Review by CDoebley
"A Boy and His Demon"
Pig Latin curses, pink shadows, and a boy that no one notices with a not-so-scary demon king in his shadow. Hardly your typical RPG. Okage: Shadow King has a story line bursting with humor that can hardly be taken seriously. While not the best RPG ever to grace a system, it is the best out on the PS2 right now and should make a good appetizer while we await the likes of Grandia 2, Xenosaga, and Final Fantasy 10.
Story (9/10) - Okage's story is a real gem. It's hysterical and delightfully quirky. It is refreshingly new, and anyone who's sick to death of rebellious citizens toppling evil empires while discovering unrealized magical powers will grin happily when they learn that this game doesn't follow any of the typical plot conventions of so many past RPGs. Well, at least not without a deliciously satirical tone. At the outset of the game, Ari is made a demon's slave to free his sister of her terrible curse. Sounds rather typical, except that his sister's curse is by no means deadly or even debilitating, but rather your mother is worried she will grow up to be a ''comic relief girl'' instead of a princess. From here on, the jokes don't stop rolling, and the story gets weirder and weirder with each new development - especially when new characters join the party.
The characters are interesting and their compatibility, or lack thereof, serves to propel the plot and induce laughter at times. Their personalities are almost as interesting as their peculiar afflictions, but getting into those would be a very cruel spoiler.
The game is also blessed with possibly Sony's best English translation to date. While it is still marred by a few glaring typos, the overall flow of the dialogue is surprisingly smooth. This good translation helps make the comedy work more effectively than the lame jokes that are botched by their questionable English in so many other games.
Graphics (8/10) - In an era when so many games are trying to outdo each other graphically by appearing as realistic as possible, Okage is a throwback to the days when developers wanted stylish graphics that screamed out ''fantasy!''.
The polygon count is low, but the clarity is high. That is, when the camera zooms out, Ari and friends still have faces rather than a fuzzy glazing over of fine details. One can still see the tiny pouch attached to the back of Ari's belt and all the other little things that used to make my eyes hurt trying to see in old PSX games. The colors are strikingly vibrant and the level of detail in the main characters is noteworthy. Also, the fact that changes in equipment make a visible difference in battle is a nice touch. But I don't know how to impress upon you just how unique this game looks. The characters are round, they have weird colored, spirally eyes, and they are downright creepy looking while being adorable at the same time. You've just got to see it.
The downfall, though, is the game's camera. The camera angle is often fairly close overhead, which often results in townspeople being hidden by building roofs and signs, and occasionally our heroes are obscured by a tree branch that covers the whole TV screen for a few seconds. The camera must be rotated manually with the use of the L and R buttons which has always been a pain for me in many games. But again, originality and flare more than make up for this slight nuisance.
Gameplay (7/10) - Okage, for all its quirks in story and art style, has a very conventional control scheme. The battle system borrows quite a bit from the Chrono series. Each fight is turned based, and a character can opt to wait in order to perform a more powerful combo attack with other characters. Characters have innate colors that are visible to the player during battle, much like Chrono Cross. However, Okage simplifies both of these systems. It has only three magic types - fire, ice, and thunder - and each is strong against another, but does not reciprocate that power. For example, while ice is strong against fire, fire is not strong against ice. Thunder is (go figure). Also, combination attacks do not offer a list of creative team attacks like Frog Flare and Antipode. It is merely a physical attack that does more damage.
Battles have an extremely fast flow to them since everything on screen tends to happen simultaneously once commands are entered. This is nice for those who may be impatient, but often it makes it impossible to see just how much damage is being done to various enemies and friends. Fortunately, there's a log at the end of each round that shows how much damage everyone has taken from each individual action. All that's fine (simplicity isn't all bad), but there are two pretty severe problems in the battle system. For one, while each character can target the type of enemy to attack, he can not specify exactly which one to hit. If characters act separately, each one will always attack a different enemy. This isn't as bad as it seems however, since combining attacks can still allow them to concentrate on one enemy. The kicker though is that the main character, Ari, CANNOT DIE! If he dies, it's game over. No one can revive him, the rest of the party doesn't keep fighting, it's just over! That is by far the worst crime this game is guilty of in any area, but it's one that's worth dealing with to enjoy the other aspects of this charming game.
Other gameplay aspects involve mental stimulation, which offers nice changes of pace between puzzle solving and fighting. Puzzles are usually based around the course of action you must take and the people you must talk to in order to accomplish something in a town. For example, you'll find yourself visiting a hero's club because guards won't let you through a passage, meeting a girl there who also can't get through, joining a gang run by little kids who can help you find a sewer, rescuing their cat to win their trust, and finally getting into the sewer you've been seeking access to all along. And that's keeping it short! On top of that, there are a wide variety of key items that the townspeople will give you, but it's up to you to figure out what purpose they serve, or to discover who else may have an interest in them. When folks take key items from you, they usually give you another item and the quest to find a home for it continues. For more brain straining fun, there is a series of cryptographs throughout the game that can be decoded by various creative methods and solved to find the location of the next cryptograph. This is a lot of fun! My only disappointment with the exploration/puzzle aspect of Okage was that there weren't enough objects to interact with in an environment. A player isn't given the option to play around with objects on tables, read bookshelves, and open cabinets to find items. Those things only serve aesthetic purposes as part of the background.
Sound (6/10) - The sound effects of the game are nothing special. Footfall sounds pretty much like Square footsteps have been for years. Door slams sound like….well, door slams. And although there's nothing wrong with battle sounds, they lack that certain physical impact that add to the sense of action on screen. Also, the sound of text as it appears in the box, sort of like it's being typed on the spot, is a little obnoxious.
The soundtrack is nice, and the songs are varied. The upbeat numbers can be very uplifting at times, and some tunes sound downright beautiful, but the weakness lay in the very small number of songs. The lack of tracks means that after about five or six hours of play, you may be sick to death of hearing them repeat and be tempted to mute the game. Also, due to a lack of songs, there are some situations where the song just doesn't seem appropriate for the mood established.
Finally, while the game is predominately text, the little bit of voice acting is excellent. The narration is voiced from time to time by a man who sounds totally dry, like a terribly boring science teacher trying to read a Dr. Zeus book. This overly serious tone plays on the silliness of his lines and makes the game all the more hilarious.
All in all, I found this to be a great game, but it's not for everyone. If you demand absolute perfection in mechanics regardless of a great story, or if you simply want a very serious epic tale, look elsewhere. But if you enjoyed games like Earthbound, Legend of Legaia, and Super Mario RPG because they were a pleasant excursion from the norm, then I would definitely recommend Okage: Shadow King for the same reasons.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/09/01, Updated 10/09/01
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