Let me get this on the table from the off – I wasn’t a fan of Rainbow Moon. Despite the game having plenty of tactical depth and housing a veritable mountain of content, I found the plot to be rote, the control scheme and UI to be unintuitive and the art style unoriginal. It’s with great pleasure then that I can report that the pseudo-sequel to Rainbow Moon – Rainbow Skies – is a much improved adventure that retains all of what was positive about its predecessor and addresses most of its shortcomings.
Rainbow Skies is a tactics heavy, fantasy RPG in which you play a group of characters from opposing lands that are accidentally bound together by a spell. Two of the characters, the irresponsible Damian and the “voice of reason” Layne, come from a land that flies through the clouds called Arca. It’s their belief, thanks to the teaching of their elders, that the world below Arca is uninhabitable because of a poisonous environment. When they accidentally fall from their flying home to the world beneath, they realise that a) they’re alive and there is no poisonous environment b). There’s a whole world of people that have been living under their flying land and c). the people from the surface don’t hold the people from Arca in very high regard. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem but when they landed, they fell through a spell which binds them to a magic using, surface dweller called Ashly.
As Layne and Damian hide their real origins from Ashly, the trio set off to break the binding spell but the more time they spend together, the more that they realise that not everything is as it seems and it’s not long before they’re faced with a much bigger challenge.
As is standard with games of this ilk, Rainbow Skies is prominently made up of fetch quests and combat. Everyone you meet wants the group to do something for them before they’ll help and this ranges from heading into a self-contained dungeon to find items to taking on high powered enemies and bosses. There’s not a lot of variety to the main activities in this game but the plot meanders far less than that of Rainbow Moon which lightens much of the repetition. This is helped by the fact that the characters, while being stereotypical RPG types, at least have some personalities to explore and have an arc of development through the game.
The way Damian and Layne bounce off one another throughout the game is a particular highlight, as is the lengths they go to to hide the fact that they’re actually from the flying land of Arca. As a player, you actually want to progress through the moments out in the wild, fighting monsters of all kind, just to get to the next town to see how the plot progresses and how the next conversation goes.
There is a ton of dialogue (almost exclusively delivered through text boxes) in Rainbow Skies. Developers SideQuest Studios have obviously made a concerted effort to give even bit part players in this game an few lines of text, avoiding the “hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s a dungeon, explore it maybe” quest giver pitfall that most other massive RPG’s fall into. That being said, the vast portion of the dialogue in Rainbow Skies is inessential and there’s a litany of terrible jokes that are face palm worthy. Thankfully, every conversation can be skipped with a press of a button (something I found myself doing more and more the longer I played) while the menu, quest list and map keep track of all the important bits of information you might have missed.
This is where Rainbow Skies is most improved over Rainbow Moon. The UI is a massive step up in usability and intuitiveness with a quest list and a map (now with 2 levels of zoom) that links together what you’re supposed to be doing with where you’re supposed to be doing it. In a game with such a massive area of play – and like Rainbow Moon, this game is a giant – it’s such a little thing that increases its quality of life to keep you playing for longer. The RPG elements feel much easier to employ too. Upgrading character abilities and weapons involve collecting items and applying them to the right slots in easy to use menu’s that are explained through thorough tutorials before you get to use them.
The only place that still needed UI tweaks is during combat. Much like the fights in its predecessor, combat in Rainbow Skies is played out in an isometric grid-based, self-contained arena which pops up when you run into an enemy in the world view. It’s turn based and everything from how far you can move each turn to how much damage you can do is related to the builds of your characters. Combat is deeply strategic in this game, forcing you to make best use of hundreds of attacks, spells and skills, each of which has their own strengths and weaknesses, to overcome hordes of monsters that’ll easily overwhelm you if you try to tackle them head on. It’s a fun system that’s as deep as it is enjoyable. Because there’s no straightforward “game over” to this game (a defeat in battle means your health drops to 1HP and you get the opportunity to go and heal yourself before trying again), it means you get to experiment with everything on offer without too much threat to your save game too.
The main issue I have with the combat in Rainbow Skies is the same issue I had with Rainbow Moon – the isometric view point. Without a visual grid overlaid on the battlefield, it’s sometimes difficult to be sure that you’re lining your characters in in the right place. Character movement is taken one square at a time and if you move and realise you’ve gone in the wrong direction, there’s no way to rewind that action. While it would most definitely disrupt the visuals, visible grid lines would essentially remove this issue.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the ingenious way that this game handles difficulty. At the start of the game, battles are ranked as “One star” which means they’re pretty simple. Once you’ve completed enough battles at this difficulty, you’re given the opportunity to increase the difficulty to “Two Star”. This again requires you to complete a number of battles at this rank before you can increase the difficulty again. This is repeated until you hit the “5 Star” level and the maximum difficulty. This means you can tailor how difficult your path is through the game – want a nice easy trot along the golden path? Keep it at the lowest difficulty and steam roll your way through the game. Up for a challenge? Crank it up, get stuck in and you’re given keys which unlock doors to additional areas which can’t be accessed otherwise. It’s a really smart way to allow the game to be accessible to almost everyone while rewarding those players that play at the highest level.
Another large change for this game is the art style. Opting for 3D models and environments rather than the pixel art of Rainbow Moon gives this game a more modern and vivid feel. Unfortunately, this new art style does come with its own flaws. Some environments have this procedural generated feel to them as if they’ve just been thrown together around the path forward and it looks messy and without polish. There’s also a lack of uniformity to these new 3D models. There’s high fantasy, steam punk and modern day influences thrown into the melting pot and it doesn’t all gel cohesively.
It’s also worth mentioning that Rainbow Skies is cross-buy and cross save on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and even the PlayStation 3. Switching between each machine is seamless and it was a revelation to start the game on PS4, take it on the road on the Vita and play an hour before bed on the PlayStation 3. The visuals really do pop on the Vita screen but the PS4 version is undoubtedly the definitive version to play as it provides a bigger view point.
Rainbow Skies is a behemoth of an adventure that could last you hundreds of hours should it get its hooks into you. It’s a vast improvement over its predecessor with a more focused plot and a myriad systems which overlay to provide a deep, tactical adventure. It’s not without flaws but if you’re looking for something light-hearted and accessible while offering a challenge when you want it, you can do a lot, lot worse than Rainbow Skies.
Rainbow Skies is available now on PS4 (review version), PS3 and PSVita.
Developer: SideQuest Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a copy of the game from the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information.