Experience Inc. is the developer behind well-known dungeon crawlers Demon Gaze and Stranger of Sword City. They’ve now partnered up with Bandai Namco and Acttil to release Ray Gigant on the PS Vita. Personally, I loved Demon Gaze but appreciated that it had a lot of faults, uneven difficulty, bland dungeon graphics and repetitive combat. So has Experience Inc. done anything new or is this just another standard dungeon crawler? Let’s find out!
The game begins in fairly dramatic fashion with a young man describing what has happened in the world recently. A terrible monster known as a Gigant appeared and began to attack Tokyo and other major cities across the world. Humanity fought against it but to no avail. All hope seemed lost but as suddenly as the Gigant appeared, it disappeared. A boy named Ichiya Amakaze succeeded in defeating the monster where all the world’s military had failed. Ichiya, with the help of a mysterious lifeform known as a Yorigami defeated the Gigant, but the power of the Yorigami overwhelmed him and caused great destruction to Tokyo.
After this great battle, humanity found a way to artificially create this union between Yorigamis and humans. The people selected to defend the human race became known as Kamibito.
It’s definitely an interesting opening story and the game has a much stronger storyline then some of Experience Inc’s previous work.
The game is broken up into chapters and you initially view the game from Ichiya’s perspective. He is sent to Outer Academy to learn more about fighting the Gigants. Unfortunately, defeating the first Gigant was only the beginning and more have been appearing. It is the role of the student Kamibitos from Outer Academy to defeat them.
Ichiya is not the most loveable protagonist, he begins the game as a bit of a self-centered coward – he fears his bond with the Yorigami and the power that it has given him. He gets put in a team with two other students Mana & Kazuomi who don’t particularly like him. As you play through it’s great to see their relationship change from one of distrust to truly relying on each other.
Along with Ichiya there are two other character arcs. In the second part of the game you view the story from Kyle Griffin’s perspective. Kyle is a much more serious and grown up protagonist compared to Ichiya. The last character arc you play through is as Nil Phineus. Each character arc takes place in a different setting but is a continuation of the main story.
The way that new characters are introduced breaks the pace of the game slightly. The storyline ramps up to dramatic levels only to be suddenly halted and a new set of characters introduced. It just feels odd to finish an intense boss fight and then get introduced to a new set of characters who talk about the most inane topics.
Nil’s character arc was definitely my least favourite and frankly it’s a bit bizarre that the game’s writers couldn’t come up with anything more interesting for Nil and her sisters to talk about other than cooking, laundry and other chores – particularly as Ichiya and Kyle seemed to have much more interesting beginnings.
All of the game’s story is told in a visual novel style, the character portraits and backgrounds are crisp and beautiful. The game has Japanese voice overs but is only partially voice acted, some conversations are text only. I thought the voice acting was really good and the actors and actresses really brought their characters to life. There are occasionally grammatical errors and typos in the text but nothing that impacts the game too much. I did however notice that some of the menu screens cut off the end of words. Thankfully this doesn’t happen too often.
The main action of Ray Gigant takes place in grid-based dungeons called Megalosites. Compared to the visual novel style scenes these dungeons are definitely a bit bland looking. What is also quite disappointing is the number of dungeon designs, there’s only really one per character arc (plus a crystal design which is used frequently) which makes a lot of the dungeons look and feel repetitive. The early dungeons also have simple layouts which adds to the repetition. Once you find the save point in the dungeon all uncovered areas in the dungeon get revealed on the map making it a bit too easy to find all treasures.
Fortunately the dungeons in the second half of the game are more tricky with various obstacles to overcome such as lever puzzles, trapdoors, portals and spike pits. I definitely had a few very satisfying ‘ah ha!’ moments when solving puzzles and getting to the end of the harder dungeons.
Somewhat unusual for a dungeon crawler, there are no random encounters – instead all battles are in fixed locations. This means you only need to enter battle when you are ready for it and can try to avoid as many battles as you like. When in battle characters and enemies look detailed, they all have a few frames of animation which really helps to bring them to life. When your characters or enemy attacks you don’t actually see the attack, instead you just get a text box to say what the action is and numbers flash up on the screen to show how much health is increased or decreased by. I’m really hoping that in future games Experience Inc. starts to show animations for some of this!
The battle system is interesting. It’s turn-based but you can select upto five actions for each character before the round starts. What stops you from just selecting five strong attacks every turn? Well, you’re limited by the number of action points (AP). Every action uses up a number of AP and this is only replenished when an enemy acts or you use a ‘wait’ command. This brings in a bit of strategy as you don’t want to use up all your AP in one round and then be a sitting duck in the following round with no AP left to defend or heal. Some battles are more costly in terms of AP to fight and it can be a bit of a balancing act to try to maintain your AP level throughout the dungeon. Your health on the other hand is fully restored at the end of each battle. If you’re a veteran of dungeon crawlers you’ll probably find that this can make things a tad too easy.
As each turn passes the Parasitism rate increases and once it reaches 100% your party enters Parasitism mode. During this mode instead of each action consuming AP you will use your HP. This mode will change the way you fight as it’s much more important to play it a bit safer and focus on keeping your health up. Parasitism ends when the battle ends or by using SP points (more on that in a little bit).
Every couple of chapters you get a boss battle against an enormous Gigant. These are great battles and definitely a feast for the eyes. Every character stands in a different location so you get to see the Gigant from different camera angles. These boss fights are tougher than normal fights and are also where you are most likely to take advantage of the Slash Beat Mode (SBM), when you have between 50 – 100 Slash Points (SP) you can enter a rhythm based mode which (if you time your attacks correctly) can unleash a devastatingly powerful attack. This was a fun mode but I would have liked this to have been expanded on and been given more rhythms to master.
Another thing to consider is your character’s weight. Their weight changes based on item use, in-game events and battles. The heavier the character is the stronger their physical attacks but the lighter they are the easier it is to evade attacks. There’s no downside to being too heavy or too light so while it is a cool mechanic to initially play around with I pretty quickly found myself ignoring it and just leaving all characters as underweight.
Unlike most dungeon crawlers you don’t gain experience points at the end of battles. Enemies drop various resources which can be used in each characters Evolve Tree. You learn all attacks and increase your character’s statistics through this system. You also use it to gain new items, shields and weapons for each character. There are no shops in this game and therefore no need to manage your inventory, I really liked this approach and found it made the game much more streamlined.
What I didn’t like though was that every set of characters you play as start off low levelled and have really similar Evolve Trees. It would have been much more interesting if some of the supporting characters had more unique skills and Evolve Trees.
This is probably one of the easiest dungeon crawlers that I’ve ever played and veterans of the genre will probably get through Ray Gigant in quite a short amount of time – especially as there are no side quests. It has some re-playability in that new difficulty modes are unlocked after completing the game but as it is so linear I do wonder how many people will replay it.
There’s lots of little things to criticise about Ray Gigant but that doesn’t stop the fact that it’s actually really fun to play through. It’s great that Experience Inc. have tried some new things like the SBM, Evolve Tree, Parasitism and weight system. These all make the game feel unique and help to make this dungeon crawler feel fresh in an occasionally stale genre. It’s just a shame that the way some of these features are used makes the game more repetitive. A bit more freedom, more diverse dungeons and a hard difficulty mode available from the beginning would have made this a true classic. As it stands it’s still a really good game and I would definitely recommend you give it a go, especially if you’re already a fan of the genre.