On 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.