Another dungeon crawling role-playing game from Japanese developer Experience, Ray Gigant is a good entry point to an often complex genre, boasting streamlined mechanics, an enjoyable story, and decent cast of characters. Adding to the Vita's already crowded catalogue of Japanese titles, does this tale of teenagers and colossal god-like entities do enough to stand out?
Within the first two minutes of booting up Ray Gigant, civilisation as we know it is reduced to rubble. Mankind's torn to bits without warning by Gigants, monstrous entities that are described by the game as aliens – although it's unclear whether they even belong to our own plane of existence. In any case, everything's gone to hell, and humanity is only able to survive due to the power of the Yorigami – another set of mysterious and powerful beings that have a bone to pick with the Gigants.
The plot itself doesn't deal with any truly deep themes or concepts, and it certainly isn't all that original, but by evoking feelings of Neon Genesis Evangelion and other post-apocalyptic Japanese media, it manages to spin a strong enough yarn. As mentioned, there's also a good cast of characters at work here; some adhere to stereotypical archetypes for sure, but generally speaking, the youths charged with saving the human race from certain doom are reasonably well written, and each one of them slots into the overarching narrative nicely.
As is the case with a lot of text heavy RPGs these days, dialogue choices play a part in the plot, but they don't really have any impact on proceedings. Stepping into the shoes of Ichiya – a young man who has an inherent affinity with the Yorigami – you'll be able to have your say during various conversations, but again, these decisions are little more than narrative fluff. Still, the ability to project your own opinions onto the protagonist at least heightens your involvement.
The game's quite linear in structure, dumping you into one or two dungeons per story chapter, and each excursion tends to be bookmarked by plenty of dialogue and plot exposure. It's a straight forward approach that lends itself to the narrative aspects of the release, and the story feels well paced as a result. Some stints of dungeon crawling do perhaps drag on a little too long, but even then, the narrative payoff rarely underwhelms.
Thankfully, the pacing's also kept in check by the fact that you aren't forced to revisit cleared dungeons in order to grind and power up your party members. Unlike many similar titles, character progression is thoughtfully streamlined, and as long as you make good use of your team's skill trees, you shouldn't encounter too many problems in combat. That said, the option to return to a previous dungeon is available between chapters, so if there's a particular skill that you really want or a weapon that you're eager to enhance, it's easy enough to dive back into the fray.
Powering up you and your buddies requires resources that enemies drop when defeated. Alongside crystals that raise your base statistics – effectively determining that character's role in battle – you also find gems that allow you to unlock new weapons, shields, and accessories. All in all, it's a neat little system, and because you're not relying on concepts like grinding for experience points, it feels like you're always making some progress, even if you're just saving a handful of crystals for a new ability that's caught your eye.
Likewise, combat is similarly tidy. Outside of big boss fights with gigantic Gigants, you'll often be scrapping with smaller monsters as you explore dungeons. When you boil it down, it's a pretty standard turn based affair: you pick your commands, hit the confirm button, and watch how things play out. However, Ray Gigant makes a few subtle tweaks to the evergreen turn-based formula, and these wrinkles give battles a surprisingly unique flavour.
For starters, your health regenerates after every encounter, meaning that there's no reason not to take each fight seriously, and as such, attacking and defending are equally important. It's up to you whether you'll spend a turn dishing out some pain or shrugging off incoming blows, which creates a pleasant rhythm, especially during boss brawls. While you could argue that there's no real need for much tactical thought – you're always going to just hunker down and defend when you need healing, for example – you're still presented with a respectable amount of options when it comes to approaching combat, and that's enough to keep you invested.
Overall, it's difficult to really fault Ray Gigant, even if nothing that it does is particularly special. It also helps that, as a whole, the game's tied together rather well by a slick art style and a catchy soundtrack. As far as presentation goes, our only gripe is with the dungeons themselves, which can seem overly bleak compared to the title's otherwise colourful, creative design.
Taking a step back from being a hardcore dungeon crawler, Ray Gigant puts one foot firmly into the realm of modern Japanese RPGs, and the result is an accessible experience, perfect for those looking for a gateway into the genre. It's not quite up there with the best that the Vita has to offer, but a good battle system and an enjoyable story go a long way in making this a rock solid role-playing release.