Thirteen years ago Japanese video game developer CyberConnect2 (or CC2 for short) released Tail Concerto on the original PlayStation with veteran niche publisher Atlus localizing the title for North America audiences. The game wasn't a huge success in either territory as it released in both countries with little fanfare, so hopes of a sequel were repeatedly dashed due to the originals' lackluster sales. However, when CC2 announced Solatorobo: Red the Hunter (literally translates to "Sky and Robot"), a spiritual successor to Tail Concerto, fans of the original were understandably excited.
After the Japanese release came and went without any localization announcement from its publisher Namco Bandai all hope was seemingly lost. That was, until Nintendo of Europe picked it up the European rights and XSEED Games picked up the North American rights to the title. With the Nintendo DS riding on its last legs of life, many gamers are being picky about what games they're picking up. Which begs the question: is Solatorobo worth your hard-earned cash? The answer to that is a resounding yes.
Solatorobo's world is set in a world filled with two main races of anthropomorphic cats and dogs who speak a Japanese-inflected version of French and act just like normal human would. The main character, Red, is a sky-pirate "hunter" who travels in an airship along with his sister, Chocolat. Of course like any good story things become complicated quickly as Red comes across a magical medallion during an airship raid. This sets in motion a plot that affects the game's entire world and sends a number of baddies on his red-brown tail.
The story begins pretty predictably. There are characters who aren't who they seem they are and the of course, there's the all-important plot twist midway through the game which serves to change things up considerably and puts the story into overdrive. This makes it feel more organic than the initial setup arc that comprises the first half of the game. Those who feel rushed with some games these days shouldn't worry, though, as Solatorobo allows the player to progress through the game at their own pace with its numerous side quests. These are prevalent after finishing each of the game's chapters and can range from stacking objects to solving a maze and defeating enemies.Being influenced by JRPGs it's expected that Solatorobo would have quite a bit of dialogue and that trope holds true here. While the dialogue doesn't go on as much as some games do there are a few plot-heavy areas where the dialogue goes on for a little while longer than some gamers might have the stomach for but there's usually a good reason for it when it does rarely occur. The one issue most players will run into, however, is the speed with which the dialogue plays out. The dialogue advancement speed is generally about half of what you'd normally expect from other games in the genre and there isn't any option to make it progress any quicker. It's not that noticeable once you get used to it but initially it's definitely going to be an annoyance for most players.
Red rides around the Solatorobo's world in his personal robot, Dahak. Dahak's key function is lifting, lifting and more lifting. In battle Red can use Dahak's huge arms to lift his opponents into the air. Outside of battle Red can also jump off Dahak and venture off on his own with only his trusty blaster to stun enemies but outside of some out-of-the-way treasure and switches in dungeons this mechanic is sorely underutilized in the grand scheme of things in an attempt to flesh out the on-robot mechanics and the game's world and art style (more on the latter in a moment).
As the game progresses, Dahak can be upgraded through the use of Tetris-shaped modules, which allows his grid to be expanded. This is done by using P-Crystals which are obtained through treasure chests, item drop location only searchable on foot and through some side quests such as fishing. The modules range from raising Dahak's attack, decreasing the amount of button pushing needed to throw an enemy into the air to even reviving Red if he loses all his health in battle. The battle system itself never changes although Dahak does receive different models with different upgrades past the game's halfway point. But thanks to the leisurely pace with which players can progress through the game this isn't much of an issue as the things you can do will be varied enough to satisfy most gamers. One thing that is important to note, however, is that the game's difficulty (which can't be changed) is surprisingly easy as even the harder bosses don't take too long to learn their attacks and the game gives Dahak a large amount of health to take beatings with. This isn't really a bad thing but those who like their games a little more "hardcore" might be turned off by this.As for Solatorobo's graphics, they are easily the best feature of the game hands-down. The artistic direction flows between 2D and 3D effortlessly and have a hand-painted cartoon-shaded style to them looks almost like a painting come to life --- in respect to the Nintendo DS's graphical capabilities, of course. Each area is uniquely different as well, ranging from the typical bustling town to a town surrounding by fungi. Each location has its own unique musical score and while none of the tracks are especially catchy outside of the game they do fit the mood of the area the player is in and won't grate on your nerves.
Solatorobo is one of the few games since then that exemplifies a certain approach. It doesn't bring much of anything new to the table, but it fleshes out all of its elements to the maximum. The dungeons, especially some of the game's later ones, are puzzling enough to make the player think but without having too many paths or excruciating puzzles which only serve to pad out the game artificially. Each character has their own unique personality and the little French-inspired voice snippets are especially amusing.
The story dialogue sequences only take as long as they need to and don't deluge the player with a ton of technical terms that require them to look everything up after the scene to get the full picture. The enemies don't utilize cheap attacks which cause cheap deaths that serve to frustrate the player. The list does go on further, but essentially Solatorobo is a jack of all trades which manages to pull it off for once and it's definitely something to be respected.
While Solatorobo may take a little while to start off, once it does it is a surprisingly addictive game. It oozes uniqueness and charm thanks to its back-to-basics approach to level design, its beautiful artistic direction and its incredibly fleshed out world that's always setting out to surprise the player with a new twist at every turn. For a industry which seems to push out one generic game after another, Solatorobo is a shining gem and is easily a contender for one of the best send-off titles for the aging Nintendo DS. If you can let yourself get sucked in you'll be in for one hell of a ride.
|CyberConnect 2 developed it.|
|The art style is gorgeous, especially for the Nintendo DS.|
|Almost every element is well polished.|
|Seems a bit too easy.|
|Dialogue boxes take too long to go away.|
|Soundtrack is decent, but could have been better.|