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Solatorobo: Red the Hunter

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Nintendo (EU), XSEED Games (US)
Developer: CyberConnect2
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2011 (US), July 1, 2011 (EU)


NDS Preview - 'Solatorobo: Red the Hunter'

by Thomas Wilde on June 26, 2011 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

In Solatorobo: Red the Hunter you enter a world of epic fantasy action in an RPG set on the mythical floating islands of the Shepherd Republic. Take on the story of Red Savarin, an anthropomorphic dog with the ability to take a human form, battle giant robotic mecha and other enemies as you explore the floating islands.

If the Internet has conditioned you to immediately run screaming when you see the word "furry" or "anthropomorphic," this is nothing that would interest you. You might want to go to some other page now.

In the event you're still here, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is a game with a rich pedigree — I really want to use some other word, since the main character's a bipedal dog-man, but it'd be too much of a stretch — and certain PR problems. The developer, CyberConnect2, has been shopping it around to North American publishers for a while now, but the aforementioned antifurry stigma kept it from finding an audience. (To quote one of the PR guys, everyone in the game who isn't an anthropomorphic animal is a robot. It's "a niche within a niche.") It's been slightly modified to accommodate for that unfortunate state of events and has finally picked up an American sponsor in XSEED Games.

If you follow anime at all, Solatorobo is like some kind of all-star jam session. The graphics are a mix of 3-D and 2-D, with cut scenes by the MADHOUSE studio, which worked on "Ninja Scroll," "Trigun" and several Hayao Miyazaki projects. The character design is by longtime anime artist Nobuteru Yuki ("Escaflowne," "Captain Harlock" and a long, long list of other notable projects), with music by Naruto: Ultimate Ninja/.hack's Chikayo Fukuda.

The Hunter of the title is Red Savarin, a treasure hunter and drifter who travels around doing odd jobs for money. In the Shepherd Republic, everyone owns a couple of robots, everyone's an anthropomorphic animal, and the lands consist of islands floating in the sky. Red uses his own mech, Dahak, to help him in his missions, and on one of those, runs into a boy named Elh. Elh, naturally, comes complete with his own world-changing mcguffin. Before you know it, Red and his sister Chocolat are on one of those world-spanning, world-saving missions that JRPGs love so much.

Aside from all the dog-men and airships, Solatorobo is most notable in my mind for being like some kind of pro-wrestling action-RPG. Combat is conducted with Red piloting Dahak, and upgrades are made by completing quests, defeating enemies and salvaging parts. When you fight, it's by grabbing enemies with Dahak's claws and slamming them into the ground or each other, which gives the entire thing a unique appeal. Just going back and forth with an enemy until somebody flashes and disappears is one thing, but rolling to their offside before you slap on a piledriver is quite another.

The game is projected to be about 20 hours long, with over 70 optional quests available to further trick out and customize your mechs. Over the course of the game, you can unlock several minigames that, if you win, provide you with more parts to use in the main game. This includes airship racing, at which I am too terrible to comment upon with any great insight, and fishing. "Fishing" may be a misnomer. It involves a harpoon cannon that is a couple of times bigger than Red himself, and when I tried it out, I caught a pirate ship. I am reasonably certain that once you have impaled a seagoing vessel and dragged it aboard, you have gone beyond the descriptive capacity of "fishing" and are well into some kind of piracy. The minigames can be played via wireless with up to three friends.

Solatorobo is already out in Europe, where Namco Bandai is publishing it, and it's a fun, lighthearted JRPG. The story feels well-worn and comfortable, and the combat is entertaining if only because I like tossing around robots. As for the whole "furry" thing, that's the elephant in the room, and it may play a large role in determining whether Solatorobo finds an audience.

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