REVIEW: Rodea the Sky Soldier

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Rodea the Sky Soldier | cover
Title Rodea: The Sky Soldier
Developer NIS America, Inc.
Publisher Kadokawa Games / Prope
Release Date November 10th, 2015
Genre Adventure / Platformer
Platform Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Wii U
Age Rating ESRB: E
Official Website

Rodea: the Sky Soldier is not your typical release, but rather the unfortunate byproduct of development hell. Here is the story: the game was originally meant to be a Wii game directed by Yuji Naka. Yes THAT  Yuji Naka, who worked on the Sonic the Hedgehog and Nights into Dreams series. Both of those games are popular and even some of his lesser known ones like Billy Hatcher or Ivy the Kiwi? have their fans. The product was meant to be a joint project with Kadokawa games who was working on a 3DS version of Rodea to be released alongside Naka and his team’s version. Kadokawa was to publish both titles. While Naka’s Wii version was nearing completion, development on the 3DS version lagged behind. As a result, both games were delayed then cancelled. It would not be until last year that it was announced that the project was back into development and that there would be a Wii U version. What I did not realize, however, is that they simply ported over the 3DS version to the Wii U. I’m not sure if that was the best decision….

Rodea | Cutscene

There are two empires – Garuda, an empire in the sky and Naga, a terrestrial empire using the power of crystals to fuel their technology. The two kingdoms clashed and an invasion was launched to get the Key of Time held by Princess Cecilia of the Naga Empire. Rodea, one of her bodyguards, is entrusted with half of the Key of Time. He is then sent 1000 years into the future. As a result of the time travel, he lost his memories and purpose as a guardian. Rodea would eventually be found Ion, who agrees to help him, and the two set out on an adventure to explore the land and find out more about Rodea’s past. You will travel across 25 levels and four main zones. These levels are HUGE and can take quite a while to explore. There are plenty of hidden items and enemies for you to fight in them. The music is also really good and catchy, much like some of Naka’s previous works. The songs sound like they would have fit in any old school SEGA game.

So we got a new series by a man who has more than proven himself capable of coming up with great ideas. What is wrong? Unfortunately, a lot. To start, this game was ported from the 3DS which means that the visuals need to be touched, in order for it to look remotely presentable on a big screen. In order to make the game “Look better” on the Wii U, they added a weird filter to give it kind of a notebook sketch look. I am not really sure if this makes it look much better. Otherwise, the graphics will do what they can. The character portraits however look great! The artwork was nicely done and each character has a number of fun animations. These animations are accompanied by decent voice acting and some genuinely humorous banter among the characters. This is ruined, however, by the abysmal lip syncing. Lip syncing is a tricky thing to do in general when you localize a game, but this one took it to a whole other level. There was a cut-scene where it got so bad, that the spoken dialogue did not match the character portrait or the subtitles. I looked that cut-scene up online and in the video I saw it looked alright, so there is a chance that it was a glitch I happened to encounter in my copy, but the fact that it can happen at all to that extent is not a good thing. Even worse, this lack of polish leaks over to the actual gameplay.

Rodea | Lava level

So Rodea’s main method of movement, other than by walking around with one of the analogue sticks, is flying. Sounds simple enough, but the problem is HOW you fly. Pressing the A button will make him jump really high, then you press it again to get the recticle to appear. From here, you have to use the other analog stick to point to your target, then press the button or wait for him to go. This dual stick setup is a lot clunkier than it should be, but it is manageable. My problem is actually with the pathfinding of the flight. Whenever you point to a location to initiate the flight, a line is shown so you can see where exactly Rodea will fly to. For some reason, this does not always pick the most optimal path, in fact it tends to shoot Rodea downward. You don’t know how many times I have gotten stuck and wasted my flight gauge, because Rodea decided to fly into a wall, even though there was plenty of room for him to reach his destination and clear the obstacle. Also, he jumps way too high. It can be really tricky to jump on platforms, as you really need to calculate his arc before each jump. Rodea can also fly really quickly over a path of collectable diamonds, similar to Sonic’s light dash. Unfortunately, you need to be really specific with this as I found it worked less than it should have. Also I hate to be that person complaining about this, but the framerate is not very good. There is a lot of slowdown and stutter which really breaks any kind of flow the game would have otherwise had. The only thing in this game with a consistent framerate are the menu screens!

Rodea | Fly

See this yellow line? This is Rodea’s flight path and sometimes it will lead you right into a wall….

The fifth level of each zone is a boss battle. These kind of remind me of Shadow of the Colossus, as you fight them by flying around their bodies and attacking one of several cores or weak points on their bodies. However due to the controls and camera, this can be more frustrating than engaging. Speaking of camera, Rodea has two types, one where you use the analog stick and another where you use the R/L buttons similar to Nights into Dreams and Sonic Team games, you know like the old ones from the 90s and early 2000s. It is also disappointing that unlike many of the levels, the boss fights are over too quickly. Some of the normal levels took me up to 20 minutes to complete only to defeat the boss in under 2 minutes. The levels do have hidden coins for you to find which can be redeemed to unlock alternate outfits and modes, which is nice. You can also find items to upgrade your character which is highly recommended as this helps the gameplay. Improvements include longer flight, stronger attacks, and wall grappling abilities. The levels also have a lot of voice acting. The NPCs really like chirping in to comment on what’s going on. At first it’s cute and charming but after hearing Ion ask you why you are not flying every time you take a few steps, it gets annoying.

Rodea | Light Dash

This works in a similar fashion to sonic’s Light Dash, but not as fluid.

Rodea the Sky Soldier was bundled with a version of the cancelled Wii game, if you bought it in stores. This Wii version is said to not only run better, but play better. It is a shame that this was not the version being advertised. Instead it is the one being relegated to a mere bonus. Heck it is not even available on the eShop! There is NO excuse for this. As for the Wii U game, Rodea is a 10-15 hour trek that is very much a diamond in the rough. It wants to be a good game and at times does shine, but technical issues and just plain lack of polish prevent it from truly reaching the heights it should have. This is a good example of how an otherwise great concept can be ruined due to development hell. If you can find this game, get it for the Wii version. That is the way the game was meant to be played originally and from the footage I have seen, is the much better version. In fact, I actually want to track that version down and see if it really is an improvement. While there is some fun to be had with Rodea, $60 may be a bit too much. Watch some footage online or even the trailer below and if you like what you see, go to your local game retailer and give it a shot.

Review Score

Review copy provided by publisher.

About Justin Guillou

Justin joined Operation Rainfall to share his passion and knowledge for some of the more obscure video games out there.