Experience delivers another outstanding adventure with Ray Gigant
Dungeon crawlers certainly aren’t a rare breed on the PlayStation Vita. The relatively niche genre has found something of a sanctuary in Sony’s handheld, and no developer is more well aware of this than Experience Inc. Having already released a pair of exceptional DRPGs in the form of Demon Gaze and Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy over the past few years on the Vita, along with Stranger of Sword City as recently as this week, the developer has done a great job of refining their craft with each successive release.
Now, nearly a year after releasing in Japan, the developer’s latest adventure, Ray Gigant, has finally made its way to western audiences courtesy of Acttil. Originally published by Bandai Namco when it was first released, the extra funding that went into crafting this adventure is evident right from the outset, as it sports some lavish production values that are leaps and bounds above what we’ve come to expect from the developer. That’s not to say that the stunning hand-drawn visuals and impressive amount of voiced dialog are the only things setting this adventure apart from the pack, as Experience has done a great deal to streamline the “hardcore” structure of their previous titles, providing an experience that feels much more polished and accessible than ever before, all while telling one hell of a story that no fan of the genre should miss.
Ray Gigant’s story is centered around the tales of three different heroes, who each bring their own standalone story to the table before their arcs intertwine for the game’s finale. The first chapter of Ray Gigant begins after a tremendous tragedy befalls the planet. Earth’s major cities have been left in ruins following the appearance of massive, otherwordly creatures known as Gigants. On what has become known as “Zero Day”, the world’s military forces tried to unite to combat the alien invaders but were crushed almost instantly. Just as it seemed the annihilation of mankind was imminent, a boy named Ichiya Amakaze defeated a Gigant with the help of a mysterious power called the Yorigami, which is essentially the capability to wield mighty, sentient weapons that form a symbiotic relationship with their host. However, the power of his new-found abilities consumed him, causing Ichiya to lose control and tragically destroy much of the city in the process.
After the disaster, Ichiya, nearly dead, is whisked away to a secret facility where, due to his immense potential, he is enlisted in an organization, lead by the mysterious Uzuki Nanashiro, to use the power of his Yorigami to combat the awesome might of the Gigants and save humanity.
While the thought of jumping around between parties over the course of the game’s story might make things sound a bit disjointed, each chapter serves as a direct continuation of the story, and the cast of characters intermingle well before players are given the reigns of controlling each of Ray Gigant’s three main Yorigami users and their cast of compatriots, and each transition fits well into the game’s overarching narrative. These characters are great, too. From the wise-cracking Ichiya himself to his tsundere former classmate-turned-ally Mana Izano to the high-and-mighty protagonist of the game’s second chapter, Kyle Griffin and his surly lush of a sidekick, Conner McBride, each member of the game’s sizable cast plays well off one another, and they’re supported by some very solid writing, which bounces effortlessly between playful banter and somber tragedy with ease over the course of the adventure.
Of course, while the added emphasis on storytelling is certainly appreciated, the game’s dungeon-crawling segments are the heart of Ray Gigant’s experience. It’s here that players will explore Megalosites, labyrinthine dungeons populated by lower-tier Gigants who are just dying to turn your party into a pulpy mess in some dank forgotten corridor. Exploration takes place in the first-person perspective, and will feel pretty much natural to anyone who has picked up a DRPG over the past few decades; especially for those who have played any of Experience’s previous releases. However, while the focus is still exploring winding mazes, uncovering secrets and battling fearsome foes, the developer has implemented a wealth of subtle improvements to their dungeon-crawling formula that make things a bit more accessible for novice adventurers while incorporating some welcome tweaks to the way combat is handled.
The battles in Ray Gigant play out a bit differently from what you may expect from the likes of Stranger of Sword City and Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy. Using a mechanic called the “Three-Way System”, players can initially choose from three actions mapped to the Square, Triangle and Circle buttons. These range from magic attacks, healing abilities, standard attacks and waiting. However, over time you’ll gain access to a second set of abilities you can swap from at will, doubling the available actions in your arsenal. Additionally, turn order is no longer something you need to consider, as you can freely swap between your party’s three available characters, inputting up to five actions (that is, if you have the AP to spend) per each character before executing your turn. This adds a welcome sense of fluidity and customization to the way battles unfold. Overall, it works really well, and the tug-of-war between performing an all-out assault or playing conservatively to ensure you have the AP to adapt to any situation adds a great layer of depth to the combat system.
Experience has done away with the random encounters of yesterday, as now each potential encounter displayed on the map. These battles are represented with icons of varying colors; blue, yellow and red. Each action you undertake in battle spends AP, or Action Points, and the way these points are consumed varies depending on the color of the encounter. Blue Encounters are classified as “light”, meaning each action will cost half of its normal AP consumption, whereas yellow is “Normal”, and Red battles will consume double the AP per action. As AP aren’t replenished between battles you’ll have to choose your attacks carefully to ensure you don’t execute too many inefficient axtions, as you’ll quickly burn through your AP reserve, leaving them helpless in the next battle. However, issuing “wait” commands will replenish some AP in battle, and defeating enemies in just one or two turns will award you a sizable AP bonus after the fight. Overall it’s a clever system, and it forces you to take a strategic approach to how you handle both offensive and defensive actions, especially when encountering the game’s towering Gigants.
