A ray of light in a world torn asunder
Tokyo really has it tough, doesn’t it? If the city isn’t under attack by monsters, then it’s demons. Or robots. Or gods. Whatever the case, Tokyo has been at the center of one crisis or another in the world of video games, and this time around isn’t any different. Originally released on the PlayStation Vita on May 3rd of this year (and almost a year earlier in Japan!), Ray Gigant has had players saving not only Tokyo, but the world from a mysterious and terrifying alien race known simply as “Gigants”. One time didn’t appear to be enough however; only three short months later, and Ray Gigant has hit Steam! How does this version of the latest struggle to save Tokyo fare? Let’s find out!
Ray Gigant‘s story focuses on the aftermath of an invasion of earth by mysterious alien-like creatures known as Gigants. Seemingly coming from nowhere, these monstrosities immediately began wiping out human civilization with ease, with cities falling one after another like a domino effect. Although the various military powers around the world threw every bit of firepower possible at them, human technology was no match for the Gigants, and earth soon fell into shambles. Just when all seemed lost however, a boy named Ichiya Amakaze appeared on the scene in Tokyo. Harnessing the power of a mysterious lifeform known as a Yorigami, Ichiya was able to defeat the Gigant attacking Tokyo. Unfortunately, unlocking the Yorigami’s power came at a cost; Ichiya himself became unable to control his newfound power, becoming berserk and quickly laying waste to the city that he had just previously fought to protect. All is not lost however. Catching wind of both Ichiya and his amazing powers, a mysterious organization led by a man named Uzuki Nanashiro saves Ichiya from the brink of death and, perhaps somewhat forcibly, recruits him into the organization.
Although Ichiya may be the primary protagonist and poster child for Ray Gigant, he isn’t the game’s only protagonist. Rather, the game is divided up into several distinct “segments “(which are even further divided into chapters) and follow the events of three Yorigami users, Ichiya Amakaze (of course), Kyle Griffin, and Nil Phineas, all leading up to a climactic finale. At first the forced shift in perspective seems a bit jarring, especially with what is going on during these protagonist swaps, but it becomes obvious pretty quickly that Ray Gigant‘s decision to set up the story in this way is anything but a hindrance. By allowing players to view the situation-at-hand through the eyes of several individuals, it becomes much easier for players to get a better grasp on what is actually happening. Ray Gigant also does a fantastic job of allowing players to view every aspect of the game’s characters through utilization of this swap in perspectives; to bond with the entire cast within Ray Gigant much more easily. While I won’t spoil any of the game’s story, I will certainly say that I quite enjoyed finding out that characters I had previously thought to be “bad” weren’t so bad after all (and possibly the opposite, too). On a more technical level, the several changes in party members also allows the already-enjoyable combat within Ray Gigant to maintain an extra level in freshness due to the fact that it never allows you to stay overpowered for long.
Storytelling elements aside, the gameplay within Ray Gigant is all about dungeon crawling… Well, dungeon crawling and combat but hey, let’s take it one thing at a time! You can actually sum up the dungeon crawling aspects of Ray Gigant pretty well in two words; “classic”, and “good”. Unlike how many modern-day dungeon crawlers utilize a more modern layout, making use of things such as a third-person character perspective and a movement style that is more free-ranged, Ray Gigant sticks to its roots quite closely in order to deliver a dungeon crawling experience that feels very old-school. Dungeons are complete in the first-person, with movement taking place along a grid. Although the dungeon map itself is incomplete upon entering a dungeon, everything else, including treasure, encounters, and events, is clearly marked. Because of this, players can more freely decide when and how to tackle each of the inevitable battles within the game’s dungeons, and more carefully plan out how they’re going to nab all of the treasure ripe for the taking (trust me, you’ll always want to get all of the treasure).
