With the release of the 3DS, the DS’s releases are dwindling, and Solatorobo represents one of the last notable games to be released on the system. It’s also probably one of the only games ever to have 100 commercials made for it in a bid to break a world record (or at all, really). Some of them give facts about the world ranging from population demographics to the type of shoes the denizens wear and even how toilets are set up on airships. They all serve to provide the game with some publicity, even if some like this were less than helpful in providing any information about the game itself.
So does Solatorobo provide the DS with a nice swan song, or does it just hit wrong notes?
Solatorobo takes place in the same universe as Tail Concerto, albeit in a different region (Shepard Republic instead of Prairie), and characters from Tail Concerto make appearances in several quests. In Solatorobo, the story centers around Red Savarin, a hunter that gets drawn into a larger battle to save the world from a ancient weapon the antagonist is trying to awaken. The first half of the game has more overall light hearted feel, while the later half retains some of that levity, it also gets a bit darker, and the transition between the two was handled well, featuring a different opening animation for both. While some of the plot points have been done before, the game manages to throw in some twists along the way that keep things interesting. The world building, both in-game and through the aforementioned commercials, is rather thorough and makes the world feel alive. The texts in the library detail various aspects of the lore, and a number of them can be seen in action in-game, such as the airships and the differing climates of the islands. Various quests also contain some character and plot development, which helps both feel more fleshed out.
The way the graphics were done pushes the DS’s graphical capabilities, and they’re rather nice to look at. The cel-shading in the 3D cutscenes look good, and the animation in the opening is fluid. The 3D backgrounds are lush with detail – for instance, in one town you can see characters in the foreground moving. Like in Dragon Quest IX, the main character is rendered in 3D while the secondary ones are in 2D. However, the latter looks kind of pixellated next to the former, and it would’ve been nice if other important characters also got 3D models as well.
The music is aurally pleasant and suit the mood of the situation at hand, ranging from being more on the cheery side to more foreboding side. The introduction theme is my personal favorite, and I enjoy listening to it every time I turn on the game. The ending theme is also pretty and is a nice note to end the game on. All first run copies of the game come with a soundtrack CD that has 24 tracks on it as well, which is a nice bonus. The snippets of voice acting fit the corresponding characters. They’re also in French, and it actually works regardless of whether you happen to understand French. Of course, it’s a bit of a bilingual bonus if you do, even if only of a strange sort.
The controls and gameplay are on the simplistic side. The controls are entirely button based, and the stylus never comes into play. Y lets you disembark and ride your robot, while A examines or grabs certain objects. Pressing B once lets you jump, while pressing it twice dashes. I wish dashing had been assigned to another button rather than having to press B twice – there were unused buttons, so I’m not sure why they didn’t use one of those. You can fast forward the text by holding down R and A, which helps if you’re repeating quests; it would be nice if it went a bit faster, but it’s better than nothing.
One neat little feature is the way customization is done. There’s a grid you can place parts on and arrange them like you would Tetris pieces. There are four stats you can adjust through this: hydraulics (how quickly you lift enemies and objects), attack, mobility, and defense. You can unlock more grid space by spending P Crystals, though each space gets more expensive the closer to the border they are, and you only find three P Crystals at a time at most (unless you buy them). It’s a fun experiment trying to maximize the amount of stat boosts you get from parts while attempting to fill in every space in the process.
The general flow of the game consists of taking on quests, exploring, and battles. Exploring involves mainly some platforming and crate carrying, and at points you’ll have to get off your mech to examine something or go someplace your mech can’t go. While walking around on your own, you can fire a stun gun to paralyze enemies temporarily, though you can’t actually defeat them unless you’re in your mech. Battles consist of grappling and throwing your enemies or catching projectiles they fire at you and tossing them right back where they came from. To lift enemies, however, you have to mash the A button repeatedly until the arrow fills up. If you get hit while attempting this, you have to start over. If you jump and throw your enemy while you’re in the air, you can perform a midair combo wherein you can throw them three times in a row. Later in the game, you eventually unlock other forms of the Dahak that focus on a stat and allow you to do variations of these moves, such as swinging enemies (and hitting anything nearby) around before flinging them. You also unlock an ability to shoot energy javelins, which are helpful in wearing enemies down when you can’t otherwise reach them. While it can be satisfying to toss around enemies, it does feel a bit repetitive at times.
