Review by NojEsco
"The Legend of the Drunken Sorcerer"
A Final Verdict Unclear -
It's extremely difficult to assess the value of a game like Orphen: Scion of Sorcery. On one hand, the game is rather annoying, isn't all that fun, and often lacks continuity. Along with that, it doesn't fit, in terms of characterization and style, with the phenomenal anime that spawned it (which I got into a couple of years later). On the other hand, it is moderately entertaining, filled with original puzzle and gameplay elements, and had some slick technology and style for its day. It's almost obvious that the game was a bit of a disappointment to the developers of the game, for if all the ingenuity of the game had paid off, this game would have been nothing short of phenomenal. And also the same can be said for the developers of the original anime series as well.
You assume the role Orphen, a powerful sorcerer of black magic, who rather than using his incredible powers for the good of the people, he decides that his powers are simply enough to assure him a safe life, and as such, he's incredibly lazy and uncaring (in the game). Willfully traveling with you are Cleo and Magnus, two students; and Vulcan and Dortin, either two kids, or two trolls. Be they his students or sleazy followers, they all annoy the living hell out of him, and so he spends half of his day arguing and bickering that can really only hold the purpose to boost his ego and attempt to prove to the others that he really is boss. Most of the time, a hero like this I cannot stand, especially in movies, but since Orphen is such a powerhouse of magic (well, his spells are decently arranged for destruction, mostly later on), his almost unbearable ego is quite justified.
Sadly the Better Orphen Persona Gone -
Many people already knew about the adventures of Orphen through his decently well-known anime series (although it wasn't widely released in the US until a year after the game). Over the years, after playing this game, I got the DVD collection, and was quite impressed with the storyline and somewhat tragic and grim narrative. Tragically, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery's plot isn't up to par with the series adventures or the greater RPG's, and also it attempts a balancing act between taking it seriously and turning it into almost comedic spectacle. The storyline is rather inventive and original, but it's too short, and really only mildly interesting.
The game takes place in three stages, in which when you beat one, Orphen is sent back to the beginning (in terms of jumping back a few hours in time), but for some reason with only a minor deja vu of anything being the same as before - which only lasts a minute at each beginning anyway. The story behind the stories is that Orphen, his usual crew, and some strangers are stuck on Chaos Island, a shady place seemingly abandoned and half-forgotten, looking as if it's been abandoned for centuries. These strangers, however, get Orphen and his companion (he's always with only Magnus or Cleo at a time) into a search for an artifact called the Crystal Egg, which has the power to control time and space. It's all good fun, but the three plots go together like trying to make a square shape out of three circles. You fight your allies from one adventure in another, Orphen has no recollection by the third adventure of searching for the egg to begin with, and at the end of each one, it's as if, until the very end, that the previous adventures didn't exist. To make matters worse, while all contain decent individual storylines, all of them having similar plot twists to each other.
Cheesy Maybe, but a Story Still Exists -
There are two reasons that I would say the plot is any good. One, is the fact that this is a reviewer that didn't like games such as Saga Frontier, Chrono Cross or Legend of Mana very much because of extremely low character interaction. When compared to some other bigger titles, it's easy for one to accuse them of being pointless adventures (I've been one to make that accusation). It's just that, in my opinion, 2000 was a let down overall for plot-based RPG's, as the games being released for the most part were all about the fun, not the epic around the character-driven story. Orphen: Scion of Sorcery goes more in line with one of the games that year to be totally character and plot (and puzzle) centered. There is no FMV in this game after the first twenty minutes or so (I mean it, none!), and only a few anime cutscenes altogether. The second thing is that that leaves the entire plot development to character interaction, and luckily, this game handles it very well, and is, while sometimes extremely annoying, decently witty. What makes this such a unique title in terms of story is that it has a cliche plot, and the hero knows it, and hates it more than any annoyed player ever could.
