matter of repeating the same string of actions you made before, and when your mind has checked out, that’s when you know the axe has been ground beyond use.
Despite its fantastic, straightforward combat, Rainbow Moon is a game that buckles under the weight of its bloated runtime. Boasting over 100 hours of gameplay unfortunately may be a prerequisite for the genre (thanks for that Nippon Ichi), but having all that content means nothing if your players burn out after the first ten.