Have you ever wondered who exactly Generic Villager #32 is? I mean, we've all seen him appear in countless games, and he always seems to be wandering around in a village or yelling about where you have to go next, but what do we truly know about this character? Does he visit his mother often? Does he have any pets? What good movies has he seen lately? The only reason I'm asking these questions is because I've just played Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, and I will never look at pointless side characters in the same way again. Here's my review.
In a far off, unspecified land, there lived a dark Sorcerer of Fang named Orphen. Along with his unwanted partner Cleo and often-abused apprentice Magnus, he made a frugal (in other words, flat broke) living as a moneylender. Of course, being the pompous, arrogant, sarcastic, greedy, evil, and occasionally lovable jerk he was, Orphen would rather have been enjoying the good life, and when his tolerable nemesis Volcan showed up one day, claiming to be able to pay back an enormous debt, our villainous hero jumped at the chance.
The group set off together on a boat headed for Arvanrama in search of easy money… or so they thought. A powerful storm appeared, bringing with it a horde of monsters. Orphen and his allies managed to fend off the beasts, but the boat sank anyway. Pity. Eventually, the group washed ashore on various parts of the island, but it turns out that they were nowhere near Arvanrama. Instead, they'd come to the ever-mysterious Chaos Island, and the only way off was to aid the other castaways from the ship to satisfy destiny.
If you are looking for a traditional RPG experience, keep searching. O:SoS is a title that fits more along the lines of an interactive movie than a game. Although it does have a few perks to it, there is surprisingly little gameplay involved.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of it would have to be the battles. First off, they aren't random. However, they aren't activated by touching the enemies either as you might expect. Instead, there are set battles along the way that you will simply walk into. To be more specific, there are exactly 51 of these battles to be found, according to the back of the box. Once in battle, things get worse.
The game's combat system is refreshingly original, or so it seems. There are four basic attack types: elemental spells, projectile spells, defensive magic, and close range attacks. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, while elemental spells tend to hit multiple creatures in a larger range than projectiles, they do less damage too. Defensive magic has to actually be timed so that it's being cast as soon as the attack hits you, adding some need for reflexes to the mix. Close range attacks can even be extended into combo attacks with manic levels of button crunching.
Along with that, each type can be charged up for improved effects. Elemental spells can summon elemental spirits when fully powered, single projectile spells become double, triple, and quadruple projectile spells, and your sword attacks can grow in size, hitting a larger number of enemies.
Since the battles take place in real time 3D arenas, timing your attacks so that the enemy will move right into place at the right time is essential. You can even dodge out of the way of attacks by using the close range combat, which is probably one of the most entertaining parts of the game.
Now, the sad part about all this strategy is that you hardly ever use it. There are a shockingly small number of enemies available, and while they all attack in very different ways, your method of removing them is almost always the same. Basically, you wind up just trying to get off as many spells in as short an amount of time possible, occasionally mixed in with a sword swipe or two when the enemies get too close. Even when you have allies in your group, they rarely contribute enough to really make a difference and you quickly learn to ignore them. Soon the battles become boring and pointless, but there is one exception.
I thoroughly enjoyed the boss battles, each of which contained just a bit of challenge mixed with some entertaining run-up-and-chop-you-to-pieces action. Throw in a very useful battle-reset option that allows you to not only start the battle over with no penalty but to change your equipment too, and you rarely wind up having to go through boring dungeons to reach a battle that by all rights should kill you multiple times. Which brings me to my next point…
Between the battles, you are usually forced to go through various obstacle courses such as crossing a sea of ice, ducking through trap-ridden temples, and climbing volcanic mountains mid-eruption. Frankly, I thought these were enjoyable little mini-games that really helped out in the long run.
However, the item concept made them far too easy. Along the way, you would pick up various healing or offensive items that could be used during these sections. The problem is that you receive so many that there is almost no challenge left at all. Even worse, the games were already so easy to begin with that the only time I ever used anything was just to see what they looked like. If you could use them in battle, they might serve a purpose, but I think that the items were a completely unnecessary aspect of the game.
The only other mentionable part of the gameplay is how little of it there is. At least 50% of the game is spent watching cut scenes that pop up almost without rhyme or reason. They're decent cut scenes - I'll give them that - but the game was already short to begin with without the storyline cutting off its shins.
