Sweet As Syrup: Solatorobo Review

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I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky! (Image property of Nintendo and Bandai Namco Games)

Sometimes a game comes along with a unique premise and concept, but it comes to late in a console’s life-cycle to garner enough interest. And with no game is that truer than Solatorobo, an amazing Japanese game that is a forgotten under-appreciated gem. It’s revolving around anthropomorphic animal-like creatures who stumble across an age-old mystery and a powerful entity that they must stop. Take a seat and I shall tell you all about a classic that was one of the Nintendo DS’ last great games, let me tell you all about Solatorobo.

(Also, I’ve decided to rename my reviews to “Sweet As Syrup” to give them more of a standout title)

Plot And Setting

The game takes place on a floating series of islands and continents. Populating both the skies and the floating land-masses are two species of anthropomorphic creatures: The cat-like Felineko and the dog-based Caninu. The game revolves around a group of mercenaries, or what the game calls “Hunters”. The main characters are a group of hunters led by a rambunctious Caninu named Red Saverin. He and his sister, Chocolat Gelato, are on a mission to acquire some data for a client.

They go to a large battleship known as “Hindenburg” named after the real-life blimp and tragedy. Like the historical Hindenburg, it soon becomes heavily damaged and starts to fall out of the sky. Red must do battle against the soldiers of the Kurvaz army. After saving a young Felineko from the Kurvaz, they are thrown into a mission to save the world. From there you must travel to different floating islands, helping people, competing in battles and competitions, fighting the Kurvaz and ultimately saving the world.

The game features two story-arcs with the second story arc being accessed after beating the first. The second story arc is much darker in atmosphere than the first and expands a lot more on Red’s backstory. This story arc not only reveals the origins of the primary character, but also goes into the creation of the world itself. Another thing to mention about Solatorobo’s setting is that it takes place in the same universe as Tail Concerto, a rather obscure PS1 game revolving that also had anthropomorphic animals in mechs fighting it out. It’s a rather well-done and dark story, especially for an action RPG aimed at children.

Gameplay

In Solatorobo, you play as Red Savarin. You control the dog-like being as he runs around in his mech-suit known as “The Dahak”. The Dahak specializes in throwing it’s opponents around or into walls and other enemies. The Dahak has no combat weapons, lacking swords or guns. Instead, Dahak relies entirely on grabbing his enemy and tossing them. Some enemies are more difficult to grab than others and will sometimes require you to mix up your strategy. The Dahak can also be customized, as you will eventually gain parts that you can insert into Dahak to boost his stats. Dahak will also eventually unlock alternate modes such as one that bolsters his defense or increases his speed greatly.

The gameplay is simplistic and doesn’t require the most strategy at times. In fact, the game can be severely easy at times until you get the hang of a boss’s attack patterns. The game will often have you travel from screen to screen fighting enemies during missions, almost like a beat-’em-up. Actually, I guess it would be considered a grab-’em-up rather than an actual beat-’em-up. The game is of a fair length and will take about 10-12 hours to beat. On top of the main quest, there is a hardy amount of side-quests to partake in.

Side-quests including collecting pieces of a picture which will unlock in your art gallery, or aiding characters you’ve met while doing the main quests. There’s a large variety of side-quests including a quiz-game, cleaning out the sewers, a crate-lifting contest, and even a battle arena which will allow you to fight characters from Tail Concerto. You’ll unlock many side-quests over the course of the game, and the localization was nice enough to include the Japanese DLC as part of the main game negating the need to pay for them separately. By the end of the game you’ll have unlocked over 80 different side-quests, many of which you’ll need to complete in order to improve your Hunter Rank. Increasing your Hunter Rank is the only way you’ll be able to participate in the main quest.

I found the gameplay to be easy to get the hang and very easy to master. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t share this opinion. One of the major problems with the game is the constant flood of tutorials. You’ll get tutorials on how to move, on how to control your attacks, on how to upgrade Dahak, you’ll even get upgrades specific to side-quests! I’m surprised there isn’t a tutorial on how to open the flippin’ door! It got so bad that the game was actually giving me tutorials on the final level. Yes, the game is still instructing you even up to the end of the game. Another thing about the gameplay is that it’s repetitive. Fun, but very repetitive. This didn’t bother me too much as I am used to repetitive gameplay and it didn’t get too repetitive for me until I was nearly done it anyways.

Visual Stimuli

The game boasts amazing graphics, it’s a glorious sight to behold! This game looks amazing on the DS, but by the standards of 2010 games still looked fairly outdated. Still, for a game that was dealing with the hardware limitations of the Nintendo DS it looked great. The character designs were also great, if a bit controversial. You see, the internet often shuns series featuring anthropomorphic animals due to something known as the “Furry Fandom”. These are a group of individuals who are interested in anthropomorphic creatures and the internet and media often shun this group because they think their weird. I have no real opinion on furries whatsoever, and I can tell you that the fact that they were anthropomorphic didn’t kill my interest or enjoyment of the game itself.

The character designs themselves were pretty unique and diversified and oozed personality. The thing that I didn’t like was the voice acting. Sure, the Japanese voice-overs are great but they are so immensely limited. It was as if each voice actor only recorded 3 or 4 lines and those lines get played A LOT. And if you fail a mission, look forward to hearing the same voice clips a million times more. Something that I really liked about the game were the two opening animations, one for each story arc. The animation was beautiful and was handcrafted by anime studio legend Madhouse. The music played during this opening segment is beautiful and elegant and gives you a strong sense of wonder. The music permeated through the whole game is pretty good, with the game bolstering an astounding soundtrack.

The production quality behind this game is astounding. This game had been in development for a decade and the quality of world-building and graphic quality is astounding. Every inch of this game bleeds personality and there are so many memorable characters and unique situations in this game. It truly is a masterpiece of design and shows that not every game that ends up in development hell ends up being a trainwreck.

In Conclusion

This game bolsters some amazing graphics for the console it was on and has some fun yet repetitive gameplay. The static image cutscenes are a little bland and the voice-acting is severely limited. Despite this it’s still a well-crafted game with a moderate sized campaign and fun characters. You can get this game for about thirty bucks at a game-store and it’s well worth the price. If you want an action RPG with a unique gameplay twist and a goofy story that also exudes darker tones, then you should gave this game a shot. I give this game an 8/10 and can definitely say that this game is as sweet a syrup!

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