Up to a point, then, Rogue Galaxy has it all: it has great graphics, it has interesting, innovative game mechanics, and it also has an awful lot of gameplay. Sadly, however, it is not a truly great RPG. Here’s why.
Problem one: random monster encounters. Blue Dragon and FFXII did away with them, Dragon Quest VIII didn’t, and it hurt. Rogue Galaxy follows the same path, and the simple fact is that it mires the game down in an endless stream of boring battles that will either end in a pitifully easy victory or – on occasion – in a sudden, frustrating and uncalled for death. Random monster encounters are not fun. They slow down the pace, annoy the player, and generally make you sick and tired of the whole endeavour. Rogue Galaxy ameliorates this a little by throwing in frequent check-points that also act as teleports, cutting down on the amount of back-tracking and repetition. All the same, all that hacking and slashing can get a real grind at times.
Exacerbating this is problem two: plot and character. The simple fact is that your central hero just isn’t interesting enough to grab or hold your sympathy or attention, and the plot takes an absolute age to get going. Dragon Quest VIII had the same problem in its early stages, but got progressively more and more interesting as time goes on. Rogue Galaxy doesn’t manage the same trick. Early on, the accessibility of the game, its style and its clever game mechanics were enough for me to cut it an awful lot of slack, but by the time I’d hit Rosencaster Prison – an endless, dreary procession of monster encounters in the most boring, monotonous architecture imaginable – I was pretty fed up with the whole thing. It did get better, and I started to change my mind once more, but it has to be said that this is a game with some horribly tedious patches, and not enough appeal in other ways to get you through them.
It seems to me that a truly great RPG should have three things: strong lead characters, a compelling narrative, and an engaging, addictive system of upgrades and enhancements. Final Fantasy XII and Blue Dragon both fall down a little on one of these, but can get away with it thanks to epic spectacle or sheer charm, respectively. Rogue Galaxy, however, only has the last, and that’s not enough to make it a must have. Instead, it’s a perfectly competent, perfectly playable RPG with stunning graphics and a scattering of ingenious ideas. But if you’re after thrills, drama or generally something more exciting, then it will only disappoint.
Great graphics and some innovative, accessible gameplay could have made this a hit with an audience normally frightened off by RPGs. If only the core characters and the story had a stronger appeal.