Prepare to solve a mystery not as a detective but as a lawbreaker in Sol Dorado Heist, a short visual novel released for PC on 23 April 2021 by indie developer Megalixir Games.
In this two to three hours long game, play as Alex Thorn who wakes up one morning from a vivid dream where she was robbing a vault with another person. Due to a head injury she sustains, she cannot recall the identity of the individual who appeared in the dream. Alex is not even sure whether the dream is an actual fragment of her memory until she meets a detective who informs her that he is investigating the recent string of casino heists committed by a figure known as the Silent Ace. Upon hearing that the Silent Ace’s next target is the Sol Dorado casino, Alex confirms that her dream, where she has heard the very same casino name, is in fact real. Now, it is a race against time as Alex tries to figure out who she and this other person are before the detective does and arrests them.
Is Sol Dorado Heist worth its weight in gold? Find out in this spoiler-free review based on the English version.
A Vault Full of Secrets but a Plot full of Holes.
The story of Sol Dorado Heist is split over just three chapters, though its short length is not to be underestimated. The first two chapters end with a hook that made me want to find out what happens next. More importantly, the writing is great at providing me the space to form my own answers and then brutally make me second-guess myself at every major turn of events. Its four major endings, collectively, tie the entire narrative together on a satisfactory note and provide unexpectedly nice closures for everyone. In fact, I find these endings better written than the rest of the story due to their thoughtful portrayal of the final events that highlighted each character’s personality and growth.
In comparison to the endings, the main story pales as it suffers from issues of some over-the-top comedy that clashes with its serious storytelling, and the presence of obvious plot holes. Sol Dorado Heist attempts to tell a lighthearted detective story and it generally does it okay except for certain parts that are rather eye-roll inducing. I am not referring to the dad jokes (most of which I actually found eye-opening as I had not encountered them before, though perhaps it is also because I hardly seek out dad jokes in the first place), but instances when Alex becomes quite the drama queen. Some of her lines are presumably included for melodramatic effects to induce comic relief but they are a little too much for me.
On the note of dramatic effects, the game also frequently makes use of manga speed lines together with screen shake and a “ka-pow” sound effect (SFX). Due to the fact that the speed lines layer nearly always appears as a separate frame instead of an overlay and is shown only for a split second, it ends up looking like a simple white flash. Coupled with the SFX, this visual effect, which cannot be skipped, gets annoying quite quickly even if it does add a dramatic punch to the scene.
Another example of the writing issues is a scene depicting workplace bullying where the dialogues are written so childishly — perhaps for exaggerated humor — that makes me raise an eyebrow and think, “uh, seriously?” Throughout the main story, there are parts with visibly exaggerated tones that stick out like a sore thumb. Instead of laughing with “haha”, I questioned them more with “huh”.
And the times when I was not saying “huh” to overdone comedy, I was uttering “huh” to plot inconsistencies. This visual novel is written in a manner that consistently assumes that Alex knows everything that has transpired, including stuff that happened in mutually exclusive events which the player may or may not have chosen at previous choice points. Fortunately, there are no big spoilers unwittingly leaked from this improper handling of choice branchings. However, the resulting plot inconsistencies do cause much confusion to me whenever Alex mentions things that she logically should not have an inkling of. Alas, indirectly, an unrealistic all-knowing protagonist was born.
While the mystery of Sol Dorado Heist contains many twists and turns, the writing is often contrived. I still find it odd that our (all-knowing) main character, who is not known to have phonagnosia, can never connect people to their voices. In several normal phone calls without voice changers, so long as the caller is named “???”, Alex can never guess who is speaking on the line, no matter if she may have heard the very same voice many times before. I mean, well, this visual novel is partially voiced so we do not get to hear every line voiced, but that does not mean Alex did not hear the characters’ voices in her fictional world too.
Relationships between characters have also been deliberately warped for the sake of drama and mystery throughout the main story. When the truth is revealed, their initial interactions make little sense in retrospect. Not to mention, useful hints for understanding the true nature of various characters are neither given adequately nor dropped in a logical manner, thereby making much of the final revelations more of a rude shock than a pleasant shock.
Next, Sol Dorado Heist seems to encourage players to participate in cracking the mystery by having a choice point where players can state who they think is the culprit. However, this choice point is pretty much a cosmetic addition because the main story is fixed; Alex will still default to suspecting the same individual in the end regardless of the choice made. This is a big letdown especially since I was rather excited to see that the game is letting me have a say. While that choice point is still important for deciding which major ending the player will obtain, I cannot help but feel cheated. Before that choice point pops up, I was already forming my own theories. I certainly do not need the game to offer to take my guess into account only to rudely throw it away.
