Old Review: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter

File:Solatorobo.jpgOn the floating islands of Shepherd Republic are two races of people, one resembling cats and one resembling dogs. The floating islands are above a sea of Plasma and French is the native language. The inhabitants on the world mainly rely on technology and mechas, and hire skilled mecha riders to do certain tasks called Hunters. Red Savarin, a hunter and one of the dog people, is requested to obtain an important file that was stolen, and while boarding the large air ship Hindenburg, he finds a mysterious medallion-shaped item. Curious to see what it is, he accidentally activated it, causing a giant colossus called Lares to appear suddenly beside the ship and sends it into flames. As Red makes his escape, he runs into Elh Melizee, a mysterious cat person. Soon, he and Elh travels all across the Shepherd Republic along with his younger sister Chocolat Gelato, uncovering the mysteries under the medal he suddenly obtained and discover the secret behind Elh’s hidden past.

A spiritual sequel to the underrated PS1 game, Tail Concerto, the game was first hinted back in 2007. It was first announced as a 15th Anniversary of CyberConnect2 called Solarobo, and then changed to Solatorobo later. Some of the original team from Tail Concerto returned, and the opening cinematic was produced by Studio MadHouse, and 100 short commercials were broadcasted back-to-back on Tokyo MX as a World Record Attempt. Rumours of a western release began when the game was shown at the French “Japan Expo 2010” as Project Coda, with a French translated demo. In April 2011 Nintendo announced that they would distribute the game in Europe and Australia for release on July 1st. An American release was confirmed when Xseed announced they will publish the game for September 2011.

The graphics are good to look at, especially with the design of the mechas and he characters. The 3D models however are weak, and the amount of texture on them has the same quality as Sonic Chronicles. The Full Motion Video Opening as well as the in-game cut scenes are really well animated, the earlier kind would be expected from Studio Madhouse, and while the models appearances look blocky, the fact that they appear on the DS, fully moving in real time is quite impressive. In the actual game, the entire environment is set in 3D rooms, with 2D sprites for NPCs, with enemies and the player being 3D models. It feels out of place but most of them blend really well, and most of the environments being really creative, one of my favourites is the Basset Island, which is an island consisting of scrap metal, so the entire place looks like an abandoned scrapheap.

The soundtrack has a lot of variety for all the different places to go and the scenes you’ll see, although with the exception of the opening and closing themes performed by Tomoyo Mitani and composed by the duo called LeiN, most of the tracks really don’t have a lasting impact like other JRPG soundtracks. For a DS game, it probably has some of the easiest to listen and enjoy tracks outside of a Nintendo or Square Enix title, although the authentic soundings of actual instruments can only be found on the official soundtrack, not the actual game itself. The voice acting only consist of a set of characters either giving vocal remarks or very short lines of French, not much to go on although the voices are suitable to their following characters. One neat thing I did like about the sound in the game is that sound effects like walking change in its loudness depending on how far away the player is, definitely gives a feel that the player is moving away and towards a fixed camera.

There is a lot of things to do in this game outside of the main story, mostly revolving around quests. At every place you go to there is at least one Quest Broker where you can look for jobs, which basically consists of you either picking up stuff, flying around, fighting, talking and or travelling around the world. Completing these jobs will earn you money and increase your Hunter rank which would allow you to do more jobs. You can also play mini-games such as fighting tournaments in the Duel Ship, Metal Crushing and Fishing to name a few, so you don’t have to follow a linear path to play through the game, not to mention that doing the quests and exploring the world can help balance out the difficulty curve. While there is a levelling system, it only noticeably increases the amount of health you have; most of the stats go into the Customization of your robot, Dahak. You buy blocks that represent one of four attributes, Attack, Defence, Hydraulics and Mobility, the blocks come in a variety of shapes and have varying stat increases, and you arrange them into a large grid, which you can create spaces, it allows for you to be creative to try and get the a good set of stat improvements. The main battle system is both free to move and in real time, but you only get one really effective attack, and that’s grabbing and throwing either projectiles or the enemy itself. While you can be creative by throwing enemies at other enemies and much later it’s possible to learn other attacks, juggling every enemy you see can get tiring pretty fast.

Let me first be honest and say that I’m not a really big fan of Role Playing Games, especially Western RPGs but that’s not relevant. I have played quite a few, but since most of the time I end up stuck or bored, I’ve only played a few until either something else caught my eye or I complete it because I found it both engaging and fun, and this is one of those few games. I’ve already mentioned about the many things you can do in the game, so why do I find it engaging? Well the story is good, it’s well paced, there’s both good humour and drama, Red, Elh and Chocolat are really likable protagonists, and there’s interesting range of antagonists like the Team Rocket comedy trio villains Opera, Calua and Gren to the power mad Kurvaz leader Bruno. It’s also really well laid out, set out in a chapter structure and separated by two parts, each chapter either consisting of a mini-plot or character development or progression in the overall story, it feels like it was written as a whole anime series set out into several episodes. It has silly moments, and has some of the RPG clichés like Elh being mistaken for a boy as a small running gag, and it references and cameos characters from Cyberconnect’s Mamoru-kun and Tail Concerto, which would really only interest the few people who played those games on the Western side of the world, but for those who like those in JRPGs then it’s good for them and it’s made in good fun.

