Solatorobo: Red the Hunter

Hands-on Preview
"Solatorobo's visuals have a great sense of style and utilize a variety of 2D and 3D styles in a cohesive fashion."

As someone who thoroughly enjoyed Tail Concerto back on the Playstation, I was quite excited to play its spiritual successor Solatorobo. I have spent a handful of hours with this game and my first impressions are positive.

It is said that people eat with their eyes first, and Solatorobo's visuals have a great sense of style and utilize a variety of 2D and 3D styles in a cohesive fashion. Towns have prerendered backdrops that look hand drawn with plenty of activity and movement going on to give them a lively feel. Interactive polygon objects stand out, but only enough so that players know they can be picked up. Dungeons are fully polygonal, look cohesive, and the indoor ones have nice detailing. Some cutscenes are anime FMVs while others use the in-game engine, but all look fantastic and have a dynamic sense of framing and camera angles.

Special note must be made of the fluffy anthropomorphic animals populating the world. They look cute, but not overly cute. I especially like how protagonist Red keeps a chew bone between his teeth like it's a cigar. There isn't much voice acting save for a few Japanese voice clips here and there uttering characters' catch phrases during dialogue scenes. I definitely like that the Japanese voice clips were kept intact.

Excellent music also aids in Solatorobo's aesthetic style. I was especially happy to hear the Japanese vocal opening, especially since the vocals were absent from Tail Concerto's opening. The compositions are headier than those of the breezier Tail Concerto because the storyline and characters are edgier than before. Red is a cocksure fox who makes a living taking on adventures for coin. Balancing out his recklessness is his younger sister Chocolat who navigates Asmodeus, their airship and home base. During a seemingly routine mission to retrieve a confidential file from some corporate cargo ship, Red and Chocolat stumble upon a mysterious boy and a seemingly harmless medallion. Red inadvertently actives the medallion and awakens a very ominous looking sleeping giant that's bigger and more terrifying than any hostile airship. The mysterious boy is obviously connected to this whole mess and forces a semi-reluctant alliance with Red to save the world from this resurrected ancient evil while simultaneously facing the wrath of the Kurvaz, whose ship they invaded. The plot is nothing new as far as RPG plots go, but it is definitely edgier than Tail Concerto's lighter plot. In addition, the cute characters, fun dialogue, and lively cohesiveness of the game's world keep the plot engaging. A few Tail Concerto cameos put a smile on my face as well.

The gameplay is also quite engaging and mostly improves upon what made Tail Concerto fun while tightening up loose ends. Movement of Red's mech, called Dahak, is more focused and less clunky than that of Waffle's mech in Tail Concerto. The jumping is more precise than that of Tail Concerto, making for solid platforming in fixed-camera dungeons. Unfortunately, platforming sequences with a rotating camera suffer from some imprecision, making it difficult to gauge landings.

In keeping with series themes, Red's mech has two long grabbing arms that are pivotal to gameplay. To damage enemies, Red has to grab an enemy, repeatedly press the A button to lift it before it wrenches free, and toss it. While the enemy is airborne, Red can jump up, grab the enemy, and slam it down for greater damage. Throwing enemies into other enemies is quite satisfying. Red can also pluck projectiles out of midair and toss them right back. Tail Concerto had some of my favorite boss battles and I hope Solatorobo follows suit.

Tweakers can spend plenty of time scouring out the most optimal parts to upgrade the Dahak. Parts can upgrade attack, defense, hydraulics (how much effort it takes to lift up an enemy), movement (how fast the mech can run), and other stuff. Upgrading the Dahak is not as complex as it might be in a dedicated mecha sim, but it is fun, and good upgrades make a noticeable difference in performance.

Outside the main quests that drive the storyline, there are tons of side activities. Players can search for thieving kittens throughout the world that have fragments of artwork to view in the Asmodeus's gallery. Players can also collect music from juke boxes to fill out the sound test playlist. Other items can be collected as well, but I have yet to add to the library or theater. The game also has a battle arena where Red can fight for glory, coin, and prizes. My favorite outside activity is Air Robo GP, a fun airship racing game accessible from the title screen. It has both single and multiplayer modes, though the multiplayer mode is ad-hoc for up to four players.

The general vibe I get from the Solatorobo is that Tail Concerto grew up a bit. The game is certainly not as achingly cute as Tail Concerto was, but that's why it feels evolved. I'm enjoying the game thus far and if it keeps up this momentum, it may be the sleeper hit of 2011. Look for it when it hits game retailers on September 29th.

Preview: E3 2011
"Solatorobo: Red the Hunter appears to have something for everyone..."

XSEED is the type of publisher that doesn't have much fear in localizing more obscure Japanese titles. In the last year, we were treated to proper translations of various Ys iterations and Legend of Heroes: Trials in the Sky for the PSP. This fall, however, XSEED's stepping away from Falcom and taking up a new endeavor that goes by the name Solatorobo: Red the Hunter. This Nintendo DS game will be entirely different from the majority of titles XSEED has published, and it promises to take fans to new skies.

