Originally published November 3rd 2015 on the Seafoam Gaming forums
Thanks to NIS America for the Review code
Title: Rodea The Sky Soldier
System: Wii U
Release date: 11/10/2015
The main game/story
In a fierce battle that occurred many years ago, the robot Rodea was given a task to save the land of Garuda. A millennium later, he gets the chance to set off on his grand adventure, thanks to the help of some new friends, in this action platforming adventure game, worked on by Yuji Naka of Sonic the Hedgehog fame! With a fresh idea and an interesting concept, was Rodea worth the five year wait it took for us to get to this point?
For the majority of conversations and when using the menus, the game sticks with an anime art style, not unlike what you see on the game’s boxart. However during the gameplay, the game uses a CGI theme of sorts, with all of the main characters looking rather odd in comparison to the anime artstyle from the boxart and menus. Luckily for most of the time you don’t end up having to look at the character models for too long, which means you’ll be focusing on the enemies and environments, which are serviceable enough by Wii U standards, with some of the environments actually looking quite pretty. The cutscenes that pop up throughout the course of the game use the CGI in a much better way than the actual game, which is a bit of a shame as they don’t appear too often, but still do a better job at expressing the actions of Rodea and friends compared to when you are in the actual game.
Music and Sound:
Rodea the Sky Soldier has a soothing, calm soundtrack composed by the legendary Takayuki Nakamura, and it gets the job done for the most part, with a majority of the themes helping you ease your way through the game, even during the tougher parts of the adventure, making it so you don’t end up too overwhelmed while also not too relaxed. Considering the pace of the story and the difficulty of the game, it’s a nice score that will help keep you calm no matter how frustrated you may get with the game. In terms of the voice acting, there’s a Japanese audio track and an English dub of it available for you to choose from, and they both sound fine for what they are, neither tracks having voices that sound too irritating or too dull, so props to the english dub cast in particular for doing a good job portraying the characters well.
On paper, Rodea the Sky Soldier sounds like a fun concept for a game, with you flying around big environments, taking out enemies and finding materials and secret items along the way, making it seem like the big game that fans hoped it would be back when it was announced many years ago for the Nintendo Wii. (which luckily is being included as a first-run preorder bonus for the physical copy of the Wii U version, if you are interested in seeing the original vision of the game before it was cancelled and moved to the current Nintendo systems.)
Upon starting the prologue chapter, however, one thing immediately stood out to me like a sore thumb, and that was the control scheme. You move Rodea around with the left stick on the Wii U Gamepad/Pro Controller, and can target locations or enemies with the A button in combination with the left stick, which will cause Rodea to fly towards that direction. The B button is your basic charge attack which can help you take care of enemies and go towards other things like items or checkpoint bells, while the X button is used for special weapons Rodea gets over the course of his adventure, with the lock-on feature being assigned to the ZR button. Again, these controls sound fine in concept, and for the first stage I actually got used to them rather quickly. Unfortunately, as I made it through more chapters it became clear that the transition from the Wii version to the Wii U version wasn’t kind to this game at all, with the controls feeling really out of place and very difficult to get used to during more intense sections of the game. Sometimes I would lock onto an object or an enemy and fire just like I planned, only to launch myself right off the stage due to the lock-on catching an enemy out of my sight at the last minute. Since Rodea the Sky Soldier uses a lives system, if you mess up too much you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the area, which can be really frustrating if you are doing so well only to mess up constantly due to a silly mistake or by struggling with the control scheme.
It’s not impossible to get used to the controls, but if you want to get S ranks on each of the chapters and get more parts to upgrade Rodea, it’ll require lots of practice to get the job done. During the chapters where the game allows you to go at your own pace without the risk of falling off, it feels great and is super satisfying to defeat a chain of enemies without touching the ground thanks to pulling off successful lock-on attacks. However during the more chaotic sections of the game, where you have to worry about getting to the next area without falling off or getting tired in midair, it becomes incredibly frustrating, so don’t be too surprised if you end up struggling with the controls in an attempt to get Rodea to safety without having him fall to his doom. After playing with the game for a while, it’s clear that this game was meant to be played with the Wii Remote, which makes it even more confusing on why you can’t use it in the Wii U version of the game. Sure, you can use it in the Wii version that comes with first run physical copies, but the fact that they didn’t carry that control scheme over to the Wii U version is baffling.
Regardless, some of this frustration is alleviated thanks to the upgrade system. Depending on the parts you find from defeated enemies or by exploring each stage in a chapter, Rodea can have his friend Ion upgrade his stats, allowing him to increase his attack power, flight speed and other things, which even include giving him brand new abilities to use while in flight! This does mean that you might have to revisit an older chapter in order to get enough materials to upgrade Rodea for the more difficult chapters of the game. Despite the fun I had gathering these materials to use on upgrades, however it seemed to make little difference in some areas, mostly thanks to the rising difficulty you encounter as you progress in the story. The game’s narrative is still engaging enough to keep you going, however which is a very nice thing to see, and to be honest the story was the key factor that made me keep on trying to beat those difficult chapters, making them both rewarding to me when I finally completed them, while also making me glad that I was finally finished with a tricky stage.
While I don’t have any problems with challenge in a video game, it is rather frustrating to have a game with such a confusing control scheme escalate in difficulty just when you feel that you are getting the hang of things, and that’s what ultimately hurts Rodea the Sky Soldier the most. It’s a game with an amazing concept, addicting gameplay when it works and a great story, but the controls just didn’t work out so well on the Wii U, and the fact remains that these are controls that will take a lot of time to master. Depending on your skill level or how much you like these sorts of games, you’ll either fall in love with the challenge that this game has to offer, or will be infuriated at the inevitable chance of you accidentally launching Rodea off of the platforms or right into an enemy’s line of fire without a lot of practice.
In all honestly, I’d only recommend picking this game up for the first print bonus of the Wii game alone, since that happens to be Yuji Naka’s original vision of this game and has been received more favorably by folks who imported the game. That way, you will be able to compare the two versions for yourself to see which one is more favorable in your eyes, or maybe you’ll enjoy both versions for what they are.
That being said, the Wii U version of Rodea the Sky Soldier isn’t a terrible game, as I still enjoyed it when I got used to the controls, even if it got more and more difficult to adjust to later on in the game. If you’re willing to give the control scheme a chance and are willing to look forward to what comes next in the game’s story, then Rodea the Sky Soldier isn’t a bad investment at $59.99, just don’t expect it to be an easy ride or a game that’s accessible for everyone, as it’ll require a lot of practice to get used to. I give Rodea the Sky Soldier a 6 out of 10, and only recommend it to those willing to overlook the flaws of the control scheme or for those who are interested in the first print bonus.