RPGamer dug into eastasiasoft's upcoming tactical RPG Rainbow Moon not too long ago in this hands-off preview, but now we have a little more to share. We were able to chat with Marcus Pukropski of SideQuest Studios, the company developing the game. As the project leader and main programmer, Marcus was able to give us some additional details about Rainbow Moon.
Michael A. Cunningham (RPGamer, Editor-in-Chief): How did the decision to design an RPG come about for SideQuest Studios?
Marcus Pukropski (SideQuest Studios, Project Leader/Main Programmer): Rainbow Moon is the third game that we have developed for the PS3, after our shoot' em ups Söldner-X: Himmelsstürmer and Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype.
Over the last few weeks I received this question quite frequently, and I must say that all of us think that the change has felt really good. Many of us love playing different kind of games, especially games with a classic game play and we always wanted to explore new directions.
The idea to work on a role playing game actually came up several years ago, during the development of our first Söldner-X game. We always enjoyed putting a lot of details and hidden stuff into our games, which is something that often defines good RPGs.
Plans were already made for a Söldner-X sequel, so the idea was put on hold for a while. Eventually in 2010, together with our publishing partner eastasiasoft, we agreed on developing Rainbow Moon. Now, about two busy years later, and we are finally close to game launch, something that we are all very excited about.
MAC: Were there any other tactical RPGs that served as inspiration for Rainbow Moon?
MP: Yes. I'm actually a very big fan of Disgaea and several other NIS games. I've also enjoyed many of the older Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games, Final Fantasy XI and others.
I am sure that some inspiration of these games inevitably ended up in Rainbow Moon. However all in all I must also conclude that Rainbow Moon plays very differently from any of these titles, something that is very important to us. Our goal was never to clone any specific game series.
Rainbow Moon is a really great mix of traditional role-playing game with lots of exploration, combined with a more tactical battle system, often found in strategy RPGs.
MAC: Rainbow Moon appears to be a normal RPG with random encounters that transitions into a tactical RPG for battles. Why design the game in this unique fashion?
MP: Although we have a system that we call "random encounters", it's very different from what many RPG players probably associate with this term.
In Rainbow Moon there are different ways to start a battle. First of all, there are foes that are visible on the world map and inside dungeons during exploration. Some of those foes can be completely evaded, while others are blocking certain passages. Whenever you collide with a monster, a battle is started.
Additionally, you will also receive random encounter invitations. These invitations are optional, and you can either accept or simply decline or disregard them.
Depending on your play style, difficulty level and preference, you can play Rainbow Moon in many different ways. Some players that prefer to just follow the main story can do so by engaging into less battles, while others that would like to get the maximum out of the game and aren't shy of doing some leveling and grinding, will be the ones also taking advantages of random encounters.
Back to your original question, we wanted to give players the possibility to make good use of all the equipment and skills that he can acquire throughout the game and leave him enough room during battles without making the game too difficult to understand. On the other hand we really enjoy exploration, something that made many RPGs (especially JRPGs) so popular in the past and that some SRPGs totally lack.
MAC: How much exploration is there in Rainbow Moon? What kind of things can you do when exploring towns?
MP: Rainbow Moon is really a lot about exploration. Rainbow Moon itself is one big world that gradually opens up step by step.
In the beginning, you start your journey on one small island, which is just a tiny part of the world. While you progress through the story, you can enter new areas, including dungeons and of course also villages and towns.
In town areas, you will find more NPCs than elsewhere. Many of them will be grateful if you offer them their help, which basically means completing either parts of the main story or a number of side quests. You will also come across a large variety of merchants, including weapon dealers, armor shops, item shops, scroll shops and crafting shops. Other things you can do in some towns is uploading your game stats, playing the lottery mini game and hunting for treasures.
Apart from exploration by foot, there are also several means of transportations that will become available after a while. These will eventually allow you to explore every single spot of the planet. And best of all, you can always go and re-visit any place that you went to before, so you never need to worry about missing out on something.