In a time when the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii are struggling to keep hardcore gamers with major titles, especially since the forming of the group Operation Rainfall, it’s good to see some decent titles such as this one getting attention from Nintendo themselves. If you have any form of Nintendo DS and you’ve been wanting to play a fun and lengthy game that’s colourful and made for hardcore gamers, then clearly you either haven’t looked in the gaming magazines or websites hard enough you have serious memory problems because you have to play this game, you’ll thank me at the end of it.

Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is available from Nintendo of Europe and Xseed Games. A light novel titled Red Data Children which acts as a prequel to the game is available in Dragon Magazine, but doesn’t have any sign of an English translation so it’s either wait patiently or wait for a fan translation. The video game Tail Concerto, which is made by the same team and is spiritually the predecessor to this game, was available from Namco Bandai and Atlus, but it was a PS1 title so it’s out of print and very hard to find, especially in Europe where it only had a French release.

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Old Review: Dobutsu no Mori (aka Animal Crossing: The Movie)

Dobutsu No Mori

Young and notably self-reliant, Ai is the newest resident of the Animal Village. This is most exciting to her as this is the first time she is living alone. While all is great at first, Ai soon notices that getting used to the new environment isn’t that easy as the local shopkeeper and landlord, Tom Nook, forces her to work as his delivery girl upon first meeting, and it doesn’t help that the nearby residents don’t recognize her instantly as the new girl in the village. Eventually she gets the hang of what goes on in the town and makes a group of friends including an overly happy and slightly immature cat named Bouquet, a strong and ambitious designer named Sally and a mischievous cosplaying male duo that consists of crocodile Albert and a young boy from a neighbouring village named Yu. Along with their adventures and taking part in the village festivities, Ai becomes interesting in the idea of Aliens after finds messages in bottles giving certain tasks for a miracle to happen in during the Winter Festival. What will happen on that day, can only be discovered if she believes in her friends and work on her own goals, living her new life in this humble little village.

While originally released on the Nintendo 64, and had positive international reception when it was ported to the Gamecube on December 2001, the Animal Crossing series became a worldwide success when it was released on the Nintendo DS as Animal Crossing: Wild Worlds, becoming one of the first ten DS games to sell over 1 million copies and becoming one of the five highest selling DS games of all time. With this success, Nintendo wanted a film adaptation, and Jōjin Shimura, who worked on the Master Keaton anime, was selected to direct. Animation OLM was chosen to produce the film, having partnered with Nintendo on many anime adaptations of video games, most especially the Pokemon franchise and most recently, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. It was given a theatrical release December 16th 2006, being later released on DVD in July 2007 and on the DS cartridge in August 2009. Interestingly, there must have been quite a few storyboard changes, because some of the scenes in the trailer never appear in the actual film.

The 2D animation in Dobutsu No Mori is quite minimalistic, considering the time this film came out. The action scenes show a lot of effort and characters move more human like their game counterparts, although being an anime made to promote a gaming franchise, actual animation seems slightly choppy, but if you are a regular anime watcher this is expected. The 3D animation is decent and in most cases is very subtle and blends well to the environment of the film, the best animation appears in the third act, which looks spectacular and out of this world, giving a perfect feel to the scene it’s in, but it would spoil the ending to mention it.

One thing I’m happy about is the character designs feel much better than what Nintendo used, particularly for the two human characters, Ai and Yu. They look well rounded and cute, a huge improvement from the blocky polygon designs the games have. Some of the other characters are designed to their main stereotypes, too surprising effect. Bouquet looks sweet adorable, the lady like white wolf Bianca looks mature and feminine, and the grumpy looking but kind hearted Bald Eagle Apollo has a slightly intimidating feel to him, in the light hearted way. I think the art style is really suited to young girls, which from what I know was the main audience for the Nintendo DS game at the time. Most of the colours used are bright, pastel, and naturistic. Even though I think the art style would suit girls more, it isn’t overblown to the point where it would immediately deter any guys from watching it. I believe the only real flaw in the visuals is in the background design, I know it’s a normal practice to us paints and shades in the background and basic fill colouring for the characters, but the majority of the backgrounds look like coloured sketches which make the characters stand out too well.

