Solatorobo: Red the Hunter (DS) Review
Every now and then there comes a game that reviews extremely well and I wonder whether I’m missing something or I’m just someone who can’t be easily pleased. When I looked the internet over for criticisms of Solatorobo: Red The Hunter, I hardly found any concerns about the game being voiced. However, now that Solatorobo has hit the Australian shelves, I’ve spent some quality time with the title and while some parts are good, I am really not sure it’s as great as everyone is saying it is. Of course, many of you are probably wondering why I would have a different opinion to either your own or everyone else’s, but hopefully by the end of this review it will be clear.
Solatorobo’s story is like many Japanese games that have come before it – a mercenary-like character is drawn into a world and he’s in over his head but he eventually starts to care about the cause he’s fighting for and overcomes the bad guys. Taking place on a beautifully realised set of floating islands, Solatorobo follows Red, a “hunter” whose jobs are whatever his employers pay him to do. As the game opens, Red is asked to obtain confidential documents from a thieves’ lair. However, once he begins to get deeper and deeper into the lair (which is an airship), Red uncovers something that will take him on an epic journey throughout the whole world. As we said, the story is nothing special and runs through all the conventions that you’re used to, if you’ve played any Japanese RPG in the last ten years. It’s not necessarily awful – it’s just been done before.
Solatorobo, being an original DS game, mixes three dimensional and two dimensional graphics to create one of the most beautiful and compelling game worlds we’ve ever seen on the console. The game employs a mix of artistic styles to create something that’s really quite unique – the world and environments are all essentially pre-rendered, while some of the characters are 3D. Most of the time, when a DS game tries to pull off 3D graphics, the result is painful. However with Solatorobo the 3D models look quite smooth and there are no ugly jagged edges or poorly designed textures on them, which is nice to see.
The game’s appearance itself is magnificent – having taken many years in development, Solatorobo is a beautiful game that has been compared to the work of legendary Japanese director Hiyao Miyazaki. The game’s appearance is something I would believe that the game receives the most attention for – and a reason why many people are overlooking the game’s flaws. This is simply because the game really does portray an incredibly realised vision of world – it truly is an amazing sight to behold and looks like a moving painting. It’s a shame however that seems most of the effort went into this part of the game and everything else does feels neglected.
Most people will probably think I’m crazy for saying that the graphics have been given the most attention with this game, but I genuinely think that’s the case. The game itself is structured just like any RPG. Players will visit many different locales, accept quests from local quest givers, improve their own skills and ultimately work towards resolving the story’s plot. The game has you playing as Red and his own custom mechanical transport and combat device, named DAHAK. Red can travel by himself or with DAHAK whenever playing, though only while in DAHAK can the player participate in combat. This mechanic worked quite well for some of the puzzles – for example DAHAK cannot swim so Red must work out ways to get DAHAK through levels. While it works great at the beginning of the game, it does get annoying to have to continually switch between the two modes just to hit a switch. It might sound like nitpicking but as the game goes on, it happens more and more often and becomes more and more frustrating.
I absolutely fell in love with the combat system, but unfortunately it turned out to lack any depth. While in DAHAK, Red can pick up enemies, throw them around or even throw them at eachother. Players must mash a button in order to pick up an enemy and throw them on the ground. That enemy can be grabbed “on the bounce” to chain attacks together, but outside of this system there’s not a lot else going on. Some enemies are harder to lift, but it’s really nothing too difficult – it’s simply too easy and lacks depth. At some point through the story, Red does gain some pretty cool powers that mix things up a little bit, but unfortunately not enough to provide a varied (and less grindy) experience.
Being an RPG, there’s quite a lot of stuff to do but most of the missions in Solatorobo feel more like quantity rather than quality. There is a rather comprehensive progression system – one that artificially lengthens the game by requiring Red to be a certain level before he can take on main story quests and another that increases different components of Red’s mech. Both of these systems are intuitive, although the former really does feel like a way to artificially lengthen the game a bit. That being said, the main storyline of the game (plus a few side quests here and there) took approximately 23 hours for me to do, though this could easily inflate to about 25-30 depending on how deep you want to go. There’re also some downloadable quests to extend the experience and a racing mini game that controls so horribly that I would only recommend to my worst enemies.
More on par with the game’s artistic direction more than anything else, is Solatorobo’s stellar soundtrack. Featuring some very “breezy” tracks for those times when the player is running through the well designed towns, as well as some upbeat and energetic pieces during intense battles – Solatorobo has a great compilation of tracks that does a great job at complementing the game’s action. A rather disappointing and noticeable omission is voice acting, where instead we have sporadic sound grabs from the Japanese version at certain parts of the dialogue rather than full proper voice acting. The sound effects for DAHAK and Red are very basic sounding yet kinda do a great job at giving the mech and its actions appropriate weight.
Solatorobo: Red The Hunter is a game that confused me – so much effort has gone into the game’s visuals and sound design but the gameplay itself feels uninspired way too many times throughout it’s rather lengthy adventure. Still, it’s a pretty competent RPG albiet one that definitely feels way too easy. While it may be repetitive for older players with it’s rather simplistic combat system, Solatorobo is the perfect entry level RPG for any younger player. For the older fans of the genre though, it’s hard to recommend this unless you’re able to look past its flaws due to it’s absolutely amazing artistic direction. Which is what I think most people have done with Solatorobo.