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Haste Does Make Waste
By: Phillipe Richer
As one of the "Infamous Four", which is the name I give to the first PS2 RPGs, Orphen seemed like a good deal with its heavy anime influence and original battle system. Thankfully, I did not pay the full price for the game, but even 20$ seems like a high price to pay for a low-class production such as Orphen.
Orphen, a very gifted but ever so laid-back sorcerer, and his two apprentices, Magnus and Cleo, get suckered into a tragic boat trip that ends in disaster when the ship gets attacked by a horde of monsters. The adventurers get stranded on the aptly named Chaos Island, where they meet up with three other unfortunate souls. Each of those character have their own reasons for being on the island, reasons that you'll be forced to uncover until the game culminates into an irrelevant and tacked-on boss fight. While it had some potential as a decent anime inspired game, Orphen was simply shipped to store shelves a good six months too early.
Battles are neither random nor player activated. Looking at the back of the game's box will give you the exact number of fights you'll have to deal with in Orphen: 51. As so, experience points have been dispensed of. There is no form of money either. In fact, I don't think Orphen should even be categorized as an RPG. Regardless, battles can be either very pleasant of extremely annoying, mainly depending on the number of enemies you are facing. Orphen's four combat options are linked to the controller's face buttons. You can form a magical shield which can block almost everything, attack using your sword, or use projectiles and spells, the later of which both possess different elemental properties. Projectiles and spells can be charged up by simply holding down the button, allowing you to unleash multiple attacks or powerful summons. The key to battles thus resides in blocking and counterattacking at the right time, because nobody ever moves during those 51 real time sequences.
In some instances, battling is very fun. During certain boss fights, you'll have to analyze certain patterns in order to emerge victorious. However, when facing multiple foes you'll just have to rely on your gut instincts because things get very messy. To display someone's health, the game uses five crystals colored blue and red for allies and foes respectively. The problem is that you will have no idea who takes the damage and who deals it. There is no distinction between the different health gauges, and camera angles are more often than not located in the worst possible spots. In those fights, your best bet is to just keep throwing projectiles because you won't have time to do anything else. With a little more work, battles could've been much more enjoyable.
Enemies have affinity charts next to them in battles, but you are never told whether those represent resistance or weakness to the various elements. You can either try very hard to find out, or do as I did and stick to the same projectile and spell almost all game long. You'll have to navigate through traitorous (right...) dungeons for almost 3/4 of the game. There are no puzzles to speak of, just some easily avoidable lava pits, rolling boulders, and giant swinging blades. One aspect of the game that is completely tacked-on are the items. You'll find a multitude of treasure chests containing many items... which are unusable in battle. What? I'm supposed to need those while exploring? Yeah, right. Honestly, I've healed myself about two times the entire game. To actually heal in battle, you have to hit a healing target when one is provided in the fight. The only instance where you'll use those items is during Mar's quest, and that's only for a brief five minutes. The designers released the game so quick they actually forgot to find a use for those items.
When it comes to music, Orphen's is as forgettable as it gets. I don't even think there is a soundtrack. When in your "headquarters", you'll get annoyed very rapidly by the boring background music, while the battle music gets swamped by the sound effects. Spells and projectiles sound somewhat intimidating, and the battle mood is thankfully not too boring. The biggest attraction as far as the sounds go is the above average voice acting. Every line of dialogue is spoken (there isn't that much really), and most characters sound decent enough to convey a certain personality. Orphen's voice actor, Quinton Flynn (who later played Raiden in MGS2), is particularly good in his role. While most dialogues sound casual, the quality of the work is pretty inconsistent.
The game is based on the anime series of the same name. During the course of your adventure you'll witness some very good anime sequences, though there aren't enough of those in my opinion. The plot is very shallow and incredibly not progressive. You'll be thrown on a boat at the beginning for no apparent reason and drift on an island with no purpose. You'll meet three characters whom you'll have to help out with their petty problems. The three "quests" are completely unconnected and only remotely interesting. You can meet with your group of six adventurers in a cozy little hideout where you'll have to speak with people until something finally happens. At the end, a big plot twist is supposed to tie up the knots, but you probably won't care. It's farfetched and poorly constructed. The characters attempt to bring some charisma to the game, but much like the Lunar games, great characters don't make up for a crappy plot.
Aside from a couple item descriptions, there is virtually no text in Orphen. The voice acting was completely redone in English, and as mentioned before the job is acceptable. The actors chosen are competent, but the director didn't work very hard to try and get the most out of the actors. The dubbing was most probably done much too hastily, too. Again. Once you're done with the game, chances are you'll be glad to put it back on the shelf. There are no side quests, nothing special to acquire, and just nothing to see aside from the 51 battles you'll face. You may go through the three characters' quests in a different order, but the outcome will remain the same. At least the game is very short. A lot of effort was of course put into the visual department to display the console's power. Even to this day, the graphics look pretty good. Character models are rather well animated, while the textures are very smooth throughout. Dungeons are engaging, and the spell effects are impressive. The anime sequences are very well done as well.
Orphen is just a shallow, mildly fun, and rushed-out game. The battle system can be amusing for a while, but the crummy interface and bad camera views make most battles unplayable. The production values just aren't there either when it comes to the music, the plot, and the atmosphere. If you missed the game when it first came out, raise your arm up high and give yourself a good pat on the back, because you saved some hard earned money.
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