Ray Gigant is the latest Japanese RPG to come from developers Experience Inc. While once a relatively obscure indie developer, they gained world wide coverage after their first Vita title, Demon Gaze was an unexpected hit. These days with the backing and funding of Bandai Namco they’ve stepped out of the shadows with this newest release being their biggest to date.
For anyone unfamiliar with Experience Inc. their claim to fame lies in their ability to make hardcore dungeon crawlers that appeal to both old and new audiences alike. Ray Gigant seems to follow this trend with a relatively ‘old school’ feel to the game overall despite having an undeniably modern take on battle systems and graphics.
The game opens in a world that has been torn apart by unknown life forms given the codename of Gigants. Most major cities across the world have been destroyed but Tokyo remains, saved thanks to a boy wielding the ancient and mysterious power of the Yorigami,
Awakening in hospital with no idea of the extremity of the attacks or knowledge of what is happening to him Ichiya Amakaze, the aforementioned boy, accepts an invitation to visit a facility designed to train people on how to use “Kurogamis”, a man-made Yorigami replica. Unfortunately these copies lack the power displayed by the originals meaning the unwitting saviour of Tokyo is forced to become involved in the defence from the ongoing attacks.
The plot has a lot going on. There are plenty of secrets and hidden motivations to uncover as well as the constant feeling of unknown dangers lurking in the shadows and pulling the strings. All of this leads to an incredibly engaging narrative split between the three main characters: Ichiya, Kyle Griffin and Nil Phineas, all of whom are affectionately nicknamed as “naturals” because they and only they can use the Yorigami.
The game itself is split into 4 arcs, the first 3 are used for the introduction and development of the main characters while the final arc is the grand finale. In terms of the first 3 arcs each follows a different character and therefore a different theme. Each character has their own support cast, who quite frankly are generally more interesting than the main characters themselves. Ichiya is, I think, supposed to be written as a charming jerk but quite frankly he’s just a bit of an ass. Kyle is just openly unpleasant to virtually everyone and Nil, well Nil talks about almost nothing but food. The plus side to that is she’s forever passing the Bechdel test but it does get a little old. As far as development goes the characters do experience some growth throughout the game but none of it is outstanding. If becoming heavily invested in the characters is something you enjoy I’d go out on a limb and say that Ray Gigant may not be for you.
Where Ray Gigant really shines is in it’s animated battles and cutscenes. While the sheer variety in game style is overwhelming, think Danganronpa meets Project Diva with a little dating sim thrown in for good measure, it is just plain gorgeous. The art direction is outstanding, if a little crazy. Interestingly it’s not just the characters that have seen a lot of well thought out work, the Gigants are another area where the animators have really outdone themselves. Fans of dungeon crawlers have come to expect a standard still portrait for enemies but that isn’t the case here, the enemies in this game feel almost, well, real. Another choice that sets this game apart is the fact that the Gigants don’t follow a central theme. There’s a large variety in size, style and design that keeps the battle aspect fresh for the duration.
Sadly the time and effort put into the character design and art direction of the battles and cutscenes seems to have really eaten into the dungeon design. Quite frankly they vary from boring to just downright awful. The layouts are just as uninspired with a linear path that takes you to a door before looping back to reveal the Gigant you’ve been looking for. Occasionally they throw in a trap or ‘puzzle’ but none of them are challenging or really called for.
Your team always has the same generic RPG set up; tank, magic user and ranged fighter. The first slight difference in the battle system comes in the shape of Action Points. Rather than each player getting one move all three players are required to use AP from a shared pool of a 100 allowing them to perform a maximum of five moves per round. The strategy part comes from your limited choice of action types. Unlike RPGs like Final Fantasy where you have almost unlimited space for action types and rotations Ray Gigant only offers a total of six action slots, of which four can be used for attacks. The remaining two are reserved for non-attack types; healing, defending etc.
The battle system itself is quite frankly a little bizarre. There are two additional modes of battle on top of the standard type described above; Parasite Mode and Slash Beat Mode. Parasite Mode is enacted every 10 rounds you fail to defeat your opponent and cruelly the count doesn’t stop when your battle ends; it carries over. Once you enter Parasite Mode, you’ll no longer use AP to act but instead you’ll just slowly kill yourself with each move you make by draining away your HP. The only way to stop this madness is to win or activate Slash Beat Mode. Slash Beat Mode is a super charged attack you activate by playing a rhythm mini-game. The better you are, the more damage you do. Each protagonists song and pattern differs but the concept remains the same. The battle aspect certainly makes for an entertaining game experience.
Phew. You still with me? Still awake?
Some people feel that Ray Gigant has simplified the RPG experience. No shops, no currency, no EXP, no overwhelming choice of items. Personally though I think that they’ve perhaps streamlined the play by doing away with all of the above in favour of a system based on food and a three-pronged skill tree but they’ve also made the process a little too convoluted to be truly considered simple. The food side of things is easy enough; the more you eat, the slower but stronger you get. The hungrier you are the faster but weaker you are. Both can have their advantages. The convoluted part comes from the three-pronged skill tree. Rather than just earning points, each battle (or treasure chest) will see you receive one of six different types of gems: Force, Seed, Breed, Materia, Alter & Reverse. Seeds and Force Gems level up characters and unlock new abilities on their respective skill trees while Alter and Reverse gems allow you to respec your character if you don’t like how you’ve spent your points.
Materia and Breed gems are where things get a little unnecessary for me. Materia is used to raise the level of a character’s attack, defence, speciality and cooking skills. Breed gems are used to essentially mutate your equipment. The results of Breed gems are completely random and entirely unpredictable. You could end up with a new weapon or you could simply add an upgrade to a weapon you already own. While I can see where they’re coming from with the idea I think that your character’s attack, defence etc. should just level as your character does and I do miss finding new weapons and augmentations as opposed to just gambling gems on it.
As far as RPGs go Ray Gigant is definitely the easiest one I’ve played. Random encounters have been completely done away with and they’ve even gone to the trouble of colour coding the battles so you can judge just how difficult they’ll be. The answer generally being not at all. Seriously, the game is a cakewalk. A gloriously beautiful well designed cakewalk but a cakewalk nonetheless.
Ray Gigant does a hell of a lot of things not just well but brilliantly. The battles are engaging, the art direction is stunning and the story is enjoyable. If you’re looking for a fun and gorgeous JRPG to pass some time playing without the possibility of running into console destroying frustration then it’s a game you definitely want to pick up. If you’re a hardened DRPG fan or interested in getting into dungeon crawlers then it’s probably not the best choice for you. The dungeons are too bland and just too darn easy to be a fair representation of virtually any other DRPG you’d be likely to pick up, which given the developer could be a disappointment for some. As for me, I give it an incredibly respectable 8/10.
Ray Gigant was published for Western audiences by acttil and is available to buy on the PSN store now.