Before we lift-off into this exciting Action RPG, though, a fact that should pique the interest of Tail Concerto fans is that Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is its spiritual successor. For those thinking, Tail what!?, lack of knowledge on this obscure PSone platformer won't impact your enjoyment of Solatorobo. Even if you're not familiar with Tail Concerto, you're likely familiar with Solatorobo: Red the Hunter's developer - CyberConnect2, who brought us the .hack series games and the entirety of the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series.

Since your eyes hit that mouthful of a title, you're probably wondering: who exactly is this Red the Hunter? Well, he's a key part of the quest surrounding Red Savarin, the game's spunky protagonist. How can you not have a nose for adventure when you're a 17 year-old anthropomorphic dog traversing the skies exploring the floating islands of the Shepherd Republic? This world might sound a little bit akin to Skies of Arcadia, but what separates the Shepherd Republic from Arcadia is its population of specialized robots. Red also controls his own unique robot named Dahak, the real workhorse for all the special jobs he takes on for money.

It's not all robots for Red, for his younger sister Chocolat (great name!) joins him on his adventures. During one of their adventures, they come across an enigmatic boy named Elh and uncover a strange medallion. This is obviously no ordinary medallion and, being the courageous soul he is, Red vows to find the answers surrounding the mysteries of Elh and the medallion. In a completely unsurprising twist, there is a good chance the medallion awakened something sinister. With evil lurking, Red will face his toughest quest yet: saving the world. It's all about to heat up for this teenage rogue as he fights monsters and suits up for robot battles to try and add hero to his name.

The game is very handheld-friendly and breaks up its overarching acts into episodes that take around thirty minutes to an hour to complete. In the end, Red's journey will take you on over 70 quests, each of which will provide you with individual parts to upgrade your robot to its fullest potential for the final earth-shaking battle. And that's exactly where Solatorobo: Red the Hunter will aim to please, in its robotic, action-packed gameplay, where you'll command your own customized unit to pick up objects and enemies, while navigating the skies. The battle system is action-packed, featuring sequences that would put many mecha anime to shame as your robot latches onto enemies in the air and throws them to the earth for some serious damage. Your robot will also be able to catch projectiles coming its way and toss them back at enemies for sweet payback. For those looking for customization, your robot is a one-stop shop, as you'll be able to upgrade its power, speed, hydraulics, and mobility with cash you earn during the game. The customization is a puzzle in itself, as you'll have a grid that you need fit the right upgrades on like Tetrominos.

In our hands-on demo, we found the battles to play out rather smoothly with easy controls and nothing too difficult to grasp. The game holds your the hand often telling you what button to press, so we rarely got stuck. Honestly, a lot of the action elements depended on how fast you can rapidly press the "A" button to man-handle various enemies. The actual battles were entirely focused around pulling off combos where you mixed up throwing enemies down, up, or into each other, grabbing them out of the air, and attacking them after you've chucked them to the ground. There are light puzzle elements to the game, like moving around objects to open doors, but these aren't difficult by any stretch of the imagination - the game is entirely friendly to younger audiences. Also strong is the comical witty dialogue from charming characters providing plenty of lighthearted moments to make the journey less daunting.

The amount of visual acuity is hard to miss in Solatorobo: Red the Hunter. There's such a depth to the world, which can be seen in the variety of the enemies you face, and the 2D backgrounds are completely hand-drawn. The mix of the 2D backdrops with the 3D character models complement each other well. The game is also credited with having two popular artists on board - Yoshitake Taniguchi and Nobutero Yuki. Taniguchi is well known from his work on Super Robot Taisen and Yuki, whose character design credits include Chrono Cross, reprises his role of character designer from Tail Concerto. Even with these two heavyweights, what's most promising is the fully animated cutscenes that look like they're fresh out a movie, and that's thanks to MADHOUSE - the studio that collaborated with Studio Ghibli for Spirited Away. Also to MADHOUSE's credit are the Devil May Cry, Trigun, and Ninja Scroll animes.

If that doesn't completely sell you, the soundtrack's composer will: Chiyako Fukuda. Fukuda is known for previously working on both .hack and .hack//GU for the PlayStation 2. We heard a liveliness to the score from our short time with the game, but we were also promised that the soundtrack will include plenty of orchestral moments that build up the intensity to reflect the seriousness of Red's task to save the world. Despite its ease, what surprised us most about Solatorobo was the scope of the game. In addition to a wealth of quests, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter features additional mini games. There's a tournament-style battle arena, a fishing game where your robotís arm becomes a harpoon, and even a racing minigame where you find yourself back in the air. This last mode also includes a multiplayer option where you can race up to four others through the sky using a local connection. An extra bonus to those with a DSi or 3DS, is that you can take pictures, which you will see later in your journey.

Solatorobo: Red the Hunter appears to have something for everyone, which is great, considering a wide variety of people can pick this game up and find different aspects to love about it. Right now, no solid release date has been set, but XSEED said they're looking to release it in the early fall, hopefully around September. If you've been clamoring for a charming game full of robot love and customization, keep your tabs on Solatorobo: Red the Hunter.

Update: 07.27.11: The fact sheet provided by XSEED Games at E3 identified the composer as Yasunori Mitsuda. This information is incorrect; XSEED has confirmed that the composer is Chikayo Fukuda. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused.

© 2011 XSEED Games, CyberConnect2. All rights reserved.

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