Since the Composer for this film, Kazumi Totaka, was also one of the composers for Animal Crossing: Wild Worlds on the DS, most of the music is completely faithful to the games, almost to the point of being minor arrangements to the original soundtrack. They normally give the feel of a summer environment, with its use of mellow acoustic guitars, accordions, and bongo drums among others. The winter themed music, while composed in the same style, use instruments which give a good feel of Christmas in particular. There is even a musical number of one of KK Slider’s songs “K K’s Rhythm” that is done in the funny synthesised voice of Tokata. When there are original compositions, which are mainly orchestrated, really suit both the mood and the feel of the scenes, which is strange because they can have a calm feel to them in dramatic and action oriented scenes. They also have the slight issue that they’re more typical than the other compositions so they’re not really worth listening to on their own.

The voice acting is worth listening to, although there is nothing majorly special. Ai has a innocent and eager personality, done well by Yui Horie. Bouquet has a cute and immature voice, like an overly excited 10 year old. Possibly one of my favourites however is the “Rule-Keeper” Mr Resetti, who in the games is a loud, grumpy and obnoxious mole who complains to the player for not saving the game, and Yuichi Kimura matches this really well and is so funny that in the few scenes he’s in, left just a good impression on me than the main characters did. Most of the other characters, particularly Bianca and Apollo, don’t really exaggerate their voices, so they sound more normal which works for serious moments in the film, but for a younger appreciated film like this, along with what other characters are like, they don’t leave the biggest impression.

I first heard of this film when I no hope for video game adaptations, since with the exceptions of the first two Pokemon films and Street Fighter II animated film, most of the ones I saw or heard were mainly disappointed. Even though I knew this was a Japanese animated film, I had my doubts knowing it was based on Animal Crossing, a game that literally had no plot. When I actually saw the film, I was surprised by how effective the story is in relation to the game. I do agree that it is typical in its morals and elements, like how important friendship is, how you need to believe in yourself and what you are doing and that you need to continue what you love or you’ll lose your skills in it, this being used by the metaphor of a “Cherry Pie”, and you know how childish a storyline is when it’s most sad and dramatic moment in the film is when a friend is moving away from the Animal Village. But in this film, it does it well, and in my opinion, way better than the games themselves probably ever will, because it may not be heart wrenching or tearful, but it’s taken seriously enough for the viewers to care. Since this can be classified as a kids film, there is a good amount of comedy throughout the film, and I must admit I had a good chuckle at a good amount of them. Most of the best moments are in the third act, which actually has a surprising amount of effective scenes, whether they were tense or magical, and it is the most memorable moments in the entire film. Sadly this does make the first two acts weaker in comparison but in its entirety, this is a really nice and sweet film to watch.

I’m guessing as soon as you saw what this film is, you think you have to be either a girl or at least have some soft part for the Animal Crossing games in order to watch this. While I’m faced to accept the truth, I think everyone should at least give this film a try when they have a chance, as a video game adaptation or an anime film. Before “Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva” and even “Pokemon 2000” I thought this was the only consistently good video game film, and since it shows how much faith it has in the games and adds so much more it’s no doubt why. As an anime film, it’s calming, peaceful and fun to watch and a really spectacle final act that is really engaging, so even if you think it, it’s a real understatement to say this is just a guilty pleasure for some.

Unfortunately, the Animal Crossing Film is officially unavailable in the west. A manga by Yuki Koyama is also officially unavailable in English. With the exception of the original game on the Nintendo 64, the video games are easily available to buy on the Gamecube, the Nintendo DS (As Animal Crossing: Wild Worlds) and the Nintendo Wii (As Animal Crossing: City Folk), with a 3DS version currently in development, all of them were released by Nintendo. While it has been translated and was available on Youtube subtitled, the first version was removed by Toho on copyright grounds, although better versions are available to watch or download, and there’s even a fan dub directed by batwing321. While Nintendo officially confirmed no plans for an American release of the film, it was announced not too long ago that Spike Industries have been in negotiations on getting the license for an English Dub and a US DVD release so there is still hope.

Old Review: Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva

Professor Layton and the Eternal DivaArchaeologist and Private Investigator Professor Layton and his young apprentice Luke Triton are invited to an Opera performance by a famous singer and former student Janice Quatlane. When the Opera about an ancient society known as Ambrosia ends, there appears to be more to the event at the theatre than just an Opera. A voice tells the entire audience that they are all about to play a game, where the one winner receives the prize of eternal life, and everyone else dies. Professor Layton, Luke, Janice and several people are all stuck in this game, almost all with a reason for such a prize, but it is apparent that this game is more than just a game, but a huge puzzle for the answer to eternal life.

