Rogue Galaxy

"We don't look suspicious at all."

It's completely normal to not know a developers entire back catalogue of games. There is always the possibility of a quirky little release on the side or a game that gets rightly forgotten about. I've just learned that Jade Empire was a BioWare title, for instance, and I'm about to learn something about Level-5.

Here are their first four games. Dark Cloud, the RPG where you rebuild the world as you see fit (ideally in a way that pleases the townsfolk). Dark Chronicle, its cel-shaded sequel, worthy of the 1001 list. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, the cel-shaded RPG that brought the main Dragon Quest series to Europe, also on the 1001 list. Rogue Galaxy, the cel-shaded sci-fi action RPG that we're about to launch into on the 1001 list.

Of those four games, I've played three, enjoyed three. Finished none, but still. It's looking like I'm drawn towards Level-5 and their games. And then I found out Rogue Galaxy was basically Star Wars...

Fun Times

While Rogue Galaxy technically opens with some paragraphs under the heading 'Story', I will forever remember it opening with a damn fine video of a wanderer riding through the desert atop a weird skeleton camel. The style, the colours, the lighting, everything is top-notch and already I'm interested in seeing more. No slow-burn for me on this game.

As our unnamed traveller heads into town, we're shown a conversation between a short, squat Scotsman and a lanky droid, looking for someone. Who are they? Who are they looking for? Why do I want to know more about these characters after just a few seconds of screentime and voiceovers? Seriously, Rogue Galaxy, how did I miss you back in the day? Was I just playing too much PES or something?

Our traveller has sold something to the guards or perhaps traded it for a bit of food, it's not amazingly clear. The guards say we're a slave. That came out of nowhere. We don't look like one. I guess modern (space) slavery comes in unrecognisable forms. I should educate myself.

The peace and quiet are cut short as a huge... thing... leaps over the town walls, heading to the residential area. We appear to be the kind of person who gets out there and gets things done. We must be the hero.

A hero needs a heroic introduction, and skeletons leaping out of the sand beneath our feet looking for a fight would probably make for a good one. A strange figure leaping into the fray to help us out also adds to the mystery and the drama. It's time for a fight.

This action RPG doesn't do turn-based combat, and each of its controls and mechanics is introduced with a stylish popup. The X button will swing your sword, the Square button shoots your sidearm, and the R1 button will put you into a blocking stance. We hack and slash our way through these Baphu before another few tool-tips pop up.

While Rogue Galaxy isn't turned based, there is some sort of back and forth action, as an action gauge is depleted according to the severity of the action you perform, I guess like Dungeons & Dragons, and their full action, half action, free actions and whatnot. The point is, sometimes you might have to defend for a little until you get enough points back to attack once more - though a well-timed parry will instantly fill your action gauge if you can pull that off.

The fight was brief and frantic. Hectic. All over the place. The camera can't keep up and everything happens at once. We're talking two characters and five or so enemies, all bashing each other's brains in. You can control the camera to your liking, but in the heat of the moment, I didn't bother. And I think I'll need to invert the controls for it anyway.

So, now that these guys are dealt with, who is this good samaritan?

Ah. Okay then. Let's get a move on. We've a whopping great big bug to deal with.

You can't travel far without a WARNING!! message stopping you in your tracks, and a new fight beginning. You can try and run away from fights - they're sort of boxed off in the level, and if you run outside the box you'll be asked 'are you sure?' - but I'm having fun in them. Shooting at range, slashing up close. It's like Devil May Cry, only without the style.

Unlike DMC, though, you can pick up and chuck your opponents around. I didn't try it. To be honest, I didn't see the message on the screen until after the fact.

Some messages you ought to pay attention to, however. There is a suggestion system in Rogue Galaxy, to help mitigate the feeling of overwhelming amounts of information taking place in a real-time fight. Your allies can shout out ideas for you to either take or ignore, within a reasonable amount of time. Pressing L1 will set that idea into motion, allowing you to get on with your fight, instead of diving into menus to dish out healing potions or what have you.

As we work our way through town, each fight gives us more information about how Rogue Galaxy works, including a neat feature called the 'Revelation Flow'.

Dark Chronicle had a mechanic where you can take photos of things on your travels and mash them together to create an idea for a stompy steampunk Mech. In Rogue Galaxy, if you have the correct item, scavenged from corpses or found in treasure chests, you can combine them to have a revelation about something. Here, I've just thought about combining a lightning stone or something to my sword to give it the option of extra damage. These Revelations can be tackled in whatever order you like and/or have the bits and pieces for.

Usually, I don't like huge systems in Japanese RPGs that require me to study something before playing, but this one I think I can get behind. I hope my inventory is large enough to hoard all these trinkets...

Out of nowhere, our masked ally stops and ushers us forward alone, although he does give us a fancy sword before leaping off. We also get a battle recorder, a way to score points for killing beasts. Is that how we make money in Rogue Galaxy? Bounty Hunting? I'm not complaining, though it is a little weird.

We turn around, still trying to get to the residential area before all hell breaks loose, remember, when suddenly...


Oh no. No, no. We're not going out like that. That's not happening. Rogue Galaxy isn't going to end after just twenty minutes.

Fights, as I said, are frantic. The camera can't keep everything in view and you have to control it. You've also got to control your character, of course, and if you've got any allies in the fight, you better hope they're doing alright on their own too, because you've got enough to deal with.

If you're paying attention to jumping and attacking an enemy from the air, you're not paying attention to the action gauge running out of points and you needing to hang back for a little while. If you're not paying attention to that gauge and you get hit, you better hope you've got enough points to chug a health potion or something, otherwise, you're running around hoping not to be hit.

