Greetings Internet! So a few months ago I asked my friends to choose from a four item long list of games which one they thought I should play next, adding that I’d write some kind of review about the chosen game. Well this is that review! Sure it’s probably over a month late at this point from when I beat the game, but… details details. So without further waffle, let’s talk about Solatorobo: Red the Hunter.
Released for the DS in Japan 2010, and three separate dates in 2011 in Europe, North America, and Australia, Solatorobo is a spiritual successor to a fairly obscure PS1 title called Tails Concerto, and according to Wikipedia, is the third game of the Little Tails Bronx series. I found my copy at a used game store and bought it entirely because I knew of it being a successor to an obscure PS1 game… seriously, I knew nothing about the actual game itself, only it’s sort-of legacy. I even eventually acquired Tails Concerto from the same store, though as yet have not played it.
The story of Solatobo is pretty straightforward fare; you play as Red Savarin, a bounty hunter who makes his living answering every single job request he can find in every time he visits. Accompanied by his younger, adopted, sister Chocolat, who serves as their ship’s pilot and engineer. The game starts in the middle of a job which quickly goes south and introduces the third main character, Elh. Afterwards, very abruptly, a great evil awakens in the world, and our hero Red is equally as abruptly thrust into the role of “the only one who can stop it”. The story here is as simple as fantasy stories tend to get, and never really departs from it, even late into the game, when all the major plot revelations occur. It’s not bad, and isn’t invasive either, which I always appreciate, but does nothing to stand out from other rpg’s, if you’ve played much in the way of Final Fantasy or similar titles, you’ll be in familiar territory here.
When it comes to the non-gameplay aspects of the game, the major defining mark of the game and the series in whole, is that it takes place in a world of anthropomorphic characters. That is, animal people. Also, all the lands of the world are islands floating in the sky above a “sea of clouds”, with airships being the main form of transportation, and the mystery of the world below the clouds factoring into the story later on. The floating landmasses and airships reminded me immediately of the Megaman Legends series that way, especially with the a heavy emphasis on bounty hunters, equatable to diggers from said series. The cast being all anthropomorphic factors only a bit into the plot, again later into the game, and is otherwise just an aesthetic choice, giving the game a more anime or cartoon feel as a result.
The gameplay is a different story from the… story. When I put this game on the list, I was under the impression, for reasons that now elude me, that it was a turn-based jrpg… I was almost completely wrong, in fact the only similarity to that genre is the presence of leveling up by gaining experience from defeated enemies and completed quests.
Solatorobo is an action game, played primarily from a raised camera perspective, occasionally from a third person perspective depending on the stage. You pilot a personal humanoid mech called the Dahak, which can dash, jump, slow it’s descent by comically flapping its arms like wings, and grab objects. Combat is the last part, the object grabbing part, you grab enemies, flip them over, then pick them up and throw them around. Enemies can be thrown at the ground or walls, or at other enemies to damage both the thrown and the hit. You can also grab certain projectiles, like missiles etc, and throw those back as well, making the game reminiscent of Mischief Makers on the N64, or Wario Land Shake It! on the Wii.
Combat tends to go quickly, as enemies take fairly sufficient damage from your attacks, so it doesn’t get as repetitive as it might seem, though it’s still somewhat repetitive, at least until halfway through the game, when, in true mech fashion, you get a powered up Dahak which adds new ways to through or otherwise hurt enemies to your repertoire. On top of that, you get to purchase new bodies for your Dahak throughout the second half the game, each one focusing on a certain stat, and often coming with extra abilities such as a controllable, elongated dash, the ability to guard, or a charged up grab and/or throw attack, to name a few. This really helped relieve the repetition of battles, and my understanding is that there is at least one secret form you can unlock on subsequent playthroughs, adding re-playability, if your up for it. The game is equal parts combat and platforming, so you’ll be doing everything Dahak can do equally and constantly, as well as one last thing that only occurs necessarily a couple times in the game; free flying. You can’t actually attack while flying, so it’s less a full fledged function of your mech, and more just a replacement for walking and jumping in those couple times it comes up, having you fly about from small floating land chunk to another during the designated stage.
There are a few mini-games sprinkled throughout the whole game, though only two are non-standard, with the rest just being combat or platforming challenges, often with a specific twist. The two in question are a flying racer, and the old rpg standard of fishing, but with an awesome twist.
