September 24, 2007

Okage: Shadow King

Okage: Shadow KingI picked up Okage: Shadow King from the bargain bin for $5. It's a little old, and I vaguely remembered hearing about it, so for $5 it seemed like a good thing to take a chance on. As it turns out, the price I paid is pretty close to what it's worth, relative to the cost of other RPGs you could buy, either back then or today. The premise is strong, but the execution is weak.

In Okage, you play the role of a teenage boy named Ari who is possessed by an Evil Shadow King named Stan, and then rushed off by your parents to go questing to destroy other Evil Kings. Stan, as a Shadow King, is your shadow. He's tethered to you that way, and actually far from evil and quite powerless. Most of the fun in Okage comes from the amusing and cool dialogue and silliness of its plot.

The visuals are pretty nice, anime-styled, bright, and colorful. The music is okay, but not anything special, and suffers from having been written without knowing how it was going to be used. In other words, the music isn't appropriate to the mood or action that is taking place on the screen, in my opinion. But that's a nit compared to where the game really falls apart.

The biggest problem is with the mechanics of the game. Instead of walking up stairs, or through open doorways, you have to hit a button. And sometimes it seems like the animators took the easy way out and moved the camera to first-person-view instead of animating the action, like when you go up and down ladders. Load times are very slow, and until I got used to it moving between rooms or areas was always a test of my patience. Load times are also slow after combat, with no indication as to when it is okay to hit a button and continue your journey. Instead, I would just keep button mashing until the post-combat screen exited. Experience and level ups are handled in series, instead of in parallel, and when the level up music plays everything stops for the full music duration.

Another annoying aspect of the combat is the transition between menus. It's very hard to identify the currently selected menu choice, and when you select a menu item the next menu does not immediately appear but instead transitions in. This transition is slow enough that you cannot enter commands from memory without inserting conscious pauses, and the fact you cannot easily see the current menu choice means you need time to look, to avoid making mistakes.

The game also comes in a little short, and I finished it in about 25 hours. I think the majority of time was spent in combat, sometimes fighting enemies that I originally fought while at level 1, because the designers do not adjust the enemies in different areas based on your progress. Most combat was boring, until I realized you can fight more efficiently by executing combination attacks and there was a real-time aspect to the turn-based actions, similar to the first Final Fantasy where it might pay off to select different enemies from the start. Then it was no longer simple button mashing, but unless the enemies were difficult, it also meant battles were pretty much the same if you hit the same monster groups.

Overall, Okage is about what I'd expect from a group of developers and designers who had never put together an RPG before, possible one of their earlier video game works, and who aren't avid RPGers themselves.

Posted by josuah at September 24, 2007 5:34 AM UTC+00:00

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