MAC: Since battles only use three of your party members, how many other party members are there to choose from?
MP: You start your journey with a single character. His name is Baldren and he is the unlikely hero of our adventure, that was cursed by his arch-rival Namoris and warped to an unknown place, called Rainbow Moon.
During your adventure, you will meet up to five other characters that will follow you. So in total up to six members will be in your party. You can freely choose your leader and select up to two companions, which will join you in battle.
All characters are very different from another and have their own abilities and characteristics. Each character is specialized in a different weapon class and can equip his own set of armor and learn unique battle skills.
MAC: Do characters vary in appearance based on what armor they have equipped or do they maintain the same look regardless?
MP: Yes, character appearances change whenever you equip your character with a new weapon, body or hat armor. The feature was very important to us and we think it's really something that gets you hooked during the game.
You can also freely choose your party leader at anytime during exploration, so there are no restrictions on presets of the party. The leader is also the character that you actively control during exploration mode.
MAC: With smaller parties, how does that affect the pace of battles? What is the typical length of a battle?
MP: Rainbow Moon's battles last longer than your average encounter in Final Fantasy XIII but are shorter than let's say battles in Disgaea. The length of a battles varies, but in most cases will be something between thirty seconds to three minutes.
Our approach was to create a battle system that is complex enough to give the player certain tactical freedom, but at the same time we wanted to keep it easy to understand.
Usually when you advance to a new area and encounter foes that are stronger than you, battles will be more difficult. However as you gradually become stronger, you will gain the upper hand and the same battles will eventually become much easier and quicker.
All in all the battle length also depends on each player's play style. If you engage only into the minimum number of battles, you will have a harder time compared to players that wipe out all foes in an area.
There are of course also battles that are more difficult, such as boss encounters, which can sometimes take you fifteen minutes or even longer.
MAC: How does character customization work in Rainbow Moon? What are some examples of attack, healing, and support skills?
There are a number of ways to customize and improve your characters. It's quite a big topic but let me try to summarize the main aspects.
First of all, by being victorious in battle, each character can gain experience points (XP). Earn sufficient XP and your characters will level up. Leveled up characters will gain increased HP/MP and sometimes extra sub-turns (for executing multiple commands in one turn) and skill points (for equipping passive skills).
Just leveling up however doesn't make your characters much stronger. During battles you can also gain Rainbow Pearls, which you can exchange at any savant across Rainbow Moon
for improved character attributes. This includes your characters' strength, defense, speed and luck attributes.
On top of that, you can further customize and improve your characters by purchasing new weapons, gear and skills. Each of your six characters is specialized in a different weapon class and can equip different body/hat armor and accessories. Overall there are several hundred weapons, armor and accessories in the game, each one of them with different characteristics.
Each weapon or armor that you can obtain in the game has a certain number of crafting slots. You can visit a weapon smith and merge any of your equipment with materials that you have found during your journey. This makes your equipment even stronger and sometimes also allows you to attach passive skills or positive conditions.
Skills in general are an important part of the battle system and in total you will come across more than 100 different active and passive skills. Active skills can mostly be executed in battles through your battle command (there are also a few skills that work outside of battles) and next to powerful attack skills also cover healing and support skills.
Passive skills on the other hand require skill points to be equipped and don't need further execution. For example, passive skills can give you extra strength/defense in battle or make you resistant against negative status conditions, such as being poisoned. There are also passive skills that give you other advantages in battles, depending on your party setup and character deployment.
There's really still a lot more that I could tell you about this. If you are interested in more details, I recommend you to check out the "system" tab on our website at www.rainbowmoongame.com
MAC: How important is the story? Is it a linear experience or are there choices and branching paths?
MP: Rainbow Moon's main focus lies on gameplay. There is a story that we are following, which is about Baldren who, as mentioned earlier, unwillingly finds himself warped to this unknown place called Rainbow Moon and desperately needs to find a way back home.
The story is told in a similar way that Nintendo is telling stories in many Zelda games. The game starts with a short introduction movie, which gives the player a basic understanding of the setting. From there on, the story is told through dialogs with people that Baldren meets on Rainbow Moon.
