Developer: Kadokawa Games Ltd.
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Third-person Action
Rating: E 10+ for Everyone 10 and Up
Sonic the Hedgehog is a character who is loved by many. Even the most casual gamer could probably tell you who he is. The man responsible for such an icon is Yuji Kawa, lead developer for Rodea the Sky Soldier. Also known to be one of his greatest achievements is Nights into Dreams, and has fans of his work wonder whether this new title will have the same effect on the industry as his previous productions.
Since 2010, Rodea has been in and out of development. The original intention was that it be developed for the Wii and released in 2011, but that did not happen. A 3DS version was announced a few years later. Then in 2014, Kadokawa Games announced that it was making the jump to the Wii U. This April, Japan finally saw Rodea‘s release as did did North America this November. This sky soldier’s flight has been delayed for a long five years, and unfortunately it suffers from a bit of jet lag,
Every 1,000 years the sky kingdom of Garuda makes a pass over the Naga Empire. While the empire is in search of a new source of energy, King Geardo discovers that Garuda has a particular source that he intends to claim. We meet our hero Rodea and the king’s daughter Princess Cecelia as they are being chased down. Cecelia holds the Key of Time which her father was aiming to use for the invasion. Her ship is shot down, and her personal bodyguard Rodea races off to rescue her.
In her final breath Cecelia tells Rodea he can still save the sky kingdom. She gives him a peice of the key, transporting him to Garuda. Rodea cries out for Cecelia and falls to pieces and is left in the desert to be forgotten. One thousand years later, he is discovered and repaired by a girl named Ion who is sort of a gear head. Just when Rodea seems to gain his bearings again the Naga forces also have made it. He then remembers his mission and aims to complete it.
Language: The word “damn” comes up a few times.
Violence: There isn’t much to worry about here. The main character does a boost attack that is mostly used against robots.
Positive Content: The main character is constantly reminded that he is not just a machine, and that he has a “heart.” The message is that we should be more caring by not just focusing on our personal agenda and help others. Love your neighbor as yourself.
From the moment I began to play, I observed that this had Yuji Kawa’s name written all over it. Much of it resembles the Sonic Adventure games, but has added some flying into the mix that will remind players of Nights. The most fun seen in Rodea from those classics are the moments of speed and momentum. Those moments where the only instances I ever enjoyed my flight through the kingdom of Garuda.
One trait that the game unfortunately shares with the Sonic Adventure series is the the lull when the game slows down. While going through a level, you collect gravitons which act as fuel to keep Rodea going through the sky, and connecting your flight path from one line to the next builds your score, which can be fun. You’ll suddenly run into a group of enemies you need to kill or you’ll be asked to fetch a certain amount of an item before you can proceed. Those kinds of moments can definitely take away from what the player was meant to experience. Still, this was not the thing that ultimately hurts the entire game.
What does hurt the experience are the terrible controls and camera. When flying, you must jump up in the air to aim at your target or direction you want to go. The reticle can be too precise at times and Rodea will only take flight when you are pointed at a solid object. When running into a wall, he will also cling to it and leap away rather than climb over the ledge; everytime this happened I would need to situate myself yet again on the right path. Even when fighting against enemies most of my experience consisted of stopping and aiming over and over again, and the camera would work against me here as well, blindsiding me with damage from enemies I could not see. While the HUD does warn you of incoming enemies, it is cumbersome just to turn the camera and lock on them manually. By the time I could lock on, I have already lost a large chunk of health. All of that has made this game nearly unplayable, and the reason why I was actually unable to finish the game.
Another thing that was extremely disappointing was the level designs. Garuda is meant to be a great sky kingdom, but is just too empty and boring. Each stage consists of some floating platforms and are sometimes connected together in different ways. There are buidings and other structures that give some flare, but nothing that is very unique. These days many great games are known for the worlds in which they take place. That could have been the case for the sky kingdom of Garuda but the result is a missed opportunity.
Despite these major downfalls, there are a few areas where things are done right. Each stage has some hidden areas that might include some collectible medallions or gears. The latter can be used to upgrade Rodea in between each mission. Things like health, armor, and speed can be upgraded to turn you into an elite sky soldier. Like any title in the genre, you will also encounter many boss fights with several of them large in scale. In fact, one of them looks like it was ripped straight out of Shadow of the Colossus and is actually called a “Colossus.”
If indie games have showed us anything, its that super realistic top notch graphics don’t make the game. However, this has been in development for five long years and the graphics look like they haven’t been touched since it was confirmed for the Wii U. The character model of Rodea looks just fine but the environments suffer from some ugly textures that are the reason these graphics just don’t hold up well.
To the developers’ credit, I did find the fully animated cut-scenes pleasing to watch. These don’t come around very often but offer a great relief from the talking character portraits you find through most of the game. The voice acting is cringe worthy and sounds like a poorly dubbed anime, although it is pretty neat to see Rodea sound less like a machine as he begins to take on more human-like traits. As for music and sound, what you find here again bears resemblance to any of Yuji Kawa’s other projects.
Overall, The outdated graphics and terrible control scheme make Rodea the Sky Soldier into one big mess. Having been originally developed for the Wii, I feel like it should have stayed that way. It seems Yuji Kawa and Kadokawa Games have all the right ideas, but five years stuck in development has created what looks like poor effort. Rodea simply doesn’t live up to his older Sega siblings. Yuji Kawa has expressed some interest in making a sequel, so hopefully we will see Rodea back on a grander scale one day.
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