You’d be hard pressed to find a game bursting with as much heartwarming charm as Rainbow Skies. From its playful, colourful aesthetic; to its bouncing, cheerful audio; to its polished, well-designed gameplay systems; Sidequest Studios’ follow-up to 2013’s Rainbow Moon is by no means a phoned in bare-bones sequel, and is far more than just a mere nostalgia play, too. Sure, though it sometimes feels like that familiar, stalwart mug of warm cocoa on a cold, wet afternoon, Rainbow Skies is a top-notch tactical, retro RPG that has the mechanical depth to help get fans of the classic genre truly invested, as well as the modern polish you’ve come to expect from a 2018 release.
Of course, as is the case in the majority of things in life, it’s not all roses and, ahem, rainbows. So, let’s begin with where this strategy-RPG sometimes falters: narrative and dialogue. The writing across the board is endearing at best, and borderline wonky at worst. It usually boils down to the game’s sense of humour, as its self-referential The Bard’s Tale-esque levity lands smoothly for the most part, but at times, the gags just get a little too long in the tooth.
It doesn’t help that the reams of text are often filled with inconsequential banter that would make any would-be hero reach for daddy’s secret sauce, or some form of ‘skip’ option if the ol’ cupboards are empty. Luckily, there is a viable way to circumvent dialogue interactions, and to my delight, the title gives players clear direction as to where to go and what to do next in each of your quests if you opt to do so. All that being said, there are some fairly sweet moments of frivolity hidden within the experience, like when the game doles out a fake ‘The End’ sequence early in your adventure. It sure made me smile, anyway.
Onto the good stuff, then, and thankfully there’s a lot to love about Rainbow Skies in pretty much every other area. As a pseudo open-world, isometric throwback RPG, it’s a very deep and rewarding experience with a plethora of hooks to keep you coming back for more. Impressively, the title’s foundational RPG systems are incredibly addictive. Leveling up your trio of characters – who are a mixture of archer, mage and fighter classes – is easy-to-understand and makes a discernible impact on your moment-to-moment journey.
Further still, the world of Arca is a rich and vibrant kingdom, brimming with eclectic monsters to slay, burgeoning towns to discover, oddball traders to barter with, and welcoming taverns to lay down your weary head. Exploration is super streamlined, but it’s also surprisingly well-designed. Many of the nooks and crannies almost always hide something cool to find, and there’s very little fluff to the overall experience (except for perhaps the aforementioned overly verbose dialogue sections). You’ll also be happy to know that a healer or tavern is never too far away, which gifts the game with a layer of welcome convenience with its pleasing quality-of-life improvements over its old-school inspiration. That said, things can still get quite challenging, and when the going gets tough, it can really kick your ass, especially when the training wheels come off. At times, battles can be pretty hardcore, which may put some players off.
In addition to the terrific exploration and addictive RPG elements is Rainbow Skies’ fun, grid-centric and turn-based combat. As is par for the course in this particular genre, positioning your team is absolutely key. Areas usually culminate in a fierce boss, a bunch of nasty adversaries, or a mixture of both. Each character is given a set amount of turns – though, as you level up each of your party-members’ Speed attribute, the amount of turns for each of your units increases slightly. These turns can be used to deliver attacks, move, defend, use special abilities, use items etc. If you’ve played Rainbow Skies’ predecessor, or any of the other myriad of tactical RPGs on the market, you’ll feel right at home. Though things can get pretty heated, the turn-based action is surprisingly entertaining stuff, particularly if you’ve got a soft spot for the genre, like me.
If you liked Rainbow Moon, chances are you’ll love Rainbow Skies. On the whole, it’s a massive improvement on pretty much every front over its forebear. Though the shaky dialogue can get a little grating at times, there’s an addictive and polished retro RPG experience at the heart of this fantasy adventure that’ll keep you hooked for many, many hours. And, you know, it can occasionally be funny. Sometimes.
VERDICT: If you liked Rainbow Moon, chances are you’ll love Rainbow Skies. Though the shaky dialogue can get a little grating at times, there’s an addictive and polished retro RPG experience at the heart of this fantasy adventure that’ll keep you hooked for many, many hours.
Rainbow Skies is out now on PS4, PS3, and PS Vita.