Although the writing is concise and its sentences are easy to read and understand, there are quite a number of typos and mistakes present. From mixing up homophones like “here” and “hear” to misspellings like “kida” for “kinda” to ungrammatical phrases like “didn’t threat you” to punctuation mistakes, the English script for Sol Dorado Heist certainly could do with a more thorough proofreading. In addition, the current speaker’s name is sometimes labeled incorrectly, and there are two instances where the same line is repeated again in succession. Other than the wrong names that have added minor confusion, the other issues did not hugely affect my comprehension. Ultimately, the sentences are not fully gibberish so it is still possible for one to follow and make sense of the writing from the start until the end.
Nonetheless, the writing lacks much in the way of detail and descriptions that would aid world-building. A lot of magic is lost, for example, in the magic performances due to how indescriptive those shows are.
There are five endings in total, one of which is an early bad end. If one is familiar with romance visual novels where players have to constantly pick choices that favor the character they wish to pursue, they would likely find it easy to get to every possible ending in this title. Sol Dorado Heist is a pure mystery game without any romance involved, yet its four main endings rely on choice combinations that follow much like a romance visual novel.
The Colorful Cast Awaits you in Las Vegas!
Despite the writing suffering from several problems, the characters are easily the stars of this visual novel. They may not help highlight what Las Vegas is like in Sol Dorado Heist but they are quirky interesting figures who leave quite an impression.
Notwithstanding her inclination to be dramatic, Alex is on the whole a fun protagonist to follow the story with. I like how frank, albeit certainly rude at times, she is with her opinions on various topics ranging from others’ fashion sense to dad jokes. She is also someone who can sympathize with others. It is a relief to see that her amnesia did not hinder her from being herself. In the endings, I admire her ability to recognize when the other party is bullying her and then promptly fighting back and calling them out on their bullcrap. In one particular ending, she is also shown to be a brave mature adult who does not shy away from taking responsibility for her actions. Alex is not a boring blank slate character although her character blossoms most fully only belatedly in the main endings.
The four major characters — namely Drake Carrigan the detective, Bennie Hart the comedian, Jack Viper the magician, and Rebecca Mendoza the casino owner — bring their own flavors to the story.
My number one favorite is Bennie, though it is not his dad jokes that charmed me. His arc is the only one that constantly evoked emotions from me from beginning to end. Unlike another character whose workplace bullying scene is executed horribly, Bennie’s is written with more maturity and depicted more realistically. His unwavering fighting spirit in the face of the harsh reality he lives in brings tears to my eyes. I feel a lot for this character and man, do I feel extremely content reading the endings involving him.
With her cool demeanor and determined disposition, Rebecca quickly becomes my number two favorite character. Her ending brings me sweetness and smiles. If this were a romance game, I would wholeheartedly ship Alex with her!
Besides colorful personalities, the characters of Sol Dorado Heist have colorful sprites as well. Character sprites are drawn in anime art style and are cel-shaded. While everyone is assigned one unique pose, many have various facial expressions to complement the narrative. Not all are donning dazzling costumes similar to what Daisy the casino greeter wears, yet their everyday outfits still stand out visually.
Overall, I like how clean the sprites look and appreciate the work on the anatomy, particularly with the arm muscles and torso abs. The only character sprite I find awkward to look at is the dancer’s sprite due to his pose. The dancer is probably flaunting his well-defined abs and I am just not too impressed. Furthermore, I have to see him in that exact same pose everywhere he appears! It makes every encounter with the dancer awkward to say the least.
Out of everyone, Alex sadly has the least useful character sprite. Her single never-changing sprite is fixed to the left end of the text box. There are no different facial expressions used to add to the tone of Alex’s dialogues and it rarely leaves the screen so it is surely not a visual cue to indicate when Alex is speaking. Alex’s sprite is likely plastered there merely to show players how she looks so that they can quickly recognize her in the CGs.
It’s All About the Gold, Babe~
For a game about casino heists, I love how its user interface design is all about the bling-bling. Menus and text boxes come with a sparkly gold frame, and navigation buttons become solid gold when hovered over. The title screen with its drifting playing cards and gold coins, and the menus’ animated backgrounds with floating casino tokens, poker cards, and dice are worth mentioning too.
The gold aesthetic is carried over to the background (BG) art as well, in particular with locations within the casino. In general, the BG art, many of which depict the cityscape in Sol Dorado Heist, look like edited stock photographs. Polka dot patterns have been applied to the BG art for a comic art style look.