Of course, the storyline makes ample use of its pilfered space. Cut scenes appear every step of the way, and in such length and multitude that the game feels like you're watching a movie. They've taken advantage of the PS2's power to tell their tale in a way that no system before it could ever have hoped for, but the thing is so clichéd that it seems like a waste.
First off, the game has three separate quests you can go on for each of the other ship members. Each quest is so very unoriginal that you can't help but laugh as the characters struggle to "find a missing daughter" or "search for a long lost mother". However, despite these faults, the game has an eerie twist to it.
There are only three NPCs in total - a young girl, a young woman, and an old hag - and all three stories use them as characters. However, except for the names, they don't play them as the same characters each time. They take turns being heroines or villainesses, and it seems a bit confusing and unsettling at first.
Fortunately, the game brings this cliché-fest together with a plot twist that you would never have expected, unless you somehow guess it from the vague, ominous hints you receive between quests. It might not have been the best story, but it was told surprisingly well and contained enough corny jokes and hilarious moments to make up for it.
A sour note on it all though is that the plot seems to start and end within a very short period of time. The only background knowledge you find for anyone is included in the manual, and even what's there tends to be completely ignored in the game. For instance, they mention that Cleo is a member of a wealthy family, but at no point does that have any influence on the story itself. The ending seems a bit disappointing and leaves you wondering, "Is that it?" Fortunately, each character is so loaded with personality that you can get into the story anyway and will soon be picking favorites and foes.
Obviously, as a PS2 title, the graphics are good… but not great. While in-battle graphics boast nicely detailed polygonal characters and level design is big and somewhat detailed, it's the characters that hurt the game in the end. No number of flashy special effects or gargantuan levels will ever help me forget the horrors contained within the cut scenes. While major characters received enough body motions to seem almost natural, minor roles would often gesture wildly with their arms flailing or point in meaningless directions, all the while moving in a stiff and robotic fashion.
Even worse were the anime snippets included. While not particularly ugly, they are extremely choppy, a bit short, and not quite what I was hoping for. It doesn't really hurt the game any, but considering how much information they can fit on a PS2 disc, you'd at least expect a better frame rate. Anyway, there's a nice movie viewer thing you can use to see them again, and I have to confess that I did watch a few of them more than once. They weren't really bad, but don't expect anything fantastic now.
As for the music, almost every song is extremely mellow and quiet, and often not there at all. However, even when it does start up, it's usually so unnoticeable that you won't realize the transition was made. Even the battle music seemed a bit sedated, without a trace of panic-inducing excitement. However, when you actually do notice it, it's usually quite enjoyable, though the real star of the audio show is the voice acting.
First off, there is no text. Not a word anywhere. An illiterate kindergartener wouldn't have trouble following the story. Not only that, but it's all surprisingly clear. Even without being able to read what they say, I never missed a line, and that's saying quite a bit. I could have nine people screaming at me with the phone ringing (which actually happened, by the way) and I wouldn't miss a single speck of the crystal-clear story.
Sadly, I wish I had sometimes. Although most characters had normal, non-painful-to-hear voices, someone decided to make the character Volcan sound as horribly as possible. His sole performance nearly ruined the idea of voice acting in games altogether.
Aside from him though, I would like to congratulate the guy who played Orphen. The sarcasm just dripped from his voice at times, making him the epitome of jerkiness. Plus, he's the only game hero I've ever seen to throw children off giant cliffs to their (presumed) deaths. Oh, and the sound effects were good too. Nice monster screams, spell effects, and other assorted noises.
The controls didn't make it out so well. In-battle, my only complaint would be the slight lack of responsiveness when casting spells too quickly. Once you reach the bosses, you'll see what I mean. However, my biggest whine would have to be with the save and load options. Although usable, the thing is surprisingly convoluted and unnecessarily safe guarded. It's a minor bug though, so I won't dock too many points for it.
Depending on what you're looking for, you may or may not enjoy Orphen: Scion of Sorcery. If you want a long, compelling story with lots of action and adventure, then too bad, you're not going to find that on any PS2 launch title. However, if you want some cheesy movies, bearable battles, and enough obstacle courses to choke a camel, then you've found your game. It's definitely not a classic, but it's also not all bad and at times it's downright enjoyable.
Oh, and since I know 96% of you are asking, here is the definition of scion, according to Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary:
Sci-on: n. 1. A twig or shoot cut from a plant or tree, esp. for grafting. 2. A child or descendant.
There you go. Learn something new every day.