By Laura . October 24, 2011 . 5:05pm
Red Savarin is a Hunter — a mercenary of sorts that does whatever is asked of him and accepts many a quest — who has just taken on the job to steal a folder of important documents from an airship, the Hindenburg.
The job goes off without a hitch, and he arrives at his destination in record time…but then he goes a step further, picks up a mysterious medallion he comes across, and ends up saving a boy, Elh, when a large giant (whom we discover later is called Lares) suddenly appears, sending the airship down in a magnificent meteor of flame.
Of course, in all the confusion, the file is burned to a crisp, Red’s not paid, and with nothing better to do, he accepts Elh’s request — a long-term job, in a sense — that ultimately brings him head to head with Lares and other ancient secrets.
Just looking at the art for the cover and the first few moments of the game, I felt that Solatorobo: Red the Hunter was going to be a fun ride, and I wasn’t disappointed. It ran through smoothly, from start to finish, and the beautiful art and portraits, as well as the gorgeous music, were packed with detail and emotion (the same cannot be said for the pixilated sprites of everyone other than Red, but usually the screen is zoomed out far enough that it doesn’t matter). All the “movies” are done with 2D art that is nonetheless effective.
I liked how, like in Rune Factory, certain bits of dialogue were preceded by a spoken phrase or two. These phrases, though, aren’t in English or Japanese. They’re in a language that sounds like French, with greetings like “Saleu!” and “Kiku!” and “Apopo…” As for the dialogue, the localization did a great job infusing every word with energy appropriate for a rowdy and dangerous adventure.
Solatorobo places great importance on creating a vibrant world and taking you through it at a smooth pace. Each one of the sky islands has its own culture and industry, and sometimes even religion. After certain achievements, you can unlock short texts about the ecology, customs, and history (among other topics) of the Shetland Republic and its people. Solatorobo is certainly a case of “develop extensively, past what is necessary for the game.”
In addition, there’s no lack of extras. You can collect points in dungeons and towns to compose music, find photo pieces, and purchase movies to view in the cabin of Red’s ship, the Asmodeus.
The exact number of chapters in Solatorobo is a secret, but suffice to say that each chapter is approximately one hour long. Then, even when it stops for a breather at the beginning of each chapter, giving you a chance to catch up on quests and partake in one of the many minigames, the game doesn’t hunker down and go, “OK, let’s take it slow now”. Above all, Solatorobo wants you to keep having fun throughout.
That isn’t to say the story isn’t also a highlight of the game, of course. The characters are endearing (I really like Red) and the game has a great fantasy-slash-science-fiction mix that is quite intriguing once you get through the first half of the game. Red also does a good job of driving you through each task and dungeon with enthusiasm and drive — and it’s not obnoxiously overdone, either.
He does have his down moments, but he snaps out of them (with some help from Elh and his sister Chocolat) fairly quickly and with no whiny angst at all.
In dungeons and battles, the Dahak, Red’s robot, moves very quickly through corridors, and the enemies are all easy, yet require some strategy. Grab a hold of the enemy with A, and repeatedly press A to lift it off the ground. From there, you can jump and toss it at other enemies (or directly at the ground) or you can slam it from where you’re standing. Rinse, repeat.
The enemies don’t take well to being upended, though, so there are shields you’ll have to dash around to get at the monster’s flank, and sometimes victory relies on timing – waiting for a machinery to cool before grabbing it or for a barrier to fall. Other times, the winning relies on catching projectiles (again with A) and tossing them back. See? It’s all about grabbing and lifting.
In a few instances, Red will have to get off the robot, accomplished by pressing the Y button, and examine his surroundings to proceed. There are also items called P-Crystals lying about, which can be used to upgrade the Dahak. You can also purchase parts that add to its Attack (the power of its throws), Defense, Hydraulics (the ease with which you lift stuff up), and Mobility.
You can also purchase Revive parts that grant you a certain percent chance of revival upon death. In addition, you can change Dahak’s design to specialize in a certain stat.
There are a variety of quests available through the game, with a healthy smattering unlocked each chapter. Some are running errands and culminate in a short battle, but there’s a great variety of others available. Red really can do everything. Some of the most prominent side quests include the Air Robo Gran Prix (racing on airships while dodging obstacles and collecting boosts), hermit crab fishing (where you harpoon a crab with A and strategically reel it in by mashing A without overheating your machine), obstacle courses, and competing on the Duel Ship.
I believe a large portion of Solatorobo’s success in being enjoyable without being overly complicated is that it uses the same control scheme in a variety of situations, each with different obstacles so that you’ll have to adapt and develop different strategies. There’s always something to do and it doesn’t get old.
Food for Thought:
1. I really liked seeing the Tail Concerto characters again. They’re not essential, but they appear in a huge number of quests. Waffle!! (Also, characters from another series, Mamoru-kun, appear as well) I do believe, though, that only the characters and not the events of Tail Concerto are kept, since this is only a spiritual successor. Else, there’d be many a plot hole laying about.
2. Complaints… I didn’t have many at all with Solatorobo. About the only problem I had was that when too many enemies appeared onscreen at once, the game would slow down and throw off my timing for combos.
3. The cat people are called Felineko, and the dog people are Caninu. Felineko tend to be solitary, and prefer magic to machinery. Caninu are societal, family people and love to tinker with technology (this is taken from the optional text on Races, unlockable in the game). In reality, which race they are doesn’t seem to matter much to the world of Solatorobo. The only real influence seems to be certain phrases (“I swear by my tail!”) and a small plot point in the story. For me, it’s just another aspect that’s quirky and fun about the game.
4. There is a multiplayer mode that I didn’t take advantage of. It basically pits you against three other players in a race, like in the Air Robo GP quests in the main game.