I think I’ve mentioned before that there are a couple of game genres that I just can’t get into, one is the FPS, the other is the first person dungeon crawler. Regarding the latter, it’s tough for me to get attached to custom characters that have no personality whatsoever. I also have difficulty with first person perspectives, I much prefer third person.
In recent years, however, developer Experience has nearly flooded the Vita with first person dungeon crawlers that are garnering high praise from critics and users alike, but their apparent brutal difficulty is a turn off. On the heels of their latest release, Stranger of Sword City, is another first person dungeon crawler that definitely flew under the radar, that game is Ray Gigant.
Ray Gigant differs from its brethren in a few major ways. Firstly, it puts a greater emphasis on story than most dungeon crawlers. I think even people who aren’t very familiar with this genre are aware that most people don’t play them for their story, and I think that’s a factor that prevents many from getting into the genre, especially if they’re more familiar with traditional JRPGs. Ray Gigant’s story doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. In a nutshell, monsters called Gigants suddenly appeared on Earth and started wrecking everything. The day was saved when a Japanese high schooler, Ichiya Amakaze, defeated the Gigant by bonding with a strange living weapon–called Yorigami—named Habakiri. Since that day, however, Gigants have started appearing again, and it’s naturally up to teenagers with superpowers to save the day.
One thing the game does to shake up the formula a bit is that you take control of three separate groups of characters as they fight the Gigants: obviously Ichiya’s group represents Japan, but you also control a European group, led by Kyle Griffith, and a North American group, led by Nil Phineus. Each group has their own story which spans multiple chapters, and while in terms of gameplay each group follows a predictable pattern, the change in personalities is a welcome one, even if the characters often fall into both national and anime stereotypes. For instance, Conner McBride, a member of Kyle’s team, is very much an Irish stereotype, being a very heavy drinker. In fact, I don’t think he can get two sentences out without mentioning alcohol in some way.
Gameplay is fairly typical for the genre in that you walk around dungeons in first person perspective, avoiding traps on the way to the boss room, but it eliminates familiar staples like loot, items, random encounters, and experience points. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate, things like equipment and items are still present, but are learned via skill tree by spending resources. There are a few different types of resources: Seed levels up your characters and can be spent to increase physical, magical, and technical attributes, Breed and Materia are used to generate and strengthen new weapons and skills, and Reverse and Alter are used to respec your characters. Enemies drop small amounts of resources, but the bulk of the resources you’ll find are in treasure chests or gained by defeating bosses. One neat thing about the way items work is that whether you enhance an existing item or gain a new item is randomly determined. Don’t be too concerned, however, as by the end of the game I was absolutely swimming in resources.
Speaking of enemies, they can be seen on the map and they don’t move at all. Enemies come in three colours: blue, yellow, and red. These colours don’t refer to the difficulty of fights, but rather how much it costs to use abilities against them, halved for blue enemies, regular for yellow enemies, and doubled for red enemies. Also, if you take a beating during a fight, don’t worry, as you’re healed back to full HP after every battle unless you’re “critical” (HP at 0) and even then, if you can find the Jam Stone in each dungeon, it will heal your entire party and give you the opportunity to save as well as revive any gigants you’ve slain. You can also leave the dungeon at any time, but all of the enemies will respawn.
Battles are turn-based and use a system based on Action Points. You can map different skills and items to the circle, square, or triangle buttons, they each cost AP, and your entire party of three uses the same AP pool, effectively meaning you can usually only take a few actions per turn, at least at the beginning. The one action that doesn’t drain your AP is the wait command, but the unit who uses it can’t act that turn. In effect, battles are about managing AP. As if that weren’t enough, you also have to pay attention to the Parasitism Gauge and the Slash Beat Mode gauge. Parasitism increases gradually over time and carries over between battles. While affected by Parasitism, attacks drain health instead of AP (which can actually be advantageous if your characters have a lot of health but are low on AP). The Parasitism gauge can be reset by leveling up using a Seed resource, spending 30 SP, or entering Slash Beat Mode (SBM) which is basically a super mode that takes the form of a rhythm mini game.
If this sounds complicated, what it basically comes down to is making sure you have enough action points to do what you want to do while building up SP to unleash your super mode. After a major battle, you’ll usually get the opportunity to eat some food, either gaining or losing weight, weight gain makes characters stronger and tougher, but slower, whereas weight loss gives a character better accuracy and evasion. Eating food items or waiting can cause a character to gain wait, whereas offensive actions cause characters to lose weight. It’s yet another way to customize your characters, but in practice I wasn’t really paying attention to the system and didn’t notice that much of a difference.
Where the game shines, I feel, is in the epic boss fights between gigants that are so massive your party needs to split up and attack it from different angles. These fights feel epic, at the very least, even if what you’re doing gameplay wise is basically what you’ve been doing in regular battles and end-of-dungeon boss fights. In addition, the animations for both the characters and the enemies (massive or not) look really cool to my untrained eye. There’s a fluidity of motion that most games outside of the ones with massive budgets just don’t achieve. The music is catchy but also pretty repetitive, although I did like Kyle’s battle and boss themes in particular.
Few games are perfect though and Ray Gigant is no exception, it may seem odd to say this when I just talked about difficulty being a barrier to entry into the dungeon crawler genre, I felt that Ray Gigant was at times too easy. The game warns you whenever a dungeon makes use of a gimmick, like AP draining traps, hidden doors, or currents that push you in a single direction, but in only one case did I find a gimmick really frustrating. What puzzles the game has (involving levers) are usually pretty easy and there’s usually hints in the area in case you get stuck. I couldn’t help but compare my experience with this game to my experience with Sector Delphinus in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, and let me tell you, I had such a bad time in that part of the game that Ray Gigant is a cakewalk in comparison. There’s also a lack of variation in the dungeon environments, the individual dungeons in each story all look the same just with different layouts, if you’re tired of looking at the same columns, you’ll just have to wait until you switch to the next protagonist. I think what most disappoints me about this game is the lack of strategy. I was literally able to use the same strategy against the final boss as I did against all the other bosses. In a nutshell, have one character dish out damage while the second spams the “wait” command and the third character heals. The only thing you need to worry about with this strategy is the enemy landing a hit that stuns your healer, otherwise you can pretty much win the game, you’re welcome. It’s a shame because the boss fights against the massive gigants could have been something really special, but instead it just becomes an exercise in slowly and steadily chipping away at a boss’s health until they die. A lesser, but still significant, gripe I have is with the translation, which alternates between “decent” and “is that even a sentence?” the game definitely could have used more polish in that regard, particularly when major plot elements were introduced and my reaction was “Wait, what are they talking about?”
In terms of potential triggers, I’ve already mentioned the food and weight loss system, where characters remark that they should lose weight or should be watching their weight. Some of the non-Japanese characters reference racist stereotypes of Japanese people and are called out on it, and I’ve already mentioned stereotypical characters like Conner. There’s also only one major character with darker skin who turns out to be a villain.
Ray Gigant is not an awful game, in fact, it’s a good first dungeon crawler for people who are intimidated by dungeon crawlers even though it strays from tradition in a few significant ways. Veterans of this sort of game probably won’t find it offers much of a challenge, however, and are probably busy with Stranger of Sword City anyways. I estimate I probably spent around 35 hours on it, and at $15 on sale I’d say it was worth the money. If you’re looking for a newbie-friendly dungeon crawler, it’s an easy recommendation despite the lack of strategy. If you have more experience with the genre, this game probably doesn’t have much to offer you, something like Stranger of Sword City might be more your speed.