Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Rodea the Sky Soldier (3DS)


Kadokawa's "Rodea the Sky Soldier" has an interesting history that began in 2011. It's one that started on a rocky road of development, and has only since came to fruition this year. Interestingly enough this sky oriented action game that takes hints from the "Sonic the Hedgehog" franchise, and "Nights Into Dreams" began as an ambitious Wii title. You heard me right. Rodea's adventures in the sky kingdom of Garuda was meant to be released only on the Wii. Through delays as well as development, and publishing issues though it ended up not only switching intended release dates, but also which consoles it was to be released on. Instead of being a Wii exclusive it became a WiiU, and 3DS exclusive for the sake of being console generation relevant. Though the time, and transition phase was geared towards making the game what it was meant to be on the newer consoles it did not seem to change all that much.

After having gotten my hands on a 3DS copy of the soon to be released game it was more than obvious that the game was dated both in the graphical, and functional sense. The animations definitely looked like Wii era visuals, and the controls just did not jive with the 3DS control layout. Despite the the 3DS including a console tilt/movement function similar to what you'd get using a Wii Mote, and accompanying nunchuck it failed to make the tedious tasks of objective fulfilling, and point "A" to point "B" traversing a manageable ordeal. If you strayed from the beaten, and often times unapologetic linear paths you'd struggle just to regain your bearings, and would have trouble getting back on track where you needed to be. This along with some targeting, and movement issues only served to hurt my opinion of the game as you will find out ...

Without getting too far ahead of myself let explain what "Rodea the Sky Soldier" is all about. In the developer's fantastical anime inspired world of Garuda a warring kingdom known as Naga, and their emperor Geardo (Gee-ar-dough) are relentlessly seeking the key of time. This relic which the game's hero, and heroine are out to protect ends up nearly falling into the wrong hands despite their brave efforts. When the game starts the heart infused robotic guard Rodea, and his Princess Cecilia are both separated on a war torn battlefield comprised of floating islands. Through the guidance of tutorials Rodea makes his way to the princess, and her crashed ship only to become separated again by time itself as the princess halves the key, and gifts one piece of it to him in hopes they both can save their realm from destruction. Rodea, having the gifted heart of a human finds himself grief stricken in the desert he was transported to for having been separated from the kingdom, and princess he swore to protect. He smashes his arm, and in turn becomes lost in the sands of time until a crafty young female engineer named Ion finds him, repairs his arm, and tries to get to know him a little better. Of course their awkward meeting is cut short as the 1,000 year rotation of the dimensional overlap brings with it emperor Geardo, and the same threat Rodea had encountered before. In the company of Ion, and some newly found friends Rodea slowly regains his humanity, and remembers his goal of saving Garuda. Thus once again he sets out to do what he had meant to do in the first place. This is where you, the gamer come into the picture as Rodea.

Gameplay in "Rodea the Sky Soldier" as you'll find out if you dare to purchase it consists basically of some RPG character management, brief storytelling through character interactions, and objectives that will have Rodea flying through the skies of Garuda in a fashion akin to the games this game was inspired by. The game itself is 3D in build, and uses the thumbpad for directional movement with the remaining buttons geared towards jumping (A), flying (A, A), shooting (Y), attacking (B), and camera angle adjustment (L & R Shoulder). Like a lot of the Sonic games, and JRPGs in general you'll find that the story, and said gameplay that are included unfold before your eyes in a chapter by chapter orientation with the prologue being the start, and the final numerically numbered chapter being the last. As you begin you'll find yourself privileged to endure a decent tutorial that explains the flight mechanics, and various character management options along with the applied story. This includes the pre-flight mechanic which is how Rodea launches himself into the air, and the follow-up actions that use the auto-targeting system to guide Rodea through the air while reaching objectives, and enemy targets. The chapters themselves are fairly short with a variety of objectives in place ranging from simple point 'A" to point "B" traveling to actual item gathering, and even the occasional boss fight. Supposing you finish a chapter's stage you'll be rewarded four alphabetical ratings accordingly. With "E" being the worst, and "S" being the best. You'll be graded on things such as the time it took you to complete the chapter as well as certain items collected among other things. In a sense it holds true to games like 'Sonic', and 'Nights'.

