Between single-player campaigns that only last three or four hours to products with little to no replay value, game length has become a hot button issue over the last few years. And for good reason, because everybody wants to get the most amount of game for their buck. But sometimes you need to be careful what you ask for. Rainbow Moon delivers hundreds of hours of gameplay, but that doesn't mean it's worth the money.
For a game this long, Rainbow Moon doesn't have much of a story. You play an adventurer who gets sucked into a portal and spit out into a strange new world. From here he explores his surroundings, talks to townspeople and goes on quests. This means going off and battling monsters, saving innocent people from kidnappers, retrieving missing items and all of the other sorts of things you find in adventure games.
Things start out simple enough, with our hero confined to a mysterious island. He doesn't have much gear, but that doesn't matter because the enemies are weak. He's all by himself, earning experience and trying to get back home. Before long he snags a creaky raft and discovers that there's a giant world around him. And that is just the start of a crazy adventure that will keep you engaged for a significant chunk of time.
Although you wouldn't know it at first, Rainbow Moon is a traditional turn-based tactical role-playing game. This means that with each turn you are able to both move your character (or characters, depending on how big your party is) and attack. Early on our hero is limited to only one move per turn, however after gaining a few levels he will pick up more and become a real power player.
Unfortunately, it takes quite a while before we get to the point where our hero can pull off strategic maneuvers. Rainbow Moon is the type of game that drags its feet. Even when the main story starts picking up, the game stretches it out to unbearable lengths. This is the slowest moving role-playing game I've ever played, to the point where it became distracting. It takes a good ten hours just to pick up your first friendly companion, and even then you'll have to spend a couple hours grinding to improve their stats and equipment.
It's disappointing that the pacing is done like this for a reason. In a controversial move, the developers decided to add a store full of microtransactions. Don't want to spend three hours grinding for gold and experience points? Don't worry, because you can spend real money to skip the boring parts. Don't want to assemble your team the old fashioned way? That's okay, because now you can simply purchase the characters you want.
Rainbow Moon isn't the first game to pull this trick and they won't be the last. The difference here is that the game seems to be designed with these microtransactions in mind. There are lots of times when we're left with only menial tasks and hours of grinding. The game has huge chunks of very boring moments, which can be skipped entirely by giving them money. That is, until you hit the next obstacle, which requires a lot of grinding ... or more money. It's an endless loop.
The game makes buying your way to victory tempting by making each section significantly harder than the last. There's no gradual difficulty, we climb out of the oven and into the fire. Each new area is designed to make you suffer, perhaps hoping that you'll spend another dollar or two on better stats and more characters. Or you can pace back and forth fighting random encounters for the next five hours hoping to earn enough experience to level up. The choice is yours, cheapskate.
I could see a game like Skyrim getting away with this cynical pay structure. The world of The Elder Scrolls is interesting, and just wandering around the expansive landscape was interesting enough for some people. Sadly, Rainbow Moon is no Skyrim. The world isn't very interesting, the enemies are overused and there's nothing especially unique about any of the characters. The quests you go on are often mundane, with only a few resulting in a large scale boss fight.
To make matters worse, the combat mechanics set the genre back twenty years. Because the game's camera is a fixed isometric angle, it's not always clear which way your character will walk when you press up. In theory he's supposed to walk the direction he's facing, but that can become confusing with the way the camera is positioned. At times it will seem like the directions are changing from one move to the next, making the battle significantly more challenging than necessary.
To the developer's credit, they did add markers on each side of your hero to let you know which button does what. This can certainly get you out of a jam, but is not the perfect solution. Sometimes the chart will be obscured by an object or enemy, forcing players to really concentrate on moving their character. There is also the option to use the analog stick, which attempts to recreate how you would think the directions would be marked. But that often leads to even more frustrating. Even after spending thirty hours with the game, I found myself still making at least one major mistake in each encounter.
When you're not slamming your head on the wall from the game's insane difficulty or trying to get a handle of the confusing controls, you'll have to deal with a number of other annoying mechanics. For one thing, you'll need to keep your team well fed. As they explore their surroundings, battle monsters or just exist, their food meter slowly decreases. So, on top of carrying health potions and cures for various types of poison, players will also need to pack apples, bread and other food items. But don't look now, because you only have a limited amount of inventory space. Of course, you could always spend real money to keep your characters fed and increase the size of your backpack.
Usually I like to see a game through to the end before rendering a final judgment. Even if it's an epic role-playing game, I do my best to see everything there is to see. But that just isn't feasible in Rainbow Moon. The way the game is structured makes reviewing it tough, as so much of it involves endless grinding. After so many hours without making progress, I ultimately hit a wall and gave up.
Without all the filler, I can imagine this being a worthwhile role-playing experience. It doesn't have a very interesting story and the characters aren't very fleshed out, but there's a lot to explore and the world is good looking. Sadly, that's not the game I played. This is a cynical cash grab that impacts the pacing in devastating ways. It doesn't matter if a game is hundreds of hours long if 90% of the time I'm just walking back and forth grinding. That isn't fun. I'm sure there's a good game somewhere in Rainbow Moon, but I don't have enough money to find it.