I still remember the first time I played SideQuest Studios’ Rainbow Skies. After spending a few hours with Stardew Valley on the oft-forgotten PS Vita, I found myself reminiscing about farming games I played as a child. I then ran afoul of Sony’s anti-consumer digital refund rules when I picked up the Rainbow Moon and Rainbow Skies bundle on sale – only to realise what I was actually looking for were Nintendo’s Harvest Moon games.
Now for context, I sunk about a dozen hours into both and don’t begrudge that time, but I found both games – built on much the same framework – do their damndest to bury their enjoyable elements under a landslide of contrived busywork. Given it’s been 5-years since Rainbow Skies launched, I was curious to see what might have changed with the Switch port. Sadly, while it looks great and runs well, it’s still based on 2019’s v1.1 patch that added a few quality-of-life changes but did nothing to tweak the grind-heavy gameplay loop.
Epic ambitions without the budget
If you’ve no familiarity with the IP, Rainbow Skies is an indie, streamlined, turn-based, tactical RPG, that aims to capture the look and feel of classic tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics. It somewhat succeeds with the vibrant and cartoonish visuals, grid-based combat, and so-good-it’s-bad writing (subjective, of course). There’s no proper voice work outside of godawful greetings, but the dialogue uses different fonts, exclamations, and exaggerated animations to convey the personalities of your party and the underdeveloped supporting cast.
Damion – you can rename the party if you want – plays the brash and wilfully-idiotic muscle on a coming-of-age arc, living on the floating world of Arca high above the supposedly lethal planet Lunah. His monster taming exam – under the guidance of mentor Layne – is cut short when he damages the monster enclosure and, while trying to restore it, a battle against a giant slime leaves the two falling towards the surface. Meanwhile, Ashley, a novice mage, is practicing monster-binding spells on the perfectly inhabitable world below. As she’s attempting her first successful binding, Damion and Layne crash down and the three end up magically bound.
With a smattering of short but charming CG cutscenes mixed in, the opening hours provide a story- and tutorial-heavy prologue that sets the stage for an adventure more epic in theory than in practice. The party sets out to discover how to break the spell and get back home but, in typical RPG fashion, they find themselves caught between two competing empires on the cusp of war – the “imperials” and “celestials” – and eventually end up exploring the world across two time periods.
While it’s not going to win any awards, Rainbow Skies has a more interesting and prominent story than Rainbow Moon. There are more frequent encounters with significant NPCs and more background lore but, just like its predecessor, you have no influence in the story beyond the ability to ignore side-quests, so most of your time is spent reading through dozens of dialogue bubbles as the game sticks to the isometric perspective. Aside from those aforementioned cutscenes, cinematic it is not.
Simple and more-ish
That said, the narrative does a decent enough job of stringing you between pleasantly brisk, turn-based battles with streamlined, easy-to-understand mechanics and upgrades. Rainbow Skies plays like a tactical RPG at four times the usual speed. Mechanical depth – beyond making numbers go higher – is mostly sacrificed as a result, but positioning, exploiting weaknesses, and focussing on priority targets are still important for tougher battles.
In theory, you’re never “forced” into battle and can flee at any time, but aside from a simple fishing mini-game, every meaningful interaction or upgrade means combat. When battles begin, your party is dropped into a small, flat grid-like arena, the turn order is always visible on the top of the screen, and visual overlays clearly highlight your movement or attack range. Movement and basic attacks just require a directional input, while some light menu-ing and manual targeting are required for items and skills.
Rather than on-and-off companions as seen in Rainbow Moon, you’ve got a constant party – specialised in melee, ranged, or magical attacks – supported by tamed monsters with limited skills. Boosting stats and upgrading gear impact health, mana, damage output, and turn frequency; careful positioning can limit attack angles and exploit enemy AI (especially if you leave impassable loot bags untouched); using a weapon, armour, or skill slowly improves it; and skills all have unique attack geometry to consider. Although some boss battles can drag on as they spam you with successive attacks, most rarely last more than a few minutes thanks to the small arenas.
Do you value your time?
Although not as shameless as its predecessor, Rainbow Skies‘ biggest problem is still the use of arbitrary, time-wasting mechanics to drag out what could have been a compact adventure with numerous end-game activities. There are many to pick from, so I’ll list just a few egregious examples.
You have an inventory with a pathetic amount of space unless you buy multiple bag upgrades, for each inventory category, that only improve capacity by one slot at a time. There are only four attributes to level up – their maximum value dictated by your character level – but that involves collecting three “shard” types that are single-use consumables split between your party. You have a sprawling menu system that makes simple actions like using a potion, freeing up space for quest rewards, or manually saving (the only option) time-consuming. There are named days and a day-night cycle used for only a handful of quests or secrets, along with dark areas that force you to stock up on consumable torches to activate switches and treasures. Oh, and there’s a hunger system that modifies your damage output too, so you’ll need to constantly buy and consume food items to deal consistent damage.
I found the simplistic and contrived mission structure tolerable when it pushes you toward a new region or boss encounter, but it doesn’t take long before the side-quest list is filled with checklist challenges – including ones that literally require performing an activity a thousand times – and item requests that boil down to grinding battles for rare drops.
It makes so little sense given there’s plenty of story-driven content anyway, and the moment Rainbow Skies gets repetitive, the easier it is to notice things like repeating tile-sets, character models, and the limited soundtrack; the slow pace of levelling thanks to the pitiful XP most battles reward you; how little damage excessively flashy and lengthy skills ultimately do; how few significant items you’ll find in treasure chest; and how much backtracking you have to endure through needlessly labyrinthine maps before finally unlocking an airship.
On paper, there are a ton of systems and complexities, but too many are shallow time-wasters. It’s a more-ish experience at first, sure, but it quickly becomes a drag when the rewards rarely feel worth the effort you’re putting in.
Quantity over quality
Wrapping up, Rainbow Skies on Nintendo Switch is a technically competent but otherwise untouched port of a middling game.
It often looks and sounds the part of a grandiose turn-based tactical RPG, but the aesthetics are window-dressing for a gameplay loop whose positive elements – namely the brisk battles and easy-to-understand mechanics – are slowly undermined by an unsatisfying grind. It’s fun for a few hours and better suited to shorter handheld sessions, but I’d wager it’ll eventually wear down even those who enjoy grindy progression. Although it ditched the microtransactions of its predecessor, Rainbow Skies still feels like a game you’d expect to see on mobile; the type happy to come across as unrewarding and soulless so long as it pushes you to spend.
Rainbow Skies was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PS3/4/5 and Vita.
Rainbow Skies (Nintendo Switch) ReviewRainbow Skies (Nintendo Switch) Review
- Fast, streamlined tactical RPG battles
- Easily understandable combat and upgrade mechanics
- Crisp visuals, short load-times, and flawless performance on the Switch
- Streamlined mechanics might not appeal to everyone
- An over-reliance on contrived, time-wasting designs to drag out playtime