Speaking of Gigants, it’s in these battles with the game’s titular terrors that those aforementioned gorgeous visuals are really put on full display. These battles test your mettle against monstrosities that are easily the size of skyscrapers. The scale of these encounters is simply astounding, as each member of your party is positioned in a different location during these battles. As you actively cycle through your combatants, you’ll really appreciate the scale of these massive creatures, which make up the most memorable melees in Ray Gigant. These battles are pretty substantial, and as each turn goes by your player’s Yorigami eventually becomes parasitic. When parasitism happens, each action you perform consumes precious HP, rather than AP. The only way to beat parasitism is to perform your Yorigami’s most powerful ability, your Slash Beat Mode, which will resent the parasitism and deal a massive amount of damage to your enemy.
Slash Beat Mode is activated by making use of a meter in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Each attack you perform increases this counter by one, and once it reaches 50 or 100, you can execute the SBM with a tap of the Right Shoulder Button. Once activated, this initiates a spectacularly gory anime cutscene that transitions into a rhythm-based mini-game. Each button command you successfully input to the beat counts as one attack, and once the song has been completed you’ll unleash a massive volley of attacks that can whittle even the most stubborn Gigant’s health bar down to size. During this mode you can alternate between the different attacks you have mapped to your Three-Way System, and making use of this skill at just the right time to beat back your parasitism and make the most of your available AP is often the key to toppling these monolithic monsters.
Another area where Ray Gigant does things a bit differently is how it handles leveling up your party. Rather than gaining experience through battle, players upgrade their characters by spending resources on each party member’s unique skill tree. These resources coming in the form of gems which each serve their own unique purpose towards enhancing your team’s abilities. For example: Materia are red gems that can be used to upgrade your equipment, from weapons to shields and armor. However, if you use the resource Breed Crystals on any of these items, you can augment them and potentially create new equipment that falls into the category the item was used on. There are no shops in Ray Gigant, so using Breed crystals is the best way to discover new gear to help you in specific situations, such as shields that work well against magic, or weapons that deal extra damage to undead enemies. Additionally, you can spend Force Crystals to unlock and power up your magic techniques, which come in both passive abilities that can benefit the entire party to elemental skills you use in combat. Seeds are probably the most valuable of all, as they increase your numbered level and enhance your physical attributes, such as your strength, resistance to and capabilities with magic, and your technique states that factor towards speed, evasion, etc.
Overall, it’s not the deepest system, but it offers a welcome level of customization towards shaping your parties, as well as a great incentive to return to previously conquered dungeons on training sorties to uncover every last treasure chest stocked with these precious resources.
While Ray Gigant manages to do so much right, there are a handful of small issues that do manage to rear their heads throughout the journey that keep the game from being the quite the masterpiece it could be. The nagging problem that players will likely notice right away is the way the actions in combat themselves are handled. As mentioned before, Ray Gigant features some absolutely incredible character sprites that look lifted straight from a big-budget anime production, complete with flowing robes, detailed weapons and gear, and a jaw-dropping quality of animation. Unfortunately, once you choose your action the camera zooms in the one enemy, simply showcasing the impact of your hits themselves, much like Experience’s other titles (and countless other DRPGs, for that matter). It certainly isn’t a game breaker by any stretch, but given the fantastic level of detail afforded to the sprites themselves it’s hard not to feel teased by the end result.
Another issue I had with the game is the lack of variety in the Megalosites themselves, as each story arc essentially revisits its own uniquely-themed locale along with a gem-littered alternate dimension over and over again. That said, a handful more environments to explore would have added some welcome variety to game. It’s also worth nothing that while the game features a ton of voiced dialog, it’s entirely in Japanese. That said, most will likely find this to be preferred, and the existing Japanese audio track is excellent.
When all is said and done, I can say with confidence that Ray Gigant is one of the most entertaining and substantial DRPGs to make its way to the PlayStation Vita yet. Developer Experience’s smart refinements to their traditional formula do just enough to create an adventure that’s both more accessible than their previous entries and more satisfying thanks to the game’s cleverly crafted combat system. Technical tweaks aside, the game also manages to tell a fantastic story full of vibrant characters and witty writing that any JRPG fanatic should appreciate, which is quite the accomplishment for a sub-genre where storytelling often falls to the wayside in favor of exploration.
Sure, the industry likes to paint the Vita as dead these days, but time and time again games like Ray Gigant come along to prove to the naysayers that there’s still plenty of fight left in Sony’s handheld. If you’re only looking to buy one DRPG this year, make sure this is the one. It’s only fitting that Ray Gigant stands on the shoulders of the genre’s giants, delivering an adventure no dungeon-crawler fan should miss.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Vita ; Publisher: Acttil ; Developer: Experience Inc. ; Players: 1; Released: May 3, 2016; Genre: RPG ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on review code supplied by the game’s publisher.