Fun if Flawed, At Least -
Orphen, the game character, isn't just one for a laid back life, but also one for loot, and the game design rewards him with many treasure chests. Now, upon learning that, a new level of appreciation for this game hit me, for it's been a good several years since I've last played a half-decent treasure hunting RPG. Treasure hunting in this game is every bit as fun as in any other game before it, only here, we have a fully 3-D view, so you can see the farther off ones in the open. However, the out of battle interface, outside of treasure hunting, is usually either advancing in a dangerous place avoiding death traps, or solving some kind of weird mechanism-based puzzle. You move using the left analog stick, and you turn the camera around you with the first row of shoulder buttons. The control pad carries out different functions such as activating the menus, or a map. This map system is very hard to use, but is wonderful in concept. In this map, you can zoom, angle, and rotate. It's basically the entire area you are in, complete with all the polygons, skins, and moving objects such as swaying branches and flowing waterfalls. This map is very good for finding ways to the areas you're supposed to go, for many RP-Gamers find it hard to navigate fully 3-D areas, and this game is easily as hard to navigate as any, mostly with it's almost constant eye-to-eye level of view. Luckily, if you fall off a ledge or hit some spikes or something, you just lose some HP, which can be restored with an item.
Rightfully, many people have complained about some annoyances with the interface, for while it moves at a good speed, it is rather clunky and limited. First of all, there is no real ability to backtrack, there are no random battles or experience points, or any traditional save points. Not to mention, being on a deserted island, there are no shops, and as such, no sense of commerce, so unless you gain a power outside or after a battle, you don't have any way of making yourself more powerful. You're pretty much just as ready to fight the last boss when you start as you are when you fight him.
I can swear that once while playing through the game, I was able to make my spells more powerful (when you highlight them, it tells you a power level of one to three), but there has never been anyone able to explain this odd finding, and I haven't been able to reproduce it. As you win battles you'll occasionally gain a spell and/or watch a scene. Points of saving the game commonly come right before big battles, but they're built into the story. You usually save after a few scenes, when it asks you if you want to save up to the present point. However, for anyone who was upset by the nearly 400K save size of Summoner, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery only takes up 64K on a memory card (less than 1%!). Subtle things like that make this game more pleasant. The other subtle thing I'll mention is the extremely good use of the vibration in the PS2 controller, as there are many areas where the world shakes, where the controller almost makes it feel like the room is shaking.
The battle system is extremely unique, and had amazing potential. In this system, you control Orphen, unless he's missing, and you control his every action. The enemies move around you, and you wipe them out by targeting them and blasting them away. The four buttons control four spells that you have equipped, and that you can re-equip. The spells consist of three types: particle, field and reflective. The square button brings up a normal circular shield around you that is impenetrable, and unless taken away, the X button is assigned for one of two magical swords. When you use one of these swords, you run up to the enemy and slash him, and if you time it well, you can slash multiple times. The other two buttons are assigned to spells, usually one particle and one field spell (which is entirely optional and customizable). However, what has quite possibly single handedly made many people hate this game is the fact that using your sword attack is the only way to move in combat. Simply making the right analog would have completely cleared up this problem, but alas, the game feels more like your in some kind of gun turret than a free-style RPG. Another limitation is that with the fast pace of the battles, with each button using a specific different ability, you are limited to the specific four powers.
However, there are some serious pluses to the battle system as well. First off, with the spells being equipped to specific buttons, all forms of battle menus are gone, the speeds and intensity of the battle will last, on average, one intensive minute. Fighting with you is up to two other people, who unlike in some other games, these AI controlled characters are comparatively as active in the battle as you. When they strike an enemy with a powerful attack, sometimes there'll be some temporarily active magical residue, which if you strike while still active, can increase the effect. This isn't too useful in boss battles sadly, since for fear of the others, Orphen always decides to take on the bosses alone. Another positive aspect to the battles is that the enemies also have the ability to raise shields to block your attacks, where you'll either have to wait for them to approach (when they move in to attack, they have to jump back before activating their shield again), or strategize. Strategy is extremely important in the boss battles, which can sometimes be very difficult. Holding down the buttons will increase the powers, such as increasing the field sizes, the sword length, or number of particle projectiles. Some battles involve lots of small and very weak monsters in which charging up is a necessity, and bosses armed with shields seem almost impossible to hit unless you shoot only in quick bursts before they can raise their shields up. Lastly, and my favorite, the battles are a lot like fantasy movie action sequences; the camera quickly moves around you, rarely stopping, and there are no HP displays except when there's a hit. It's no exaggeration when I say that Orphen: Scion of Sorcery easily has the most entertaining and cinematic battle sequence I've ever seen.
