Review by YusakuG

"Nothing great, but nowhere near as bad as most made it out to be"

The US launch of the Playstation 2 is probably one of the more infamous ones in recent history. This long-awaited and much-hyped system not only had a problem meeting the overwhelming demand (due to a severe shortage of systems), but a vast majority of the launch titles were mediocre at best. I was one of the fortunate few to grab a PS2 on launch day, and one of the first games I picked up was Orphen: Scion of Sorcery. Based on a series of popular fantasy novels in Japan that eventually spawned a manga and anime series, Orphen is an adventure/exploration game with RPG elements. And although this game was one of the more critically lambasted titles of the PS2 launch, I personally don't think it's nearly as bad as most people made it out to be.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series that inspired this game, Orphen is a sorcerer who travels the land, offering his services for anyone willing to pay him. He once belonged to the prestigious Tower of Fangs, home to a society of wizards and sorcerers. But, after certain tragic events, he decided to set out on his own. He travels with Magnus (Majic in the original series); a young boy who acts as Orphen's apprentice, and Cleo; a spoiled rich girl who got wrapped up in Orphen's travels, and has been following him ever since.

As the game opens, Orphen has an encounter with Volcan and Dortin - two obnoxious kids who owe Orphen quite a bit of money. They tell Orphen that there's opportunity in a nearby town for them to pay Orphen back, and get much more money as well in the process. Orphen and the others board the boat that they think will take them to the town. Unknown to them, however, Dortin booked them on the wrong ship, and they are now headed to a place called Chaos Island. In the middle of the night, the ship is attacked by monsters. The ship is destroyed, but Orphen and his friends manage to escape, and wash up on the mysterious Chaos Island. Three other passengers from the boat manage to survive, as well. They include Sephy; the beautiful dancing girl who claims to be searching for her former fiance's grave, Mar; a young musician searching for his mother, and Zeus; a powerful warrior who is searching for a daughter he has not seen in years. Orphen's path will cross with these three travelers many times, as he attempts to unravel the truth behind the dangerous Chaos Island.

Your quest to guide Orphen and his friends off the island is portrayed in a 3D third person view, similar to the Tomb Raider games. You will often be faced with many traps that you will have to guide Orphen through. These can range from giant swinging pendulums to giant spiked ceiling tiles that come crashing down on you from above. Orphen can also find treasure chests littered throughout the island that hold helpful health-reviving items.

While exploring the island, Orphen has various methods he can implement in order to clear obstacles. He can jump over chasms, use a sword of energy to slash apart obsticles, and fire a magic projectile to blast apart certain obstacles from a distance. However, sometimes, Orphen won't be able to handle certain situations. At these points, control will switch to one of the other characters he is currently traveling with. For example, early in the game, Orphen and his current party will come across an abandoned tower. However, there is no way to enter the tower from outside. You must then take control of Sephy, and she will climb the vines on the tower's wall, and climb in through the window to lower the tower's drawbridge from inside. This is kind of a cool feature, and I wish the game had used it more often.

At various points of the game, you will be attacked by monsters, which opens up the game's RPG-style battle sequence. All the characters you currently have in your party fight at once, but you only have control over Orphen. Here, Orphen can fire magic projectiles at enemies, or use his sword if they get too close. Orphen has a wide variety of spells to choose from, and you often have to choose carefully, as some enemies are immune to certain spells. If you find you're equipped with the wrong spell, you can switch to another on the game's menu screen. However, when you do this, the battle will start over again from the beginning, so you want to make sure you're equipped with the right spell before entering battle. Aside from projectile spells, Orphen can also summon elemental spirits that can wipe out major groups of enemies. Also, if he holds down the ''projectile'' button before he launches it at an enemy, it will do more damage.

Whenever Orphen wins a major battle, he will earn a new spell. You can also find new attacks for your other party members in treasure chests around Chaos Island. Your characters do not build levels in this game, so they power up automatically as the game goes on. The main fault I have with the game's battle system is that your characters return to full health at the end of every battle. This takes away quite a bit of challenge, and makes the game almost a total walkthrough, since none of the battles are extremely difficult.

