When it comes to dungeon crawling RPGs, few developers seem to 'get it' the way Experience Inc does. This is not always the most approachable of genres, but despite an almost painfully long and slow introduction, Ray Gigant quickly establishes itself with an interesting world and mechanics that are both deep but also well enough developed that this title could serve as a great entry point to those who have not given dungeon crawlers a try yet.
Having recently had the chance to play and review Stranger in Sword City, I admit that I expected more of the same from this title at first. I do not mean this in a derogatory way - it is just sort of how I expect certain aesthetics from a Square Enix RPG or how a 2D fighter from Arc System Works is likely to play out with fast gameplay and anime-styled visuals. Experience Inc has done a great job with their dungeon crawlers to date, and they have tweaked their formula some from one title to the next, usually changing more about the world and story than anything else.
So imagine my surprise when I come to find out that Ray Gigant is actually a very different type of dungeon crawler. Initially, you do not realize this. You get a very lengthy series of introductory sequences that help to set the stage. The world as we know it has been torn down by Gigants - as the name sounds like, they are 'giant' monsters that have descended on humanity and are threatening it with extension. However, as with any title like this, all hope is not lost due to the Yorigami - a sort of rival set of beings to the Gigant. It blends a handful of different elements into a post-apocalyptic setting featuring a young man who seems to have a mysterious connection to the Yorigami. The story is best described as 'good' - but it never really reached the point of being 'great' to me. There was plenty of opportunity to delve into some deeper, potentially darker, but more interesting themes but they are generally glossed over and allowed the characters to shoulder the burden of supporting the narrative weight.
Our initial protagonist's name is Ichiya, and he and many of the other characters manage to bring a lot of personality to the otherwise uninspired story. Ichiya is our introduction to the world, but hardly our only anchor to it. Matters are helped that despite this being a really text-heavy, almost visual novel-esque game, there are choices to be made that really do not seem to have a huge impact on the outcome in any tangible way, but still serve as a nice hook to keep you interested in the walls of words coming across the screen. One downside is that the localization is a little rough in some places. Certainly not the worst I have played, but not the best translation job either - but considering the amount of text involved here, it certainly could have been worse.
Like most dungeon crawlers of this nature, the story gets rolled out in stages as you are presented with some new dungeons that you beat, and then are rewarded with more narrative. Where things start to become notably different is in the way combat plays into all of this. Not only is the story linear, but character progression is somewhat tighter honed as well, leaning heavily on characters progressing through newly acquired talent trees. However, combat is quite important here and by and large it plays out structurally similar to a lot of other dungeon crawling games with turn-based combat. Where things get interesting is in the way that the group shares action points (AP) and has to balance what to do and when against sitting back for a turn and regenerating them in a battle.
A few things tend to scare off newcomers to the genre. One is that the dungeons can often be confusing in their presentation, but the dungeon crawling has come a long ways over the years. More distinctive visuals allow for markers of note while walking about - a huge improvement over the first person crawls of yesteryear where Every. Single. Passage. Looked. The. Same. Seriously, the graph paper I used to go through could probably rival War and Peace if I bound it together today into a single tome. Exploration is a challenge in these games not just due to navigation, but the risk of combat.
So it is startling to see that the oft-relied upon 'random encounter' method tossed out in favor of something with tangible, avoidable enemies. In the dungeon crawl genre I cannot tell you the number of times I had to flee a level with my tail firmly planted between my legs because I just had no idea when the next ridiculously strong group of enemies would pop up, potentially eliminating all of my progress. I enjoy those games, do not get me wrong, but it takes a certain mindset to really play through them without getting scared off. Here the game is far more approachable in how the dungeons are explored and combat encounters are handled.
As for the combat encounters - I have to say that the Gigant battles here are among my favorite in this genre, perhaps ever. The scope and scale of the enemies varies quite a bit. Certainly you have your close ranged, humanoid-sized creature, but there is a lot more variety here than we usually see in dungeon crawlers. Distant sea serpents, massive dragon heads and more really help to lend a sense of scale not generally found in games like this, and it looks excellent.
That leads me into the presentation of the game, which I also enjoyed. Sound effects are handled well and the sound track is also excellent. More than anything however, the visuals really stood out to me. Sure, the backdrops are not perfect - they are basically static and sometimes the enemies are lined up along the floors a little strangely while the creatures themselves rotate through a handful of frames to give them a shallow sense of animation. However, the animation already exceeds what the genre usually gives us, and the use of color and details easily exceeds what I am used to seeing. Add to it the intuitive interface options, and I found myself enjoying combat for more than just its tactical depth.
The end result is that Ray Gigant manages to instill some new ideas into the dungeon crawling genre. Of course any time you do something new, there are some rough edges and they present here now and again, but the battle system is a lot of fun, exploration is far less of a grinding chore than we usually see in titles like this, and while the story itself never quite reaches 'great' status, the rest of the game's systems help to prop it up. If you have been on the fence about trying the genre out however, this is probably one of the better opportunities to do so.
Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc
Article by Nick