Story & World
Most plots that dish out the ol' chosen one vs. big bad trope are already pretty forgettable, but it was even more prevalent here due to the focus on trade. I understand that the trading was added in RS as a gimmicky hook, but I would have liked to have seen it given priority over the same old, same old. How cool would it have been to have to raise enough money to start your own kingdom or something? Even better, put in a time limit to make logistics all the more important. Ooh! Ooh! How about a grading system that gives a rank based on how long it takes the player to amass one million golds. Okay, maybe that's pushing it into the strategy genre, but what I'm trying to say is nuts to these unfocused, shoehorned-in kill-the-foozle main quests.
As much as I like exploring purely imagined worlds, there's something about exploring one based on Earth that intrigues me. I think it's a combination of getting me into gazing at some online cartography as well as seeing how accurate the developers were in their adaptation. Having the road as a guide of sorts in each new region was a nice security blanket while trade routes were set up; it also had the additional bonus of making dungeons seem ever more remote than normal since they were off the beaten path. 10/20
A decent, non-standard system that eliminates grinding for levels and replaces it with the money lust. Having slaves to mistreat as well as to extend my combat capabilities was a hoot and I never got sick of choosing certain battles to just watch them fight for their master's love. Once I had enough surplus funds, I would even balk at using a healing item on them, even though it would cost far more to replace them if they died during combat. Hey, you either meet my high standards or your bones will be left to bleach in the sun.
Equipment was understandably limited, as RS was trying to be somewhat realistic, so there's no magic to speak of. Evocable items were likewise limited and were of even less use in combat, since using one would not only waste a turn for everybody for some reason, but wasn't guaranteed to work anyway . 9/20
Combat & Monsters
Combat is mostly a button-mashing affair, with some decision-making when a group of baddies had mixed monster types. The slaves didn't add any depth and functioned solely as extra attacks. As with other games that use such a simplistic combat system, by the time endgame rolled around, random encounters became boring and tedious. Thankfully, RS seemed to be aware of this and generously gave a fleeing success rate of over 90%. Staying true to the realistic theme, monsters didn't have any special abilities beyond a few that could poison, which was easily cured by any healing or just taking a nap at the inn. 6/20
Graphics & Sound
The Dragon Quest aesthetic that all its clones have is always going to get a decent amount of points, just none for uniqueness. I've played enough clones by now that it gets super comfy super fast whenever I ease myself into a new one. Sometimes clones can flounder in the design of monsters, but I'm happy to report that RS is not one of them, sporting a large bestiary that not only has minimal palette-swapping, but creatures that are appropriate to each country.
Rainbow Silkroad gets another slam dunk for its musical selection; each country has its own tradition-sounding theme (something I'm quite a stickler for). Even countries for which I have no real baseline for, like Mongolia or Thailand, just felt right. 18/20
As far as game economics go, obviously RS is going to score big here. Even though I wish it was developed a little more, I appreciate any novel mechanics, especially in a clone (also helps in having something to blog about). The novelty doesn't end there, though, as RS often surprises with elements such as a thrown-in riddle, puzzle, or action-based mini-game. The pacing was decent throughout until Japan, where it took a sharp nose dive into anti-climatic territory. Like most DQ clones, it stayed pretty linear with the next country blocked off until the proper hoop was jumped through (in this case, getting a mirror shard); however, there were both financial and side quest incentives to trek back to other countries, so RS is not quite as bad as most of its brethren. 14/20
Final Ranking: 57/100