In the game you will be doing a serious amount of flying, and that flying is unfortunately governed by a flight meter which depletes the longer you stay in the air. To offset the flight power drain there are floating islands scattered about the kingdom of Garuda. These islands are adorned with enemies of varying types, and items that can be attacked or gathered by either flying into them or by attacking them via the air dash attack. There's even floating bells that act as checkpoints when struck by using the air dash attack. Besides the enemies you'll also find floating ring portals, and chains of yellow orbs that will have Rodea traveling quickly through the air like Sonic running speedily through a ring littered track. This gathering of orbs in turn gifts Rodea a combo, or chain count which also tallies into his end chapter results. Usually as you play you'll be making your way towards the rainbow colored beams that shine upwards out of the island grounds, but on occasion Ion will tell you that you need to collect certain items in a given area in order to continue on your journey. There's even the teased boss fights that have you facing off against major enemies that are your size as well as colossal mechanized giants with weak points that must be targeted, and hit. There's definitely a variety to level design, but unfortunately things aren't as straightforward, or as easy going as they might seem.

On the 3DS, in particular you'll find yourself often times struggling to get back where you need to be if you accidentally fly off course, or fall from the safety of the floating islands without initiating Rodea's pre-flight mode first. I think where the game fails is that the targeting system in conjunction with the crude camera angle adjustment (it's either too far to the left or right) makes the gameplay truly aggravating at times. I feel, and I believe that this game was more suited for the Wii, and WiiU than it will ever be for the 3DS. Had the camera angles been better managed I'd probably have enjoyed this game, but that is not the case on the 3DS.

Between the chapters, and the gameplay found within 'Rodea the Sky Soldier' you will also be taken to an intermediate map screen, and character upgrade menu where you can either choose to venture forward to the next chapter, or upgrade Rodea, and his abilities. In the game, as you bust the baddies like an aerial Sonic the Hedgehog you will gain mech parts which act as upgrade materials for specific parts, and functions of Rodea. Such upgrades come in the form of physical stat improvements to movement enhancement (wall clinging ...), and even weapon improvement (rate of fire ...). Through the game's offered item collection you can also unlock extras that will change how the game is played. You can think of them as perks. For those of you looking for that on the go extra there's also a SpotPass feature called "Lost Islands" where you can farm for more mech parts by beating the mechanical monstrosities that inhabit the miniature floating island/s. Of course it does require going to different real world places to take advantage of that bonus feature though.

As far as Rodea goes he is not only governed by a flight meter, but also a health meter, and parts count. The health meter as one might guess depletes as Rodea takes damage. Once fully depleted Rodea will fall, and your parts count will be minus one. The parts count on the other hand acts as your lives. These parts, or gears can be gained by collecting the appropriate in-game items. I should also mention that the depleting flight meter which comes in the form of a colored ring can be refilled using the yellow fuel orbs I mentioned earlier. By passing into them you can collect them, and add them to your count for later use.

Thus are the basics of gameplay.

About the Graphics & Soundtrack ...

When it comes to the visuals 'Rodea the Sky Soldier' definitely looked dated on the 3DS. It looked as if it were a Wii game. The CG character animations were crude, and oddly animated leaving the anime inspired cartoon versions of the characters to be the only noteworthy art addition in the game. Even with the anime inspired cartoons though the characters' rapidly flapping mouths made for some awkwardly cringe worthy moments. The lip syncing was definitely way off even for the original Japanese voice-overs. As far as the voice acting goes it was good. Rodea's voice was enhanced with robotic effects at times which added depth to his character. Even the support characters sounded like you'd expect from professional English speaking anime voice-actors. The conversations between characters were never bland, and the emphasis on vocal emotions was layered enough to make the characters relative. Even the soundtrack was decent enough to compliment.

The Verdict ...

If it weren't for the terrible, and often times aggravating camera angles, and camera angle management this game would have been recommendable. Having played it on the 3DS though it has become apparent to me that the game is not meant for such a handheld gaming device. Even with the applicable console tilt function that allows you to change the camera angle it still makes for a truly frustrating experience. That is the only thing keeping me from recommending this game, and unfortunately it is a big problem. I imagine that the WiiU version would function much better than this, especially since "Rodea the Sky Soldier" was a Wii game to begin with. If you are interested in "Rodea the Sky Soldier" at all I'd strongly advise getting the WiiU version instead, but even that suggestion is subject to objection as I know nothing about that version of the game. Be sure to do your research!

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