There’s also various minigames throughout the game to vary things up. Battleship fishing involves reeling in humungous fish with battleships on their backs and netting items that are worth a certain amount of points, which can then be redeemed for P Crystals or parts. There’s also two types of flying segments: flying from island to island to find someone or something and Air Robo GP, which consists of Mario Kart-esque racing though courses viewed in tunnel vision and trying to slow down your enemies with items. The latter is also accessible on the main menu when you start up the game.
Once you beat the game, you’re free to continue playing and complete any remaining quests. While it can break up the pace a bit if you haven’t been doing them and need to take on some in order to raise your hunter rank enough to be able to move on to the story quest, they can be fairly amusing and generally don’t take long to do. You can also go back and find any photo pieces and notes you haven’t found, as well as go through two boss rushes as much as you please. If you play through the game a third time, you can unlock a form that boosts every stat and lets you use every move the other forms have. However, since you can easily go through the game without touching the customization options, and everything carries over in each new game + playthrough, this falls under the “awesome but impractical” category. Customization by Tetris is sort of hard to pass up, though.
The game leans on the easy side. The hints aren’t so much hints as blatantly stating the solution for the puzzles, and at times the game will remind you more than once what you’re supposed to do. There’s not much variation in strategies for boss battles, though the ones in which you use mounted gun to fire at them are fun. The fact that you can customize mid-battle doesn’t help the challenge level any, though this is especially useful for the boss rushes. That doesn’t mean Solatorobo is boring to play. On the contrary, something about this kind of easiness drew me in and kept me in front of my DS for hours. It does help that that the characters exude charm, and even though I had a good guess as to what the upcoming twists would be, I still wanted to see them unfold. There were plenty of humorous moments as well – it’s rather amusing to see Red’s reactions to affections lavished on him by a fangirl and a not so ambiguously gay quest giver. Even now, I’d pick it up here and there just to complete a couple more quests.
Far more games feature directly attacking enemies than grappling them and throwing them around, and the latter was well implemented here. However, some people may be put off by the lack of difficulty and relatively shallow battle system, though the former is mitigated a bit by foes getting a boost in subsequent playthroughs. In addition, the appeal of the game lies on the characters and world, so if those don’t draw you in, you probably won’t take ashine to this game. That being said, you don’t need to have played Tail Concerto, so it’s still accessible to those who haven’t, and considering how much copies of Tail Concerto are going for these days, that’s a good thing. Still, like its predecessor, this will likely only appeal to a niche audience.
The box claims this is “DSi enhanced”, but the only additional feature you get by playing this on a DSi (or 3DS) is that you can take pictures with the front and back cameras. The picture taken with the front camera is displayed next to your save file, and at one point of the game they’re both displayed. You can opt not to take any pictures, and if you do so you can retake them if you like. Other than that, you don’t miss out on anything if you’re not playing on a DSi or 3DS. In addition, for the US release, XSEED opted to include all the quests that were originally Wi-Fi downloads as part of the package, so you don’t have to go online to get those quests – they’ll unlock automatically once certain prerequisites are met. However, there isn’t any Wi-Fi support at all, but that’s not a huge loss. Sure, it would’ve been nice to race against people in Air Robo GP, but it doesn’t detract much from the rest of the game.
Graphics: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Solatorobo sports high production values and a colorful world and cast of characters. It’s clear there was a lot of creativity and love invested into the lore and characters, which makes it easier to become engaged in exploring the world and watching the events unfold. While the gameplay can get a bit repetitive at times, it still manages to be fun enough to compel you to keep playing. The game’s also well suited for short bursts of play, which helps mitigate some of the potential monotony. Overall, it’s worth experiencing, and it’s a rather enjoyable ride while it lasts.