Combat within Ray Gigant is turn-based, although it doesn’t stick to any sort of “classic formula” as closely as the dungeon crawling aspect of the game does. Upon starting a battle, players are given the opportunity to pick moves for each of the characters within their party. Moves are picked using a command prompt unique to Ray Gigant known as the “3-Way Command”. Rather than having a setup featuring a basic attack, a basic defend, skills, and so on, the 3-Way Command allows the player to choose which commands will be available during combat. Within each 3-Way Command Set is room for one offensive move (physical attacks, offensive spells, etc.), one defensive move (defending, healing magic, food, etc), and one extra command that allows for either an extra offensive or defensive move. It can be a little tough at first when deciding how to set up each character’s 3-Way Command Prompt(s), since you aren’t always sure how effective moves will be against particular enemies. Fortunately, moves can be edited via the “Tactics” section of the menu at any time outside of battle meaning that if a certain move isn’t working as well as you had assumed it to then you can always switch it out on the fly.
The second twist to Ray Gigant‘s combat mechanics is the AP gauge. Every character can (initially) use up to 5 moves per turn; that’s a whopping 15 moves! That seems way too easy though. Surely there has to be a catch, right? Right! Nearly every action that can be taken by a character consumes something called AP. Generally, the more powerful or specialized an action is, the more AP it consumes. It’s a simple concept in theory, but once you start playing the game you’ll realize that managing AP can definitely be harder than it first appears for several reasons. For starters, there’s the fact that the entire party shares the same AP pool. The pool maxes out at 100 AP and, though it can be recovered pretty generously through several different ways, it shouldn’t take more than one or two battles before you realize that 100 AP isn’t very much. Without properly managing moves you can easily end up with 0 AP mid-battle, spelling disaster for any party not strong enough to endure an entire turn of enemy attacks while recovering AP via the “Wait” command (if you have that command assigned).
AP also does not recover in-between battles (but HP does, for once). Bonus AP can be awarded for battles finished quickly, but sometimes it still isn’t enough to recover all of the AP spent while fighting. You know how a lot of video games out there have special encounters in certain dungeons; encounters that contain enemies much more powerful, or sometimes even much less powerful, than the norm for that dungeon? Ray Gigant doesn’t have that. Instead, Ray Gigant has what are known as Light and Heavy Encounters. Rather than increasing or decreasing the strength of the encountered enemies, these special encounters directly impact player AP consumption. Light Encounters are essentially the “easy” fights, and cut player AP consumption in half, while Heavy Encounters double the AP consumed for each action. Like with everything else, Light and Heavy encounters are clearly marked on the player’s map, so there’s never any chance of accidentally running into one or the other. Amusingly, neither kind of encounter seems to have an impact on your post-battle reward, so it’s generally it’s a good idea to avoid Heavy Encounters altogether; there are however times when they are either unavoidable or lead to good things, so it’s always worth double-checking your map before skipping anything. The inclusion of the AP mechanic in Ray Gigant makes the game much harder, there’s no doubt about that. Fortunately, it’s a good kind of hard. So long as you learn to pay attention to the ebb and flow of battle, managing AP becomes less of a chore and more of a fun challenge.
There’s one more aspect of battle that we have yet to touch upon, and it’s without a doubt the most unique one; Slash Beat Mode. As you progress through a dungeon, you’ll notice a red meter in the top-right counting up to 100 from 0. This is the Slash Beat Mode (SBM for short) meter. Once the SBM meter hits either 50 or 100, players can use it to unleash an devastating (and nicely-animated) attack. Now, the SBM meter rises at an incredibly slow rate, a mechanism set in place to prevent players from using the most powerful attack, but that isn’t all! In order to truly unleash the power of an SBM attack, you’ll have to do something a bit unusual for an RPG; play a rhythm game. That’s right, the “Beat” in Slash Beat Mode refers to your ability to correctly hit every button on-time during a special rhythm-based segment. I’ve played plenty of RPGs, both Japanese and Western, but I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever encountered such a bizarre gimmick. Not only does Ray Gigant require you to constantly be managing your party and your AP pool, but it also expects you to have musical expertise? It’s bizarre, it’s unheard of, and I totally love it. The fact that the game not only makes you carefully plan when to unleash your super-special attack due to its slow buildup, but also requires additional skill in a completely different genre in order to make sure that the attack actually works makes successfully pulling off a nice SBM attack very satisfying. Considering the fact that a perfectly-executed SBM attack can literally one-shot a boss, I would be rather worried if it were any easier to pull off.