It does not take long for that 106 health you have to be reduced to nothing. A couple of hits ought to do it, especially from Giants. I'm not ashamed to say that the difficulty for Rogue Galaxy just spiked, to the point where I am already save stating - amen to emulation.

I don't want to say that Rogue Galaxy is too hard, though. I had the tools available to me to defeat these Giants, I was just rushing into the fight thinking it's an action RPG and I can do that without any problems when it's actually an action RPG with some mechanics that tweak the ebb and flow of the battle. All those tips that I was introduced to? Should really have read them twice and taken them all in. Then I'd be in a better position.

But I'm still interested in Rogue Galaxy. How can I not be?

Further Fun Times

Showing ourselves to be a worthy fighter (at the third attempt), Simon and Steve join the party. According to Steve, we must be the Desert Claw they've been looking for. They base this on the fact that we are carrying his sword. Mhmm. I know. That masked stranger has some explaining to do, but first, we get to parade around town with our new mates - or as our new mates, if you want to run around as a lanky robot.

I'm trying to define what it is about these characters that has me wanting to see more. It's not their names. I don't think it's their look. It might be their voices, but I'm sure we could hear better. But the writing is pretty good. Maybe played a bit safe, a little obvious... yeah, that might be it. That or the fact that I've just not played many RPGs like Rogue Galaxy.

I'm sure if I looked hard enough I could pick out bits and bobs of other games, but something about all of those bits and bobs put together is really making Rogue Galaxy stick in my mind.

Time to steal things from the locals.

Further Frustrations

These red pads are teleporter pads that double as fast travel spots and save points, and they are basically on every corner of this city, between what must be every random encounter we've been faced with.

Do you want to know why?

Because I need them.

I really, really need them. Two turtles and three cacti were kicking my arse. We're outnumbered, sure, but we can deal with a few turtles and cactuseseses, can't we? I mean, the tooltip tells us how to break through tough defences, and we're more than equipped for melee and ranged combat...

But no. I was just not having a good day in this fight. I was getting irked at how difficult Rogue Galaxy was getting for me because if there is one thing I hate, it's doing badly in something I enjoy.

Armed with save states - because even those save pads aren't enough for me - I wanted to push through the game until at least this giant monster has been fought. After that, who knows. I'm determined, now, and I'm going to read these bloody tips properly now.

This one says we can adjust our allies' strategies, telling them to do their own thing or come together and pick on one target. We can micromanage our party to make the most of their skills and abilities. Speaking of abilities, we can also have revelations for other folks too, and I've just the doodah to give Steve an area-attack eye beam.

Further Fun Times

So, tips read, the party set up, camera controls inverted on one axis, I was ready for this boss fight. This would either make or break Rogue Galaxy for me. I really want to play more of this game. Please go easy on me and let me do so.

Dishing out no damage isn't going to help, and Steve's suggestion of unleashing his new Icy Eye Beam makes for a lovely glowing cutscene but does little for me. Think. What is the first stage of this boss fight tasking me to do?

Aha! Progress! Excellent. With my party running around on their own accord, hopefully towards some monster legs, we should be making excellent progress.

It's not long before that is indeed the case.

Simon gives me a gun that shoots platforms up the neck of this monster. Unfortunately, we have to swap out our ranged weapon to do so, but at least all the menus pause time for us to have a moment to think. If they didn't, I may well have never made it past those Giants, let alone this thing.

After a couple of swings, and some falling off, this stage of the fight is complete as well - and I haven't died yet!

And just like that, the beast was done. The town is saved, and we are well on our way towards meeting our potential as... well, as whatever we're going to be in Rogue Galaxy. That's a good question. We're a slave. Giant bugs don't exactly scream end of the world. We haven't been set up as some kind of God-child who will save the planet. What is this game all about?

Travelling through the galaxy on a space pirate ship? Sign. Me. Up.

And that's where I drew my first session of Rogue Galaxy to a close. Looking for money to rent a camel. I can't wait.

Oh, do remember to save. Twice.

Final Word

After writing about Jade Empire I found a little bit of time to play some more Jade Empire. I was definitely interested in seeing more, especially on the cliffhanger that I left it on. The next day, or whenever it was, I played Rogue Galaxy. Let's just say Jade Empire isn't on my mind anymore. Not at the moment, anyway.

I am hyped to learn more about Rogue Galaxy. There is something about it that has swept me up. Is it the presentation? The art style? The characters? The combat? The mechanics?

It's all of those, for sure, but I can't say exactly why. I can't say why I like these characters, I just know that I do. In fact, I'm not a big fan of the main character - Jaster Rogue, in case you were wondering. He looks a little too kid-like for my tastes. But then Luke Skywalker looked dorky when his world turned upside down and look at how he ended up. In the Thrawn Trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn, not the Disney films. Lord, no, not the Disney films.

Rogue Galaxy is speaking to me. It's scratching the action itch, the RPG itch, the sci-fi itch... I'm an itchy man. Are you itchy for anything you've seen so far?

I've literally no idea where this story will end up. I know nothing about Rogue Galaxy. I can't even confirm it existed in 2005. What's that? Oh, not released over here until a few years later, when I would have had the PlayStation 3. Well, that explains why I missed out on it then.

I am definitely not making that mistake again. A new console doesn't mean the death of an old one. This 1001 list serves to prove that point and then some. It's been one of the best things I've done - looking back. Seeing what you missed. Rediscovering the past. Sometimes, it's a completely new discovery to you.

Now, I've got to celebrate my birthday in lockdown somehow. Might just be with some more Rogue Galaxy...

Fun Facts

Early ideas included the procedural generation of a 'virtually uncountable number of planets'. You know, like No Man's Sky. Could you even imagine the PS2 doing just a tiny fraction of that?

Rogue Galaxy, developed by Level-5, first released in 2005.
Version played: PlayStation 2, 2007, via emulation.