(PlayStation Vita Review) Ray Gigant

Developer: Bandai Namco Games / Experience Inc.
Publisher: Role-Playing Game / Dungeon Crawler
Genre: Role-Playing Game / Dungeon Crawler
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: Marcus Way

Overall: 5.5 = Average

Enormous creatures have landed on Earth, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Mankind is in disarray as these malevolent beasts, known as Gigants, continue to hunt down and destroy the remaining pockets of resistance. There is hope, though, as those forces still holding out have found a way to turn the tide with a new alliance. Another alien species has joined the fight: the Yorigami. Partnering with special humans, they aid in the struggle against their old enemy. Three young protagonists stationed around the globe find themselves fated to join together for the final fight to save the planet in an exasperating adventure.

One of the first Gigants appeared in Tokyo. Initially known only as “it,” the massive creature proved impervious to traditional armaments as it laid waste to the city. The celestial being’s reign of terror ended only after it was defeated by a creature who left behind only an unconscious teenager, Ichiya Amakaze. Ichiya is a Natural, a human who can form a bond with the Yomita. He’s not alone, either. During the course of the game, he will come to meet two other characters, Kyle Griffin and Nil Phineus, who share his abilities. The three—a fighter, ranger, and mage, respectively—are destined to form the party that will save the world. But to get to that point, each must work through their own story, which will involve them destroying a series of dungeon-like Megalosites. Alongside humans fitted with artificial Yomitas, they must defeat the inhabiting Gigants and the nearby, more powerful variants. Each creature they destroy brings them one step closer to the ultimate showdown.

Created by Bandai Namco and Experience Inc., Ray Gigant is an Experience Inc. title through and through. Everything from the dungeon art to the euphoric love of trap tiles screams Demon Gaze and Operation Abyss. Note that I didn’t say Stranger of Sword City, a recent Experience Inc. title that shows all the signs of being the product of an evolving process of design, offering a smooth pace, sensible dungeon design, and a streamlined but addictive combat system. For some reason, with Ray Gigant, Experience seemed to throw much of their…er…experience out the window.

As with their other games, Ray Gigant is cyclical in nature. There are three heroes who lead three-character parties stationed at bases run by a superior and their assistant. Each squad has the exact same setup at their home bases, and do the exact same thing. Each mission is the same: clear the Megalosite, grab its Marker, then return to base to track and defeat the next Gigant. After doing this several times, that protagonist’s story ends and the next one begins. This repeats until the three link up for a final set of even more repetitive chapters that condense the previous experience with the power of a black hole. It’s a system that works up until that point, but the build-up to those final chapters offers some interesting ideas that, while not always successful, offer some novel twists on the traditional dungeon-crawler formula.

The game gets off to a rocky start. Almost immediately, the characters stand out as some of the most unlikable that I’ve run across in any game of any genre. Ichiya is supposed to be an aloof goof, but he is often so exaggeratedly dense and lethargic in defending himself from his squadmates’ and superiors’ needless vitriol that it becomes hard to relate to him on any level. Saving the day, walking into a room, asking a question—no matter what Ichiya does, he is called an idiot, dumb, or lazy. Then again, he’s at least occasionally funny; the others in his chapters are downright irritating. Similarly, the second episode has one likable character, while the rest, including the protagonist Kyle, are just as obnoxious as those in the first. These are just unlikable people. Things get slightly better during the third episode, once Nil is introduced, who is a less buffoonish but sleepier and hungrier version of Ichiya. That and her squadmates actually like her, and treat her like a person instead of a verbal pincushion. On top of this, the localization is often uneven, with the dialog frequently becoming stilted with odd or incorrect verbiage. It’s one thing for a one-note character to be insulting, but it’s even worse when it comes across as if he’s running his remarks through a poorly programmed automatic translator. Paradoxically, the story, while as repetitive as the core design, has some surprising twists that manage to rejuvenate the routinely sagging plot lines. There is also something to be said about the game’s general approach. I’m a sucker for a super party of protagonists, a la Dragon Quest IV.

By virtue of their predefined role, each protagonist fights differently within their various squads. The secondary cast of supplemental party members fill in any class gaps, though all are treated the same when leveling, which is different process than what players might expect. Instead of a traditional system in which characters gain experience through combat and completing quests to unlock new skills or acquire points to allocate towards various traits, the game relies on a random, gem-based system.