Ray Gigant‘s visuals are rather unique in the fact that they are made up of a mixture of styles. While in-battle, party members are animated in an incredibly vivid and fluid style that actually makes them appear to be more anime character than video game character; something that I don’t really recall ever seeing before. This is both a blessing and a curse because, while the characters are in-view during move selection, the screen zooms in on baddies during actual combat, meaning that you can’t see the characters once the fighting begins. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, a lot of games don’t actually showcase the characters using moves, but the fact that at least some time was put into animating the characters in battle always left me wanting to actually see them actually performing the attacks. In contrast to the style in which the party members are animated is the animation of the Gigants, the game’s enemies. While the playable characters were animated in a very anime-esque way, the Gigants themselves seemed to utilize what could best be called a modern-day Mode 7. That is to say that, while the enemies were in fact moving, they weren’t actually being animated. It’s a very weird contrast, and not necessarily a bad one, but it does perhaps take a bit of getting used to at first.
While I normally wouldn’t dedicate two paragraphs to the visuals, I feel as though an exception must be made so I can talk a little bit about the battles with the game’s larger Gigants. While most battles take place within a smaller area there are, at certain points within the story, battles that take place against incredibly large Gigants. While many games would have the entire party still clustered together during fights with behemoth monsters, Ray Gigant once again does things a little differently. Much of the story revolves around how Ichiya, Kyle, and the rest of the crew are, to put things simply, a task force designed to repel oncoming Gigants and defend what is left of civilization. Because of this, characters with different fighting styles are positioned differently as they most likely would be in real life. While Ray Gigant has plenty of good things going on in terms of visual asthetics, it is this one major detail that sets it above and beyond many other games within its genre. By placing characters far away from, directly beneath, and at eye level with the Gigants, an extra layer of believably is added to the struggle that these characters are currently undergoing. It’s something that a lot of games don’t do, and definitely doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.
The visuals aren’t the only thing being stirred up in Ray Gigant! The game features a snazzy jazz-heavy soundtrack, that literally covers every event possible within the game. From casual conversations to life-threatening battles with Gigants, pretty much every song within the game is heavy on jazz and light on everything else… until you hit a certain point. Then, unexpectedly, the soundtrack completely shifts genres. Gone are the days of jazz, and in its place are tunes with a much more electronic feel; and it happens a few times! While I totally understand that most lengthy video games contain within them a plethora of songs, the way Ray Gigant shook things up almost felt as though I was being tricked. Sure, I thought that jazz might be inappropriate for certain scenarios, but the songs were good and I just assumed that “hey, this is how things are going to be in this game”; it was just kind of, I don’t know, weird I guess. With that being said however, the soundtrack was very enjoyable overall. Even if I never completely got used to the game essentially replacing its own OST several times, there was never a set of songs that I didn’t enjoy; with each new genre came a new and exciting variety of auditory flavors that, simply put, were pretty delicious.
Ray Gigant is a very, very solid game overall. Between classic dungeon crawling action, and spiced up combat mechanics, the game does a good job of making itself stand out as unique and fun in a world already filled with DRPGs. Even if dungeon crawling isn’t necessarily your thing, the compelling storyline and captivating artwork (both visually and musically!) make this game a good choice for anyone looking for their next world-saving adventure.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (previously released on Vita); Publisher: Acttil ; Developer: Experience Inc. ; Players: 1; Released: August 10, 2016; Genre: RPG ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on review code supplied by the game’s publisher.