For those of you who haven’t heard of a Professor Layton, it is a popular portable game franchise by Level-5 that began in 2007 with Professor Layton and the Curious Village. It was a mystery puzzle game where the main element was looking for clues and solving puzzles and riddles to progress the story and solve the mysteries of a plot. Because of its simplistic yet brain inducing game play, with a clever plot and well-thought Japanese Animated art style, considering a great step up from other brain training titles on the system such as Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training; it was very successful internationally, especially in the UK where it reached 4th in the overall sales chart. Three games later came out with similar style of game play, with brand new stories and puzzles for gamers to get their heads into. The franchise was growing so fast in two years that it was obvious that a film was put into production, with developers Level-5 being involved in production and both the Japanese and English cast reprising their roles for the film. It was released in Japan December 2009 and later released in Singapore in March 2010 and England in October 2010.

Now I must warn you that I might be a bit more repetitive in this review, and that is mainly with the fact that this film literally is mostly like the actual game in film format. It is most likely that the same production team for the full motion video cut scenes was involved with the production of the film so if you are bothered with what I say than I am sorry.

The animation is almost exactly like the cut scenes from the games, the animation is mainly standard with the exceptions of the action heavy scenes, and unlike Blood: The Last Vampire they actually put effort in their crowd scenes, with the main example being the audience at the Opera, with each audience member, besides the film’s main characters, being unique and individually animated. There is also good use of 3D animation, although I’ve heard from some critics that the CG is over relied upon. In my opinion, it is very good in the fact that it blends very well with the 2D animations so you might almost never notice it.

The character designs might put people off in the games since the proportions are consistent but some of the characters do look exaggerated, yet somehow in the film the designs have more consistency. There are a few characters that look ridiculous on the most part they all look human and detailed, which is especially good for the amount of possible time that was put into this film.

The music is actually very good and very memorable, along with keeping fans happy with arrangements of music from the games themselves, which on their own are brilliantly done, there are some well composed original tracks and surprisingly beautiful vocals which are kept in the original language and performed by Nana Mizuki. I definitely would give the soundtrack a listen, both with and without the film.

Since playing the first game, I’ve grown a lot onto the English voice cast, and I still think it’s great. Both Chris Miller and Maria Darling do a great job as Layton and Luke respectively, both putting on great British accents, with Chris giving a polite and intelligent style voice and Maria giving young, cheeky and intuitive voice, both suiting their characters. Other voices in the English cast do a good job, and despite some of them lacking a good British accent to keep with the setting and their characters, they all put their hearts in and give a very watchable performance. Then there is the Japanese dub which I don’t think is worth listening to at all if you like the English Dub. I don’t think it is bad, since it is of a good quality and there are a few scenes which sound better in the Japanese dub, but overall, it is very generic. There isn’t really anything unique about the performances, so most of the characters come off sounding bland. It makes this one of the few anime films I recommend watching in English, because the English version sounds a lot more fitting.

I find that there are two main problems with video game films, and why most are bad. One problem is that they focus more on being a film than being a film based on an existing medium, so as a game based film they are bad, and a bad films overall means they are really bad. The other problem is that they either follow too loosely on the plot of the game, or try something completely different and fall flat on the pavement of bad and predictable writing. This film and a few before have been able to avoid these problems and are very good for this reason, they are good as both a film on its own and a film based on a game and they have good storylines that don’t entirely or at all follow the plot of the games they are based on and make it interesting for both viewers.

As a film on its own, the Eternal Diva does an alright job of summarising the games by literally talking about them at the start of the film, I’m not kidding. It is really the only problem I find since it literally is a fourth wall break before the opening credits but the rest of the film plays out really well. The genius element of the film is that it integrates puzzles in the style of the games surprisingly well, even to numbering the puzzle numbers with three digit numbers, it is actually really surprising to see how well it fits in to the story, but the film doesn’t give a lot of time for most of the puzzle for the audience to work it out. I could also say they don’t do enough puzzles but I think having more would drag out the film. The story is also very moving and like the stories in the games, so this film definitely fits like the games themselves.

Overall, this is most likely going to be one of the best games based films of the year, if not one of the best anime films based on a franchise. It is very faithful to the games and if you like the series or want to get into them then I certainly advise giving this film a look.

“Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva” is available from Manga Entertainment. The original video games on the Nintendo DS which include Professor Layton and the Curious Village, Pandora’s Box and Lost Future (All UK Titles) are available from Nintendo and Level-5 Games. Two more games in the series, Spectre’s Flute for the DS and Mask of Miracles for the 3DS are planned for a Japanese release in 2010 and 2011 with a later UK and USA release. While no sequel or future film is set for a release, Level-5 has stated that they plan to release new films every winter and there is a live action film in the works.

Review: Solatorobo – Red the Hunter

Solatorobo: Red the HunterHey guys, sorry for the delay, along with exams and organising holiday stuff, I’ve been working on three reviews at once! I’ve also been playing some cool games on my Nintendo 3DS and I thought I’ll review this one since I fell in love with it in the previews. Yeah I promise that this review is an unbiased opinion since I’ve reviewed it in comparison to other RPGs on the DS. Click the Box Art to head to the review!