Solatorobo: Red the Hunter Review
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo DS.
Charming, eccentric and inventive, Cyberconnect2’s latest offering has arrived for Nintendo DS. But, is it too late to the party?
It seems strange that developers are still making and releasing games for DS. After all, 3DS has arrived and looks certain to continue the success that Nintendo’s first dual screen handheld enjoys. However, this hasn’t put off Japanese developer Cyberconnect2 (of .hack fame), who has released a JRPG adventure that is sure to leave players satisfied but left wanting more.
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter places you in control of the title’s character, a general odd-job fox who dabbles in item fetching and a little mercenary work. He lives in a world made up of floating islands populated by talking animals (you’ve gotta love JRPG worlds!). Red’s world is a hugely charming one that has a lovely feel to it. This world flows comfortably between a 2D and 3D hand-painted, almost cel-shaded, style that is appealing and packed with character and personality. The various locations Red visits throughout his quest each have their own unique features that endear them to the player. This includes everything from an island made from the shells of shipwrecked airships to an island that’s basically a giant fungus! Red’s is a bold and vivid world full of bright colours and inspired character with a design that is beautifully realised on the DS. Maybe there is still life in the old dog yet!
From the outset, it seems that Solatorobo is going to be the standard JRPG (especially in terms of story), with a tutorial that sees the start of a typically epic JRPG narrative. That is, a generic world-destroying monster and the revelation that there is a magical medallion that may just be powerful enough to defeat him. However, the structure that soon reveals itself demonstrates a game that is as equally concerned with short-term enjoyment as it is with satisfying the JRPG norm of an adventure that is epic in scale.
The developers definitely know how to provide short-term entertainment, which is evident in the quest structure. Solatorobo adopts a pick and mix structure for its quest system. Said quests are made available from job centres that are in evidence on virtually all the character-full and richly detailed floating islands in Red’s world. The charm and eccentricity of Solatorobo is most obvious in these quests, which range from the ordinary (removing enemies from an NPC’s warehouse or entering battle tournaments) to the decidedly outlandish (the spearing of island sized fish with a harpoon that is biblical in proportion comes to mind). All of these quests are short enough to be completed quickly, and varied enough to ensure you never get bored of them, thanks in no small part to Solatorobo’s battle system.
The battle system in Solatorobo has you fighting enemies from aboard Red’s mech, the Dahak, rather than engaging them directly. In fact, most of the game is spent piloting this behemoth, with Red only leaving it to complete puzzles, press switches or to swim. Cyberconnect2 has also included an upgrade system to the Dahak. It automatically levels up during battle, but further upgrades can be purchased to make the Dahak a more effective tool of destruction. These purchased upgrades fill space on a board that gradually becomes larger and larger throughout the course of the game. This is a nice addition as it gives the Dahak a bit of personality, and you become connected to the device because you have invested time and money into it. More importantly though, it adds a level of required tactical thinking (in terms of which upgrades to choose) to proceedings, ensuring that battles don’t become tired or overly repetitive.
The battles themselves see you come up against enemies that, for the most part, are also piloting mechs. This requires you to grab and flip them with a few taps of the A button and toss their toppled bodies around the battle zone. It’s a method that is in constant danger of becoming woefully repetitive. However, Cyberconnect2 has placed little twists on the central mechanic, such as the ability to string together combos that range from catching enemies after they bounce to hurling their projectiles back at them, which ensure that combat never becomes stagnant.
Furthermore, battles are played out at such a brisk pace that players can be confident that if they are becoming bored, the game will soon throw in a new novelty to keep everything fresh. As a whole though, the battle system is simple and effective enough to ensure that anyone who plays Solatorobo will immediately get to grips with it and enjoy what the game has to offer. As such, Solatorobo’s difficulty is rarely very high. We only died once throughout the entire main quest, and that was during the final boss battle. Along with this, the puzzles that are found throughout both the main quest, and the various side quests, aren’t very taxing with most being worked out in under 30 seconds. Whilst this may prove to be a problem for veteran gamers, it does make Solatorobo accessible and enjoyable for those are new to the series and the genre as a whole.
The simplicity of Solatorobo’s battle and quest mechanics and the overall difficulty reflects directly on the length of the game. Although Solatorobo is a JRPG with the typically epic storyline, in reality it doesn’t last that long. The main quest line can be completed in around 18-20 hours making it decidedly short for a JRPG, and after the 50+ hours on offer in Dragon Quest IX, Solatorobo feels somewhat lightweight. The side quests do offer a degree of variety that keeps proceedings fresh. However, the speed and ease to which they can be completed ensure that they are little more than a trivial, passing distraction. Without spoiling too much for those who haven’t tried it yet, Solatorobo does at least offer two stories for the price of one, making the short main quest a little bit more palatable.
Overall, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is an accomplished, but short, game that demonstrates a very different side to the JRPG genre. Fast-paced and inventive with a charm and eccentricity that makes it hard not to love, Solatorobo shows that JRPG games can be as much about enjoying the ride as they are about an all encompassing story. It is a JRPG that prioritises variety over the tradition of monotonous grinding. Although short, not particularly challenging, and with a battle system that lacks variation, it’s a game that has been lovingly made and oozes charm, making its shortcomings easy to forgive and forget about.
Wanderson75 rates Solatorobo: Red the Hunter at 4.25/5.0
Editor’s Note: The version reviewed was the UK version which has already been released. Some content may change between the US and UK versions. Solatorobo: Red the Hunter will be releasing in the United States on September 27th.
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