Its Secret is Sincerity

The game I’ve been playing for the last 2 weeks, Solatorobo, is a late gem for the slowly fading DS. I’m just having some trouble articulating why I like it so much. In many ways, it is exactly the kind of game I don’t tend to like. It is very shallow. All fights play out basically the same, with in the way of difficulty or design. At the same time, it goes out of its way to hold the players hand. Everything gets a tutorial or an explanation from the characters. The game doesn’t allow, let alone expect, the players to figure out anything on their own. This ties into the last big problem, that the game is terribly talky. Characters won’t shut up. The players every action prompt more dialogue from somebody. Despite these problems, and more, I still really like the game, though. Somehow, a piece of quality shines through the crap that might have drowned this game.

One area is shines is in the graphics. This is a fine looking DS game, especially for one with 3D graphics. It honestly gives Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light a run for best on the system. The sound is likewise excellent. There are still some problems, though. For all that there is a beautiful world to explore, the game denies the player that exploration. The areas available to venture into are usually cramped walkways, sewers and caves and the like. It tantalizes with beauty, but hides it.

As I said before, Solatorobo is quite shallow. All fighting generally boils down to dodging the opponent’s one attack, running behind it, picking it up and throwing it. Ad naseum. There are some flying areas, both sort of explore-y spots and races, but neither of those adds much. Playing the game becomes somewhat rote after a very short period.

If I have all these complaint about the game, how can I saw I like it so much? I think it comes down to the games attitude. This is a bright, optimistic game. Its outlook is more like Skies of Arcadia than Final Fantasy 7. Sure, many of the elements that make up the game world are perfectly designed to appeal to me. I love airships and floating continents. And the fighting robots look like they came straight out of Miyazaki. Much work has clearly gone into the world on which this game takes place. It feels less like the usual checkpoints of places to go in a game, here is a snow town and there a tropical island, and more a cohesive world. There is a history and sense of place that most games miss.

However, that alone would not be enough to buoy a lackluster game. Somehow, Solatorobo is more than the sum of its parts. It is talky, but the story is much better than the usual fare. It is not great by any means, but its tone is so different, so optimistic and bright, that it distinguishes itself. Many times, I sit grinding my teeth every time a game interrupts my play to let some douche-y characters jabber on. (I’m looking at you every Tales game ever!) In Solatorobo, the dialogue, while rarely essential, is usually worth hearing. The picking up mechanic has some life to it, though it is too simple to really power a whole game, but combat is infrequent enough that it is rarely a problem. The game is relaxing. It is a stress free, frustration free romp through a colorful world. Solatorobo is not a great game. It is not a game that will go down as one of its systems best or something essential. What it is is an easy, cheerful diversion. It has its problems, but it is hard to hold those problems against a game that so firmly has its heart in the right place.