Combat in Planet Ruler, at first, has a distinct mechanic of combining different elemental attacks to maintain a chain. A timer and damage drop punishment is put in to get the player to swap between attack types. Some of the attacks even look cool, like how Etsy shots energy balls and lasers. Unfortunately, most dungeons involve finding the one element all the area’s monsters are weak to (usual fire works best against the forest monsters and ice works best against the fire mountain monsters), using said move, and alternating between other moves that the monsters either resist or do negligible damage to. Combat, which in the first hour or two was Planet Ruler’s biggest enjoyable aspect, becomes its game-breaking cliff fall.
A few hours in, bosses caused me to fully give up. After a ten-minute slugfest against an insect boss that did not do much damage but had more health than a Vanillaware boss, the game got one final chance. That chance was immediately knocked out of my open palm and onto the floor. Garlyle, the second of the Elite Four, atop his bridge over a lava flow, ended my adventure. Garlyle could one-hit kill Retla with a charge attack, which could be manageable. Rough, but not comparable to how he was able to heal himself. In a game with speed-focused combat, where the average enemy encounter can last less than thirty seconds, stopping everything for a slow and dragged-out boss fight is unforgivable.
Grinding is a part of RPGs I would rather not have to deal with, even though until recently, it’s been ubiquitous with the genre. I played Suikoden 2 recently and it had a reasonable system where enemies in new areas would level up the party enough after a single run through of a forest or cave. A game with dozens of characters, with the expectation that half of the party would be underleveled, but necessary for that part of the game to fit the narrative. If Suikoden 2 figured this out decades ago, Planet Ruler could make local enemies fit the same limits. One hit killing monsters in a dungeon, while the rest of the stage is unpassable because the boss takes chip damage, even after grinding, is directly wasting time. Combat is not the only grind, though; equipment resources are also tedious. Thematically, Cram is a miner, so he mines in these squares that replace treasure chests normally found in other RPGs, and involves hitting the same button repeatedly. Instead of finding a new weapon or suit upgrade, which would reward exploration, countless bits and bobs need to be gathered and crafted. Granted, the best crafting systems are ones that are so easy, they never feel like padding.
I don’t often reference other video games during a review because it tends to turn into a Google search chore for the reader. However, Planet Ruler committed the worst sin, which was making me reminisce about playing other, better RPGs. The internet says this game is short for RPGs; as a person who enjoys Ys games, I know a full RPG story can be paced to ten hours. I will admit to being a little critical of RPG Maker games, especially after looking up an especially out-of-place behemoth sprite and learning that it’s a premade asset. RPGs feel like the hardest undertaking for a small development staff. This should not be read as a general criticism of games made with RPG Maker, as one of my favorite video games, Lisa: The Painful, would be disqualified. It’s almost as if the best RPG Maker games go out of their way to hide that they are made in RPG Maker. To give Planet Ruler credit, it does have attractive character designs, like Suzuhito Yasuda’s art (some SMT games and the Digimon Story series), but with less of his weird “big boobs on rail skinny girls/ weird torsos” anatomy. The overworld and combat sprites for the party members also look appealing and detailed. Hard work has been put into parts of this game, but it still feels disrespectful to the player’s time.
Pros: Attractive original art for the playable characters. An initially interesting combat system.
Cons: Prioritizes world building over making the characters engaging. Weapon upgrade system rewards grinding over exploration. Later bosses make the game unplayable.
Machina of the Planet Tree -Planet Ruler- is available on Steam. Video games are already a time-sink of a hobby, but there is a limit to a person’s tolerance for time wasting. Bailing on a game is a personal conflict, but a necessary one when it comes to the tedium Planet Ruler expects. Forget the name and shoot your shot into another RPG world that is better deserving your time.