Production Values -
The soundtrack in this game primarily has two types of musical styles: mellow surrealism, and layer-based, melodic techno. Having not a shred of sci-fi mixed with the fantasy, the ho-hum fantasy style music really fits the settings well. No music ever tries to outreach its simplistic purpose with dramatization. For that reason I am a fan of the music, as it's rather pleasant. However, I am a bigger fan of the voice acting. Not being a very long game, all the dialogue is speech, and while sometimes incredibly annoying, you soon realize that annoying is the way it's supposed to be with these (newly reformed) characters. The voices are often overdone, but only with an overdone tone like this in the voices makes one fully understand why Orphen is so rude and abrasive to the characters. The best example is the conversations between Orphen and Cleo. Cleo easily has the most annoyingly squeaky voice, and her lines back her up; and because of that, Orphen almost always says mean remarks towards her. The same principle applies on lower levels to Vulcan, the annoying and reckless troll, and Magnus, who is like a poster child of the type of kid who gets bullied in school (so as such he gets the least of Orphen's anger).
The voice acting does have its lesser moments, but overall it's steady. This game is often like a silly, medieval soap opera, in which you root for Orphen to escape Chaos Island less then you root for him to come up with a witty abrasive remark to shut an annoying character up. However, since I really cared for the characters in the anime, it somewhat pains me to see that they've been reduced to this. Voice actor Quinton Flynn (Reno from the Turks; Raiden) does a fantastic job with the way the character was written, but when I started to watch the anime, I found that his voice wouldn't really suit the character the way he was originally written. One instance comes to mind when they stumble upon a tree that smells sweet and blooms only once a thousand years (it's in bloom when they see it), and Orphen simply says: Big deal, smells nice, let's go, proving his character's new persona.
The writing in the game certainly isn't as well done as the acting. You can tell which parts the English writers wrote, and which parts were translated. The translation job is in serious need of re-writing, while the English written parts, which is mainly the remarks and character conversations, have some charm, although nonetheless sound amateurish in nature.
It is, sadly, commonly laughable to listen to the structure of the speech. For instance, there are several instances in which one character will cut off another, but the programmers decided to store all the voices in individual lines, and there is always a pause, always of the same length, between each line. Individually well-acted and well-written lines come off as being extremely tacky in production value.
However, easily on par with the best aspects of the game are the game's graphics. While not on the high side of polygon count, the game's textures/skins and lighting are almost on par with Final Fantasy X, and has some nice artistic value as well. Some of these surfaces shine and reflect light, and they do so beautifully. One of the two types of healing items is a lantern; if you activate a green lantern (the weakest of the three), a bright green aura shines all over the local area. It is quite an impressive sight for a launch title, despite that it's been done a thousand times and a bit better since.
However, while extremely clear, polished and beautifully colored, there are two severe problems with its visuals. One is that the characters only occasionally move their mouths during the talking scenes. That kind of reminds me of a video series I made about two armies of stuffed animals fighting each other, for I can't make stuffed animals make their mouths move, can I? The only times their mouths do indeed move, it's very sloppy and doesn't even begin to match with the speech. I really wouldn't mind their mouths not moving except for the fact that sometimes they will, sometimes they won't; it's the inconsistency that bothers me. The second is the movement; I'd be understating if I called the character movement during the scenes pathetic. Magnus has the habit of waving his arms in the air in a flapping motion (think chicken dance only panic-style), and people falling and getting back up is, in a sense, someone flopping down, and then reverse-flopping. This looks especially silly in combat. All over, the gesturing never gets any better.
Overall, I Had A Somewhat Good Time, For What It's Worth -
A reasonably solid title with many flaws is in my opinion the best description for this title. I love this game a lot, but that doesn't give me much reason to really recommend it to someone. It's a nice, short little farce, with some nice fun bits, and a few major annoyances. I'll still play it for a long time to come, but, knowing the bad wrap that this game receives, there's a good chance that that's just me.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 08/21/06
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