Developed by German indie developer SideQuest Studios and published by EastAsiaSoft, Rainbow Skies is a love letter to old-school turn-based strategy RPGs, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, and the Disgaea series. Being the sequel to Rainbow Moon, which released back in 2012, I really want to go back and play the prequel due to originally missing out on that narrative. Rainbow Skies tells a story about three people who become accidentally bonded to each other by a spell gone wrong, and they must go on a quest to figure out a way to break the unfortunate mistake and go their separate ways. The game is fairly light as far as the story goes. The real star of the show is the incredibly deep gameplay mechanics that will eat away at your life in the best of ways.
Scared of strategy games? Don’t be
Rainbow Skies reeks of smart game design every step of the way. The game is extremely approachable and the tutorials are very clear and precise. They seem to pop up right when you have a question about something or as soon as a new gameplay twist is added. The tutorials never assume you’ve played the first game in the series and they spotlight that fact often, usually in a humorous, 4th wall breaking fashion. As a newcomer to this series, I was very appreciative of this and how well done the tutorials were. There is a ton of information to digest, but the game managed to never overwhelm me nor was it ever too vague. You’ll likely figure out the basics yourself but rest easy knowing as soon as something new is thrown your way the game will inform you how it fits into the overall scheme of things. Strategy RPGs usually aren’t known for being this approachable, so I found it very refreshing.
Adventuring into battle and beyond
The adventuring and storytelling methods of Rainbow Skies made me think of retro JRPGs such as Secret of Mana, but its combat is pure turn-based strategy. Battles play out on a grid and you will be thrown into fights with anywhere from one to twenty enemies. You will come across random encounters as well as enemies you can see placed on the map. The enemies on the map mainly serve as roadblocks on the way to your next objective and the random encounters are there for you to grind out levels. Random encounters are handled in a way I’ve never encountered before. They are never forced on you. A notification will pop up that informs you of a battle and it will tell you exactly what you are fighting, the enemies’ levels, and how many you’ll be facing. You don’t ever have to play a fight you know you can’t win. If you do accidentally initiate a battle that’s out of your league, you can easily escape, even from bosses, with no penalty other than losing the experience you accumulated during the battle. I loved this approach and hope that more RPGs of this nature adopt similar systems.
Don’t expect such a modern spin with the game’s save system though. It’s very old school and doesn’t feature any form of auto-saving or even checkpoints, so make sure you save often.
This is made perfectly clear at the beginning of the game via those excellent tutorials I mentioned. It’s also worth pointing out that you can upload your saves to the online servers and then be transferred to either the PS Vita or PS3 version of the title. You will receive it for all three platforms when you purchase a copy of the game.
The difficulty level is extremely flexible and dynamic. There are five battle levels available to you depending on the type of experience that you want. You can keep it at a one-star level and keep things very manageable or you can crank things up a few notches and create an experience that will require deep thinking at every turn and require you to be at the highest levels with very carefully upgraded gear. You get better rewards at the higher difficulties, so you are encouraged to at least attempt to play on the tougher settings. Though, the developers smartly built in a system to keep you from exploiting the scale. You must fight a certain number of battles to raise the battle ranking. You can lower it at any time if you bite off more than you can chew but, once lowered, you must go through that gauntlet of battles all over again before you can turn it back up. Don’t expect to fight on the highest ranks and then lower it for a boss without losing those precious bonuses for a while. Rainbow Skies is very manageable on its standard setting, but it still provides plenty of challenging encounters along the way. You certainly can’t just breeze through it.
The game constantly encourages you to use everything at your disposal to wreak havoc on the battlefield. Not only do your characters level up but so do all your skills, weapons, armour, and accessories. Everything becomes more effective the more you use it. This encourages a lot of heavy grinding sessions that, for me, were always enjoyable. I’ll be very direct. Rainbow Skies is a pure grind-fest, but battles always stayed fun and interesting even after investing dozens of hours into it across thousands of battles. I think a lot of this has to do with the great variation in every aspect of the game. The environments, while standard JRPG fare, are varied as are the enemies and many attack animations. Many of the attacks took me by surprise and proved to be enjoyable spectacles, such as launching enemies into space on a rocket or the enemy tossing me into a dartboard. You are able to skip all of the battle animations by simply holding down the R2 button. It certainly helped to speed things along during those long grinds and kept me engaged with what was going on at all times.
There are many dungeons to delve into but most are bite-sized with a few longer ventures thrown in for good measure. There are puzzles in most dungeons but nothing that will rack your brain too hard. Whether you are exploring the many over-world maps or dungeon diving, the game can be played in nice short bursts for those of you on the go with your Vita, but I preferred to sit for hours at the big screen. Especially since the bright vivid art style of Rainbow Skies is such a joy to look at. It’s easy on the eyes and there are plenty of nice touches and effects both in battle and while out exploring. The musical score is very relaxing and well arranged. There were quite a few catchy field tunes that got stuck in my head for days. The game also performs very well. Things never slow down even when the screen is packed with combatants and things start to get hectic.
There is a monster taming element to Rainbow Skies that serves as a means to add more characters to your battle party. Beat enough of any enemy type and they will eventually drop an egg. Once you hatch the egg the creature can be added to your roster. All standard enemies can be captured and you can add more to your team as you get deeper into the game. The added party members can really turn the tide in some encounters and there are many types to accommodate various needs, such as an extra healer or tank. It does take time to level up your little critters, but it really proved to be worth it to me. The developers make it easier for players to amass a small army by giving monsters quite a bit more experience at the end of each battle. Monsters level up very quickly and raising them never seemed to be a hassle. Since you are stuck with only three main party members during the entire experience, the monster collecting element adds a nice touch of variety.
The story is the weakest link
The main quest of Rainbow Skies is easily the weakest part of the package. It’s not necessarily a bad tale, but I found it mediocre at best. There’s not much in the way of character development or deep plot, but the tale and its unlucky heroes, along with the beautifully crafted world, all have a very distinct charm. Charming would be the best single word to use to describe my experience with Rainbow Skies. It has a distinct sense of humour that did help make up for the narrative’s shortcomings. With that being said, the adventure did manage to surprise me with some unexpected twists along the way, but it’s not a tale that will stick with you for long after you finish. You do spend a lot of time reading in Rainbow Skies. There isn’t any voiced dialogue outside of the greetings and goodbyes the shopkeepers give you. This didn’t detract from the experience at all because you will be spending much more time playing than reading lengthy pieces of text. Even though I found the story to be rather lacking I just couldn’t put the game down. Just running through the main quest can easily take you over 50-60 hours and there is also a tremendous amount of optional quests and dungeons to dive in. You could easily lose hundreds of hours to this gem and you will certainly get a lot of life out of the title.
I believe that anyone who is into JRPGs, strategy games, or just someone looking to get the ultimate value out of their money, will find Rainbow Skies is definitely a game to pick up. It offers plenty to do and the gameplay mechanics are so fun and approachable, not to mention addictive, that anyone can have fun with it. It is a grind-o-thon for sure, so if you don’t like grind heavy games, stay away. It most likely won’t change your mind when it comes to that. If you are the type of person that likes to grind away at levels, slay thousands upon thousands of enemies, and delving into dungeon after dungeon, then you should definitely give this game a chunk of your life. You won’t regret it.
Rainbow Skies is a game that sings the same tune over and over, but it’s like a song that you can put on repeat and just listen to time and time again.
- Very deep gameplay systems
- 100’s of hours worth the content
- Extremely addictive and fun battle system
- Cross-save and cross-play compatible
- Light on story
- No voice acting