The BG art fits the various locations in the story well except for two instances where there is a contradiction between the BG and the accompanying description shown; the first is when a reasonably neat desk is described as “messy”, and the second is when Alex returns to the casino upon exiting Jack’s room but the BG art shows the lobby of the hotel that is located a distance away from the casino.
CGs have less gold color used but they shine in their own ways through vibrant coloring, nice lighting, and an excellent range of composition attempted. Once unlocked, the twenty CGs illustrating the main events and endings sprinkled throughout the visual novel can be viewed through the Gallery screen. Apart from some technical issues such as an unfilled coloring gap in Drake’s trench coat spotted in one CG and perspective problems in some others, they are all quite nicely drawn. I especially love Rebecca’s ending CG; the character in the background giving a big thumbs up is a wonderful touch.
Animations applied to the character sprites are of the standard types: they slide into the scene; they bob up and down; they shake a little from side to side. Unlike the uncomfortable white flash with screen shake combo, these milder animations are aptly used to express the character’s emotions such as surprise and shock.
Classy Music to Sway Along To.
Background music (BGM) in Sol Dorado Heist is not outstanding but it still does its job well. The prevailing moods of various scenes are sufficiently conveyed through the BGM and I like how some tracks have a posh feel to them, befitting of the game’s bling-bling aesthetics.
Character themes are paired suitably, especially for Bennie the comedian, whose theme brims with wackiness and liveliness, and Jack the magician, whose theme sounds magical and mysterious. Most tracks tend to have strong beats that make me bob my head along to them. Nevertheless, some tracks, such as the title screen music, are short clips that do not loop seamlessly.
Even though the library of them is not big, sound effects (SFX) that are expected within a given scene are often added appropriately. A short “bing” will sound whenever a choice is selected too, though there are parts where if the player did not select the default choice, the conversation will eventually return to the default choice and the “bing” will play then, unprompted.
Sol Dorado Heist features partial voice acting with just a few lines. As the usage is sparse and the lines match at most the intended mood and not the exact words written, I do not feel that they have added positive value to my experience with this visual novel. Furthermore, the voice clips are placed under the same audio channel as the SFX, so if one wants to turn off this partial voice acting, they will have to play the game without any SFX too.
Notes on Controls and Bugs
Created with Visual Novel Maker, Sol Dorado Heist is best played with a mouse as there is no keyboard key binding except for the “Enter” and “Ctrl” keys. When using the mouse, only the left mouse button (LMB) has any use. Unlike most visual novels, the right mouse button does not bring up the in-game menu, and rolling the mouse wheel does not roll the text to previous lines.
Due to the lack of a rollback function, the only way to reread a missed dialogue line is via the History Log. However, the log only shows dialogue for the current scene segment (a segment change in the story is indicated with a vertical blinds transition) and it does not show the last read line first. With the huge amount of empty space placed between lines, it can be a hassle to scroll all the way down to find the last line one has missed. Using the LMB to drag the scrollbar down can get problematic too because as soon as the button is released, the log screen will close immediately.
Another thing of note is that the Save screen does not show any confirmation prompt before an existing save slot is overwritten. In addition, if both File 4 and File 5 slots on a given Save page are occupied, loading File 4 will always load File 5 instead. A workaround to prevent the loss of saved progress is to never save to File 4.
The Settings screen is not fully functional too. First, any changes made to the default text speed are never saved. Second, the text skip mode always resets to the default “Skip Read” whenever the game is launched after a game exit. Third, the language change will revert if one quits the game immediately after making the change.
Yet another issue is that the Steam overlay does not work properly with this game. I cannot take any screenshots using the Steam screenshot key.
Sol Dorado Heist has an interesting premise and a wonderful cast of characters that are thrown together into a badly executed mystery story. There are not many compelling points in this visual novel apart from its fun characters and satisfying endings. Despite all the confusion arising from the carelessly handled branching narrative, I find the game entertaining enough to be worth the playtime. Skip this game if a good mystery is important to you. Otherwise, for a casual play:
WAIT FOR SALE FOR SOL DORADO HEIST
Many thanks go to Megalixir Games for a PC review code for this title.
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A person with many hobbies (and even more WIPs), KuroKairin plays, playtests, and reviews PC games. She loves games with good stories that bring her on an emotional and thought-provoking journey. Her favourite genres include otome visual novel, point and click, puzzle, and RPG. Follow her @KuroKairin.