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Strong Shadow, Little Light
By: Red Raven
When I looked at Okage: Shadow King for the first time some two years ago, I left it on the shelf. My PS2 was shiny-new and there was FFX and a host of other games to think about. Despite this initial apathy towards Okage, I always kept the title in the back of my mind for a bargain-bin purchase down the road. After all, how many RPGs out there have innovative premises such as the main character's shadow being haunted by an Evil King? Two years later, I am at the end of my twenty hour play-through of Okage and have come to an important conclusion: I should have left it on the shelf.
For all the harsh words that are to follow, I will say that Okage at least had a fighting chance. The game starts you out in the role of Ari, a young boy whom spends most of his life being pushed around. After some genuinely humorous dialogue, Ari ends up the slave to Lord Stanly Hihat Trinidad XIV when the family makes a deal to save Ari's sister from the dreaded curse of Pig Latin, bestowed by a passing ghost. Things go understandably awry and Ari and his haunted shadow set off on a quest to bring Stan back up to his former Evil King glory. The rest of the plot follows a fairly cliché route to the bitter end, but along the way sees some nice interaction between Ari, Stan, and all the other bizarre party members they end up attracting.
Any illusion that Okage would be able to pull a Working Designs and coast on its localization however, is dispelled in short order by the pile of fetid mediocrity that is the rest of the game. Beyond the rare townsfolk with a witty line, everyone else is furniture in both form and function. Exacerbating this problem, one faces some of the worst loading times in a videogame since the very invention of the CD. Seeing five to ten seconds of your life evaporate as you move from room to room is an experience I would not wish on anyone. In this sense, gaining access to new areas does not stir curiosity but rather despair, as you realize how many more real hours will be wasted as you search house after house for the one person you inevitably need to talk to in order to progress forward.
In-between the great expanses of towns and load times, one does not fare much better. Featuring a battle system that is some amalgamation of the worst aspects of the Final Fantasy and Wild ARMS systems, time outside of towns is almost as bad as time in them. I was never really fond of the ATB system, much less so when it is twisted into a sort of pseudo-turn-base combat, in which one can issue commands during other peoples' turns yet do nothing for five as the enemy murders Ari as if you never chose to heal him so long ago. Ari's death in combat spells an instant Game Over regardless of how many resurrection items you have at the ready, so combining this asinine aspect with a shallow battle system results in a special sort of distilled agony.
Dungeons are only so-called in the strictest definition of the word - the meandering and featureless pits you vainly roam are devoid of any redeeming value. Even the interesting way you encounter enemies - they can be avoided ala Lunar - seems more an apology than anything else. Random encounters are altogether meaningless, earning you next to nothing compared with the mountains of experience points and cash from the special Urn-destroying dungeon encounters (destroying Urns is how you unlock additional floors in dungeons, you see). One can go up six levels in half an hour from such special encounters, making any time spent battling normal foes wasted. The sum result of this tragedy of a battle system is that one begins to simply run from all encounters in a effort to slog through the rest of the game. This slogging is accompanied by quite possibly the most useless and visually antagonizing interface I've seen in a game. Full of extraneous details, colors and shapes, navigating menus is almost as painful as exploring and battling. Luckily enough, the menus can mostly be avoided unlike the rest of the game.
The other visual and aural aspects of Okage are underwhelming at best. The character designs are decidedly unique and the world itself appears to be going for a Nightmare Before Christmas motif which translates relatively well. Unfortunately, the same graphics could have been used on the normal Playstation without penalty (I cannot imagine the load times being any worse than they are currently). Furthermore, the characters start to lose their charm once you realize how many townsfolk and enemies are recycled or how rudimentarily they are all animated. Music is entirely synthesized, but actually makes a serious stab at originality with a variety of instrument sounds, ranging from percussion to choir to bagpipes. No song or theme stands out particularly, which in a game with so many other glaring flaws, I suppose is a good thing.
Simply put, Okage: Shadow King is without any redeeming feature - it is a complete waste of your time. The cute story and presentation implodes utterly when all the other aspects of what make Okage a game in the first place are so badly executed. I always strive to play RPGs to completion regardless of their merit, but I must say that Okage was only beat out by Wild ARMS 2 in the amount of wasted effort I was forced to funnel into it to see the ending credits. Looking back now, I can only stare in mute horror at how much of my life was consumed for basically nothing. Playing games as bad as Okage sort of makes me question why I even stay in this genre. As I struggle with the reasons, one thing is for certain - Okage: Shadow King is not one of them.
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