Gamefreak's Latest is an Odd Combination
Gamefreak, the company behind the Pokemon games, have an interestingly limited history in regards to games outside of the Catch 'Em All franchise, although it's a history mostly solid. Whether it's Genesis' Pulseman, a fast-paced, stylish action-platformer, or GBA's Drill Dozer, a numbingly charming puzzle-platformer ingeniously simple and rewarding, Gamefreak's select offerings beyond Pokemon are approachable titles that retain focus on applying mostly to a younger audience in complexity, but are able to hold adults' attention as well.
Which is why Soliti Horse, a Japanese E-Shop exclusive for the 3DS, is such a bizarre title to see release by Gamefreak. With a focus on iconographic gambling, its core features being horse-track racing and playing-cards, the fact that Gamefreak went ahead and published this one on their own, and not from big-dog Nintendo, is no surprise. Even with the usual body-slam adorableness that models every of their titles, images of real-life horse-racing, with the crack of a whip across the tender side of a horse, broken men crying as they've gambled the last of their family's savings, and bookies chintzing dirty fingers, surface immediately. It's not too far-fetched to think Gamefreak may be asking a bit much in terms of suspension-of-disbelief here.
Strange as the whole package is though, the only thing that matters is whether or not the game is any fun. And fortunately it is, but it is also bizarrely complex to the point that I have an extreme little to actually say.
The first thing that confused me with Soliti Horse is the amount of tutorial, explanation, and dialogue there is. This is no exaggeration; the first four races have a degree of text parallel to the most critical plot sequence in a Final Fantasy title. It's borderline endless, and before getting to play the game on your own you're stuck dealing with upwards of a 20 minute tutorial spread throughout some four or five races. After this every race concludes with a dialogue between the jockey (you) and the trainer, which I'm sure adds some nice incentive to keep playing (although heck if I know).
But once that's done you're good to go--- except I, of course, was absolutely not. Not understanding Japanese, following the lengthy tutorial I was left only with my shattered preconceptions concerning Soliti Horse, which was that it involves playing solitaire and steering a horse. Which actually is true, and is the foundation of the game, but there are just so many variables within the overall design that there's much more actually going on.
I'll say it now; if you don't know Japanese, then stay away. While it's totally possible to "play" the game, missing the several variables and rules really kills the experience.
I'm not going to try to kid anyone here, so I'll just say what little I am certain of. At it's core, Soliti Horse is solitaire and steering your horse. Essentially the game plays out in two ways; before manging your horse on the track, steering him and picking up abilities/boosters along the track via stylus control, you play a round of solitaire. Using the stylus is nice, and although it is just solitaire the sounds and colors of the cards are delightful to play with, and Solitaire is as fun now as when you slack off at your job/computer class. Depending on how you do affects at least the amount of distance you can run in the following segment, as well as the overall "mood" of your horse which I think affects speed.
---and that's about all I'm certain of, and while that is the core of everything the variables outside of this are simply extravagant to the point I'm not even going to bother hypothesizing over them.
Sorry for this awful write-up, readers, but really this is one of those games that I just cannot wrap my head around no matter how much I try.
An additional thing to note, and the reason why I am stuck writing this garbage blog, is that Soliti Horse strangely does not support furigana script, and so those hundreds of kanji explaining everything are just one great big mystery. If you've got your kanji radicals down than who knows; maybe you'll be able to decipher the inner-workings of Soliti Horse eventually. But I don't, and this is one title that I'd really like to keep playing, but honestly cannot.
Fingers crossed for a localization, but after experiencing all of that text Gamefreak might seriously need to hire someone like Xseed or Atlus to handle this game, which seems highly unlikely for a $5 downloadable title.