The real highlight of the game's battle system, however, are the boss battles. Some of these are the most original boss battles I've ever seen in a video game. For example, one of the first bosses you fight in the game is a giant sea dragon monster that attacks your boat. Orphen stands in a crow's nest on the boat, shooting magic projectiles at the dragon as it flies by. Eventually, the dragon will destroy the crow's nest. This cannot be prevented, so Orphen will have to leap to another crow's nest, and continue the battle. He must destroy the dragon before he runs out of crow's nests to leap to. The battles are very cinematic in nature, and they often include scripted events, making the battles seem like something out of a movie. You also often have a limited time to defeat the boss. (Another example is a giant boss whose main attack is to knock you backward down a long hall. If you don't defeat the boss in time, he will knock you all the way to the very end of the hall, knocking you off a cliff at the end.) The boss battles are fun, original, and one of the game's definite stand outs.

Another major stand out are the graphics. The locations of Chaos Island are realized beautifully. There are some great lighting and shading effects for the magic spells, as well. Some of the locations Orphen and his party explore are quite beautiful, as well. One of my favorite areas is the Arial Pathway. It is a long, winding mountain road that leads to a large open space under a beautiful star-filled night sky. The first time I saw the vast, realistic night sky, I was quite literally awed by it's beauty. The character sprites are very large, and very faithful representations of the anime character designs. They're drawn down to the finest detail, right down to the amulet that Orphen wears around his neck. The graphics have definitely been surpassed by now, but at the time, I thought it was a very good demo of the PS2's power.

The game also includes original anime sequences made especially for the game at important plot points. These are very well done. They're full screen, and there's absolutely no grain in the video quality. You can also re-watch these scenes whenever you want to on the game's main option screen.

The game's music is also enjoyable, if not a bit atmospheric. Most of the game's tracks are very soft and soothing. Some of my favorite tracks are in the previously mentioned Arial Pathway scene between Sephy and Magnus, and the song that plays when Orphen and the party learn about the ''Crystal Egg''. The game's battle themes take a much more urgent, and fast-paced nature, fitting the right mood. Although the music is very enjoyable, the tracks don't seem very long, as they loop quite a bit.

This brings me to one of the first major faults with the game - the voice acting. This was the area that most people criticized when the game initially came out. I agree, the voice acting definitely needs improvement, but I really don't think it's worse than some of the other acting we get in US video games. I actually kind of liked Quinton Flynn's performance as Orphen, as he seemed to have the right kind of cocky and sarcastic attitude that the character needs. The other actors, however, don't fare as well. The prime offender is Jennifer Hale, and her performance as Cleo. Her performance can only be compared to fingernails on a chalkboard. She is so shrill and annoying, I wanted to blast her ass with one of Orphen's spells. The other actors don't quite reach her level of annoyance, but they're just highly mediocre. What's equally bad is the lip-synching. The characters will be moving their mouths and waving their arms about like madmen, even when the actors aren't talking. Activision (who released this game in the US) should have spent a bit more time in this area.

Aside from the half-assed voice acting, the game's other major fault is that it can be pretty boring. You spend a good deal of the time exploring Chaos Island, avoiding traps, and solving very simple puzzles. However, that's about it. Battles are very rare in this game. Some of the areas you explore will only hold 2 battles, and that includes the boss at the end. Where's the fun in that? And since most of the traps and puzzles are extremely easy, there's really no tension or excitement when you encounter them. Most of the game winds up being you exploring some very beautiful scenery, with an occasional battle or trap blocking your path, until you reach another dialogue scene where the characters talk to each other. Unless you're a big Orphen fan, or you have a lot of patience for slow-paced games, I can't picture anyone truly sticking this game out to the end.

Another fault is the game's camera system. It's often hard to adjust the camera to get to a good angle that works for you. This can be very annoying when Orphen has to make a tricky jump. However, this seems to be a common problem with most 3D action games, so I can't hold it against it too much.

My last fault with the game is a very minor, personal problem. This game throws you right into the story with no introduction to the characters or their relationships. The game assumes that you are familiar with the Orphen series that came before it, so it spends no time in setting up the characters or their backgrounds. The problem is, the anime and manga were not available in the US at the time this game came out, unless you purchased the bootleg fansub videos. Therefore, some people might be confused about what's going on when the game initially starts out. The game's manual does include brief character bios to their backgrounds, but that's about all the information you get.

Overall, Orphen does have its share of faults, but I don't think it was the worst of the PS2 launch titles. I liked the characters (despite their horrid voices), and it did eventually have a semi-interesting story. I think the game's slow pace and obnoxious voice acting prevented it from achieving a wider audience. You can see some moments of brilliance in some of the boss battles. These battles hint at a much better, more exciting game. In the end, Orphen stands as an average game that will probably please fans of the series and the characters, than the average video game player.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/10/02, Updated 06/09/03

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