Once defeated, enemies drop a variety of gems: materia, force, seed, breed, alter, and reverse. These are used to level up a number of traits located on an expansive three-branch skill tree. By allocating the gems to one of these traits along the physical, item, or command subtrees, they either unlock the associated skill, boost the character’s stats, or allow stronger items to be ‘bred.’ New weapons, shields, items, and foodstuffs are unlocked by breeding, though there is an element of randomness to the process. Weapons can be bred by type, but there is no guarantee that the specific weapon that the player has in mind will be created or upgraded. So while the player might want a weapon with a higher attack value, they might end up with one that is actually weaker but improves their ability to evade. This lottery-style approach adds yet another twist to a unique system.

Navigating the dungeons and combat takes place in a first-person view, with the latter shifting from a snazzy behind-the-back shot when it’s time to engage. This setup isn’t entirely dissimilar from previous Experience Inc. titles, but what is different is that there are no random encounters. Enemies always appear on the map as a blue, yellow, or red skull. Blue skulls represent Light Encounters, which are fights that allow characters to take actions using a reduced number of the party’s shared pool of Action Points (AP). Yellow skulls are regular Encounters, where there is no penalty, while red skulls are Heavy Encounters that require using a greater amount of points per move. Enemies are generally well placed to allow for a party to skirt around difficult encounters or take on blue encounters so that they build up enough points to take on the surrounding red hordes. However, if things go south, players can opt to escape by sacrificing all of their remaining AP.

If the player decides to engage the enemy, a turn-based combat system engages that allows the team to choose a target. After marking their prey, players then get the chance to swap between each character and access their two three-move lists, which typically allows access to two attacks or spells and one defensive move. Action Points replenish after each round, but the party can regain more by having a character wait that turn out, though this puts them at a disadvantage as they are only standing by and not blocking. Two other meters continually build during combat, Drive and Slash Points (SP). Drive is tied to Parasitism, which is a condition that forces the characters to use their health points to take an action. Fighting for too long will gradually increase Drive up to 100%, but players can drop it back down by engaging Slash Beat Mode (SBM). This rhythm-based sequence becomes accessible once the SP gauge charges up to 50 or 100. Chains lined with Hit Circles appear around the screen, and as music plays, orbs approach that offer the player the chance to score a hit if they time their tap just as an orb overlaps a circle. If the timing is perfect, bonus hits are added to the final tally, which is unleashed as a blistering, uninterrupted series of attacks once the song ends. On top of all this, enemies come in different types and aligned to different elements, and weapons can not only weak to certain types but completely useless against them. It pays to keep an eye on the stats to ensure every contingency is covered. Despite sounding convoluted, the entire combat system is easy to come to grips with and is easily the highlight of the game.

Such praise cannot be said about navigation and dungeon exploration, unfortunately. As mentioned, the restraint shown in Stranger of Sword City was thrown out of the window for Ray Gigant. The number of gimmicks used in the dungeons increases as the player progresses, with one-way tiles giving way to illusory walls, AP-draining spikes, tiles that turn the party around, and more. During the final act, the size of the dungeons and the number of traps increases exponentially. Dungeons are several stories tall and littered with pits, teleporters, and levers. Conditions arise as well, such as in one spike-strewn room filled with enemies, players must reach levers in 10 steps or be teleported back to the entrance. Jam Stones that allow players to save, heal, and reveal the entire map become scarcer. The game just doesn’t know when to let go, so much so that even the characters begin to comment on how things are dragging out while pointing out the ridiculous number of gimmick tiles. I’ve always said that these moments never help a game, and once a character begins to speak for the player as to how much of a slog the game has become, something is wrong.

By the end, I couldn’t wait to beat the game. I simply got tired of stepping down yet another endless hallway, through another illusory wall, and refighting the same boss Gigants. Given the amount of padding, it didn’t seem like the game would ever end.  After all of the frustrating moments from the previous episodes multiplied and crammed into these final sprawling dungeons, my patience began to wear out. Then finally: the end boss.

The grueling encounter required dozens of attempts. It shouldn’t have, though. I actually beat it. The final portion of this stage proved difficult due to a marked reduction in damage and the tendency for the characters to become stunned, but I nevertheless managed to win. After a brief cutscene, the game clicked back—again, it doesn’t know when to stop—for one last SBM sequence. My timing was perfect. As the final blows landed… my game crashed. I had to repeat the drawn-out conversation up to the encounter and the battle itself another dozen or so more times before I finally won. I wish I could say the ending was worth it, but by that point, I was just happy to be done.

Ray Gigant struggles with an interesting combat system that stands out as the sole bright spot amid a cast of unlikable characters and poor pacing. An uneven localization and some repetitive story beats don’t add much to the experience, save for some occasional surprising plot twists. There are a lot of novel elements about the game, but the recycled, overloaded backend and dripping sarcasm make for a world that I don’t want to revisit.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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