Reviews// Solatorobo: Red the Hunter

Posted 17 Oct 2011 15:57 by
A quirky and colourful action JRPG, Solatoroboa: Red The Hunter is the sequel to PlayStation RPG Tail Concerto. Taking Tail Concerto?s obscurity into account, developers CyberConnect2 made the wise decision for Solatorobo to stand apart from its predecessor.

It?s set in the same world, a land consisting of inexplicably floating islands and inhabited by anthropomorphic cat and dog people, and there are enough character cameos to please fans of Tail Concerto, but apart from that Solatorobo is a completely self-contained adventure that anyone can jump into.

The story of Solatorobo has a fairly uninspired beginning, introducing the titular main character Red as a carefree freelance mercenary type who soon discovers a mysterious artefact which draws him into a quest to seal away an ancient evil giant monster.

So, it?s a lot like every other RPG ever. But just like a lot of the better RPGS, the story is brought to life through a cast of strong, well-defined and entertaining characters.

Red himself is a likeable and cocky lead, backed up by his overbearing little sister and the mysterious youth who leads Red into their quest to save the world. With a charming cast of supporting NPCs, Solatorobo?s only real weakness in this area is its fairly underdeveloped villains, who disappointingly aren?t really given much personality or motive for their dark plans.

Perhaps Solatorobo?s greatest strength is its great sense of design and style. The game?s graphics and presentation can be a little rough at times, but the game?s always held together by its fantastic anime look. The characters and environments are all bold, brightly coloured and memorable, and the few fully animated scenes in the game are beautifully well-made.

It?s unfortunate that they?re so few, as the in-game engine sequences are generally a lot less fluid and impressive. Most of the story is instead told through dialogue sequences using character art rather than models, which suits the style of the game well but is weakened by the lack of different expressions. While Red has a decent range, most of the cast have only a few expressions if that, leaving conversations involving supporting characters particularly lifeless.

The meat of the game has you riding around in Red?s mecha, the Dahak, using its strong, extending arms to lift and toss everything from objects to enemies. Most of the puzzles consist of moving around crates or other objects using the Dahak, and then hopping out to control Red on foot when the situation calls for a more delicate touch.

The Dahak can?t swim, climb ladders or operate control panels, so you?ll often have to take Red out to explore and open up a route for your mecha. Red can?t fight enemies without the Dahak though, as combat is based entirely around evading your enemies? attacks and then lifting and throwing them into each other. It?s a simple approach but it works well, and the more formidable enemies and bosses have a nice old-school feel to them as you wait and figure out their attack patterns before taking the opportunity to strike.

Occasionally you?ll find yourself exploring bigger, more open environments, and it?s here that you?ll unlock the Dahak?s flying capabilities to soar from island to island. These sections don?t work nearly as well as the regular gameplay however, with clunky controls and blander, emptier feeling environments than the busier cities and dungeons you explore through the rest of the game. In a similar vein the racing mini-game that pops up from time to time isn?t particularly fun, again with cumbersome controls and slow unresponsive jets.

It?s kind of like playing a budget version of the plane segments from Diddy Kong Racing, and really breaks the flow of the game. Fortunately only a few of these races are mandatory, and even then victory isn?t essential to your progress.

Perhaps the biggest issue for a lot of people with Solatorobo would be its generally low difficulty. Some of the boss fights can be a little tricky until you get your timing down, but even then it?s not hard to get through Solatorobo without ever dying. This isn?t such a terrible thing, as the game?s fast pace and accessibility would suffer from regular reloads, but more serious gamers might miss having a more intimidating challenge.

While the lack of options available in battle outside of throwing enemies or throwing things at enemies or throwing enemies at enemies can obviously get a little repetitive, the customisation system tries it?s best to avoid that. By buying upgrades and equipping them to your robot you can increase its stats in battle, increasing its speed, defence, attack power, or the ease with which it can lift objects.

Given a simple empty grid to work with, it?s up to you to fit the Tetris-block like upgrades into your robot. More powerful upgrades take up more space on the grid, though it?s fairly simple to rearrange them and maximise your mecha?s potential. The grid itself can be increased by collecting the P-Crystals hidden throughout the game and using them to unlock new squares around the grid.

While the main story on its own won?t last too long, the game is expanded substantially through the number of side quests available in each of the locations you visit throughout the game. They don?t stray too far from the core picking up and moving stuff around formula but there?s still a surprising amount of variety in the quests, from timed challenges to arena battles under different conditions and scavenger hunts. Near the beginning of the game these optional quests are used particularly well to introduce the first-time player to elements of the gameplay.

Only being able to accept one mission at a time feels frustrating at first and would seem like a cheap ploy to increase playtime with lots of backtracking if not for the fact that the game makes a point of cutting out needless travel time most of the time, streamlining the process considerably and making it easier to focus on your chosen task. You?ll still find yourself voluntarily exploring every nook and cranny of the world if you want to uncover the game?s range of collectibles however. There are more superficial things to be found such as artwork depicting scenes from the game and additions to the music player where you can listen to the game?s genuinely pleasant soundtrack. And if you?re a cold-hearted machine there are always the more practical P-Crystals to be collected.

Conclusion
Solatorobo is undoubtedly likely to follow in its predecessor's footsteps by fading into obscurity due to its lack of hype and impenetrable gibberish title. The lack of exposure will admittedly do it more harm than the name of course. It?s a shame too, because Solatorobo is probably one of the easiest games to get into that I?ve seen on a handheld in years.

There?s none of the grinding that a lot of RPGs rely on to extend their playtimes, though admittedly there?s not as much depth to the gameplay either. What Solatorobo does offer is a fast-paced fun adventure in a beautifully designed world. It may fail to achieve significant mainstream success, but Solatorobo?s undeniable quality is sure to earn it some dedicated fans.

SPOnG score: 82%

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