We felt like drafting up a too complex story is an approach that we didn't want to take. Instead, there are other ways for the player to connect to the characters, such as the strong character development and customization system that I talked about before.
The main quest itself is straightforward, and as long as you are following your next task, you cannot do much wrong. We don't fancy the idea of multiple endings, like for example in Final Fantasy XIII-2. In our opinion it will give the player the feeling of missing out on something, rather than motivating him to play the game again. However don't worry, gameplay isn't as linear as let's say in FFXIII. (I hope you don't mind the many Final Fantasy references but I assume this is a series that many have played.)
Besides following your main quest, Rainbow Moon also gives you a lot of room for exploration. For example there are more than sixty side quests that you can complete and there are also multiple areas and dungeons that are completely optional. So whenever you feel like taking a break from you main quest, there are plenty possibilities to do so.
MAC: What features did you want to work into Rainbow Moon, but were not able to for whatever reason and will possibly have to save for a sequel?
MP: That's a very good question, especially because I don't think that we ever talked about this before, but I'm glad to give you some insight.
Although we all in all ended up including much more than originally planned, there are also a few features that didn't make it into the final product.
One feature that comes right into my mind was the idea to let each character acquire a pet, which he could then command in battle. Pets were supposed to level up and become stronger, just like other party members. We already drew a number of concept images but the feature was eventually scrapped in favor of other things.
Apart from the pets, we also have other unused concept drawings for additional enemy classes, NPCs and buildings. Another feature that was eventually scrapped was the idea for characters with certain weapon types (such as bows and slingshots) to purchase ammunition. But finally the idea simply didn't fully convince us, so in the final product all characters will have unlimited supply of ammunition.
But like I said before, on the other hand there are a lot of features that were not part of the original concept. For example we added many new battle features, such as casting barriers and walls, more than doubled the amount of special skills, included network features and ended up with a much bigger story and extra side quests.
According to our original concept, we wanted to create a main story that the player can complete within around 20 to 25 hours. Finally Rainbow Moon ended up being twice as big and including all optional and end game content more than triple the size.
At the end of the day we are really happy and completely satisfied with the final product. And chances are that some of the unused material will end up in a potential sequel, port or another game.
MAC: You mentioned possibly porting this to another system in the future. Any specific systems you'd like to see Rainbow Moon on? Vita perhaps?
MP: It would be great to see Rainbow Moon on other systems and reach out for a larger audience. We received a lot of feedback from users that asked for a Vita version, so this would probably be one of the highest possibilities if we decide on a port. The Vita is a cool platform and enjoys strong support from the core gamer community. There has also been a large library of RPGs available on the PSP, and the technical similarities to the PS3 hardware favor a Vita release.
Steam would be another system that we'd like to bring our games to. Back in 2007 our first game was published for the PC, but digital distribution wasn't so strong back then compared to now. This could be worth giving another shot if demand is strong enough.
However at the moment we haven't really decided on any port yet as we'd like to wait for the reception of the PlayStation 3 release this July. A strong reception and support from our fans will increase the chances for a port to other platforms.
MAC: Now that things are winding down on development, what were some important lessons learned from creating your first RPG?
MP: The biggest lesson that we have probably learned is not to underestimate how long it actually takes to develop, balance, fine tune and test a project of this size.
Our original goal was to have Rainbow Moon in stores for Christmas 2011 but we ended up being more than half year off schedule. But all in all we really don't have any regrets and like I said earlier are very happy with the final product.
For us most important is to deliver a product that we are proud of and that makes our fans happy. We believe that the rest will come naturally.
PS: Don't forget, Rainbow Moon will be available on PlayStation Store this July.
Many thanks for giving me the opportunity for this interview.
We would again like to thank Marcus Pukropski, SideQuest Studios, and the eastasiasoft teams for for this interview. Rainbow Moon will be available on the PlayStation Network for PlayStation 3 owners on July 10, 2012.