Okage Shadow King
After your sister became inadvertently struck with permanent pig-Latin disease, your only choice to remove the obnoxious curse was to sell your shadow to Master Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV, or Stan, as he likes to be called. It seems Stan was once the very powerful Shadow King. But through a twist of fate, Stan was trapped in an ancient bottle, imprisoned for centuries as other imposter Shadow Kings siphoned his power. Now, after lying dormant for generations, Stan has been reawakened by your family's, in order to cure your sister's affliction. In exchange, your shadow is now Stan and he is your master, commanding you to adventure through the lands in order to dispatch the other imposter Shadow Kings so Stan can once again wreak havoc on the world. Yes, Stan is evil. And it's your job to do what he says.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Okage is an RPG with a bit of comedy thrown in for good measure. The game is viewed from a third person perspective with the usual accoutrements. Ari, the hapless teenager who has been unfairly selected to do Stan's bidding, is caught in the middle of an interesting dilemma. You see, as Ari and Stan travel the lands destroying the fake Shadow Kings, Stan becomes more powerful and his insane ramblings of world domination really start to confuse poor Ari. Essentially, you are destroying evil on behalf of evil. Of course, Stan is to evil what Dr. Evil (of the Austin Powers movies) is to evil. He says all the wrong things and most people you encounter think him to be some sort of magic trick created by Ari, which in turn entertains them more than anything. As Ari' master, Stan commands that he do things that Stan feels are evil, but in a sense end up helping out the various towns they adventure in. As an example, early in their travels Stan and Ari hear that there is a Shadow king that has taken up residence in the sewers of a nearby town. Stan commands that Ari take him to the town and destroy the false king so Stan can reclaim some of his own power and in turn terrorize the town himself. Instead, the town rejoices after the Sewer Shadow King is dispatched and continually thanks Ari and Stan. This of course infuriates Stan even more, but the townsfolk think it's all just a big act. Trust me when I say that this is quite humorous.
I want you to think of Okage in the same vein as the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas or Monkeybone. This game reminded me of these types of movies with their quirky dialogue and distinct feel. Some of the monsters brought to mind the creatures from James and the Giant Peach. Weird and kinda goofy looking, but done that way entirely on purpose.
Okay, so let's get down to brass tacks. While playing the game, Ari and Stan eventually run into other characters that join their party in order to complete the quest. Once these characters join your group, they become under your control and you will be responsible for upgrading weapons, armor, etc. Besides the characters you find to join your merry (yet twisted) band of intrepid adventurers, you will have the opportunity to speak with a whole mess of NPC characters. In fact, it's how the story progresses. You find as you speak with these people, you are given the chance to select from a preset list of responses. And I will say, the writers of this game certainly made the choices a bit strained to say the least. Instead of a quasi-normal response, you are given a set of choices that would offend even the least temperamental of people. Example: You walk into a tavern looking for a particular character that you heard could provide you with information about a Shadow King. After conversation is initiated, and several lines of communication have taken place, this particular character asks you how you came into the possession of Stan. Well, instead of allowing you to respond like a normal person might, your typical three choices usually include two smart-ass responses (guaranteed to upset this character) and a third that would make this character think you are some sort of idiot savant. Now, the previously mentioned statement isn't actually in the game, but it is indicative of the type of conversations that take place. More than once I found myself scratching my head at the responses given to me. And another thing -- there is this really strange narration that occurs throughout the game that makes it feel like this game is actually a story being read to someone. '...And with that, our hero Stan and the pharmacist's cousin drank well into the early morning hours.'? It's really a different kind of game.
While traveling between towns, a mini map is visible in the corner of the screen, letting you know the way, even if it isn't as the crow flies. All monsters are seen as ghosts and can be avoided if you want, cutting down on those sometimes-monotonous random encounters. Once combat is initiated, the ghost usually manifests into some sort of other creature, like a Mad Cow or speckle footed, rabid wombat (or some such nonsense). To travel from major area to major area, you will discover these strange circular-type ruin kind of things. They're transporters that let 'Team Stan'? to teleport from place to place allowing for the necessary backtracking.
Combat is essentially turn-based, with a small time meter racing from left to right indicating who gets to attack next. As your team evolves and levels up, the meter goes faster, allowing you to attack much more quickly. Of course, the monsters you encounter also become progressively more difficult, so their time meter also increases in speed. I couldn't help but think this was borrowed from the RPGs Grandia and Grandia II. An effective and interesting way to resolve combat.
Shops and inns are usually found in every town, so upgrading weapons, buying healing and poison cures is easy. The inns provide places to save your game, and fully heal everyone by spending the night.
At this point I should really tell you that Okage is quite a sizeable game. Rumor has it that it takes upwards of 60 hours to complete, I have not yet beaten it but plan on doing so. Which leads me to say that I really have been enjoying this game. Not only because it is fun, but because it really never takes itself too seriously and wants to be as funny as it is action packed.
Here we go back to the Nightmare Before Christmas line again. Yes, it looks like that type of movie, and if you don't like that type of movie, you probably won't like how this game looks. I, however, did. I enjoyed the colorful characters and the fact that the whole game looked like a fairy tale type world with its strange, varying environments and darn near cartoon style graphics. Stan himself looks like the kind of Shadow you could go have a beer with, as he has the blackest color to him I have ever seen. Even Ari, who looks like an uncoordinated, clumsy teenager, comes across as visually correct. Impressive graphics on all fronts, from character development to the towns and forests. Hell, the sky even looks cool.
Too bad -- I felt that the narration was done well but the narrator himself seemed a little too chipper for his own good. It almost as if you can tell he was smiling while reading his lines (of course, I probably would have been laughing too, since the game is pretty humorous), even if the mood was supposed to be more somber. I would have liked to hear Stan speak, but the actual characters never do, you just have to read their captions. The music was also just so-so. Nothing to really get fired up about, yet, nothing to be disappointed about either. Honestly, I wished for a bit more 'strange'? music to occur while adventuring. They probably could have used any Danny Elfman score and it would have gelled with the subject matter just fine. But instead they played it safe and went with an uninspired musical score.
The 30 plus page manual should probably be perused prior to playing, although figuring it all out on your own is entirely possible.
I don't know who lit the fire under the people over at SCEA, but they are firing on all eight cylinders. Between Okage and Ico they've released back-to-back good games. Finally, we've gotten our first really decent RPG for the PlayStation 2; I was really beginning to get a bit worried. But after playing Okage that first night, I knew I was starting something special. A must for any fan of Tim Burton's style of movies or those of us who like our games to sometimes be a little left of center.