I will come right out and say that I sucked pretty bad at the flight racing, I don’t want to dump on the mini-game by claiming that my sucking was it’s fault for being bad as I did get somewhat better by the end of my playthrough, but it is a fidgety racing game that could have been a lot more fun if the controls had felt more fluid. The view is from behind your ship, you can collect energy for a boost meter… and that’s it, it’s fast and competent but again, could have been more fun, at least to me.
The fishing, by contrast, I found to be extremely fun, even if mostly because of the concept of it. I was wondering what exactly you’d be fishing for seeing as the game takes place in the sky and… well when the answer was shellfish so huge they wear crashed airships for their shells… I wasn’t disappointed. You use an arm attachment for your mech to fire a harpoon out into the cloud sea, grab yourself a catch, then have to mash buttons while pressing directions in conjunction with an arrow on screen to reel in the prize, this starts off easy but had some specific challenges later that I never completed. This mini-game rewards you with “junk” which is converted into a special currency that is only used at the fishing spot, and of course some items can only be found there, natch.
The last major aspect to cover would be the graphics and sound/music, so let’s do that then. The graphics here are nothing mind blowing, even for the DS, but are above average. The 3D models don’t feel as blocky as lower production DS titles, and your mech and the enemies all move fluidly with no jittering or stammering in their animations. Most characters are displayed as sprites in constant idle animation on the world, and all non npc characters have drawn facial shots for conversations. When it comes to seeing people and things in the environment there are some really stand-out shots that made great use of depth and subtle idle animations to give lots of life to the world. Everything is brightly colored and vibrant, and there’s almost always some kind of minor animation happening in the environment, which helps to keep the game as a whole feeling very alive, and I appreciate that.
The music was one of the more average things going on the game, I hardly noticed it most of the time, though when I did pay attention is was never bad, and it never intruded or became grating during prolonged sessions in the same area. I am a big fan of full vocal songs made for video games, and this game features three; “And Then, to CODA”, “Re-CODA”, and “Shooting Star”, all of which I liked though I’ll admit that could be confirmation bias seeping in. I was lucky enough to get the game as it was released; with it’s soundtrack included, so I get to enjoy those songs whenever I want, yay me!
The sounds of the game were very fitting of the slightly more cartoony feel of the game mentioned before. Combat sounds such as throwing enemies and them exploding aren’t serious, and at times are almost like pops and boings, never feeling contrasting to the visuals. There’s a small bit of voice acting for when main characters speak, though it’s not a reading of dialogue lines, it’s just a single word or faux word to add more life to the still image dialogue scenes.
The game also features two anime openings, the second one replacing the first after the game’s halfway point, and both feature the song “And Then, to CODA” during them. I really liked both, they would always get me in the mood for playing more of the game, and thankfully there’s a feature in game that lets you watch them, and any of the in-game cut-scenes, whenever you wish, a feature I always appreciate being in any game.
So after all that is said, how do I rate this game? I really didn’t know what to expect at the start, but had thoroughly enjoyed my time when I came to the end of the first playthrough, and in fact intend to work on my new game + in the future. This wasn’t a game that completely blew my mind or took some other games’ spot in a top list of games, but it was very memorable and I kept wanting to play after I was done, and if a game does that, it’s doing something very right. There is one thing I have to get off my chest before closing up this talk though…
When I first put up that list of games, I was surprised that most of my friends were choosing Solatorobo, but there was a corollary; several of them wanted me to play it effectively in their stead because they didn’t want to play “the game with the furry’s in it”. The very tiny amount of poking around the net I did about this game showed a similar reaction from other people as well, and to be perfectly honest, it’s a really depressing thing to see.
This game, with a bit of plot exception very late in, is not about the characters being animal people. It’s not baffling that people get hung up on that, considering the internet’s knee jerk reaction to anything it deems “furry”, a reaction that has seeped into regular opinion as well, with people being put off by something they don’t actually know anything about, and being put off by things they seem to think have an associate with it, even when they don’t.
This game is not about furry’s, it was never intended to be, and with the little research I did, it’s not something that that culture has even picked up on or made any kind of a deal about themselves. Not playing this game because of that internet reaction is only doing yourself a disservice, it’s a fun game and deserves to played for that reason over any other.
Alright, that’s all from me for now, hopefully some people will have been inspired to hunt this game down and play it for themselves, and if not, hopefully you don’t feel like I wasted too much of your time. Either way, happy gaming.