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As you may or may not have deduced from the title of this review, Otogi: Myth of Demons is not a particularly subtle game. It is also not truly an RPG in the conventional sense, but rather an action game that utilizes traditional role-playing affectations fairly skillfully to emphasize its strengths, and provide the player with a clear, linear sense of progression and character growth. Thus, gamers seeking labyrinthine plotlines, complex and endearing characters, or open-ended exploration first and foremost will not find any such thing here. Nevertheless, Otogi is still an excellent game; one which succeeds in conveying two critical elements: first, the artistic vision evident in its beautifully inspired environments, and second, the visceral pleasure invoked in razing each and every one of them to the ground.
At the center of this tale of destruction lies Raikoh; prototypical silent protagonist and grim executioner. Aiding and directing him in his quest is a woman known only as the Princess; an equally prototypical mysterious benefactor whose brief monologues are the only real source of exposition regarding the conflict into which Raikoh has been so unceremoniously thrust. Evidently, our hero fell in battle at some indeterminate point before the start of the game, was revived by the Princess, and now does her bidding in saving the world as they know it from a demon invasion. Or a crazy samurai...or a guy carrying a big rock; I'm not really sure, the game didn't make it all that clear.
Itís a skeletal story, told in a very minimalist manner; but it almost works, in the sense that it generally doesnít interfere with or bog down the flow of gameplay. There are a few moments where the player may question the motives of certain villains, or fail to understand the relevance of a particular objective; but on the whole the few story sequences and sparse dialogue, if nothing else, still manage to effectively establish the main purpose behind Raikohís quest.
While, of course, any game can benefit from a strong, well-integrated plot, Otogi realizes that its main strength is in the gameplay itself, and chooses to keep that, as well as most other elements, limited to the level of minimum functional practicality. The simple, spartan menu design exists solely to get players in and out of stages as quickly as possible, with a minimum of button presses. And as for managing Raikohís inventory of over fifty weapons, spells and accessories, the Princess inexplicably acts as a stop-and-shop between the gameís levels, allowing the player to save the game, and manage, purchase and repair equipment. This is presumably done to keep the passive portions of the game as compact as possible, but it does tend to make the time spent between stages seem a little too barren.
Fortunately, all of this becomes somewhat irrelevant once the player dives into the action itself, which, obviously, is where the meat of the game lies. Otogiís path is quite linear, with no side quests or ďbonus stagesĒ; but it does feature well over two dozen levels as it is, each replete with demons to slay, unlockables to locate, and gorgeous Eastern-inspired environments to exploreÖand eventually, to destroy. To put it simply, Raikoh is a one-man wrecking crew. And from the second the Princess first drops him (literally, from the sky) into the midst of the first stageís raven-demon infested bamboo field, it is evident heíll be a heck of a lot of fun to play as.
Between his move set, arsenal and control scheme, Raikoh is efficiently designed to deliver a maximum amount of action with a minimum amount of player input. There are only five main commands, each mapped to one of the four main face buttons and the right trigger; two attacks (light and heavy), jump (Raikoh is also permitted one mid-air jump), dash, and magic. Beyond this, there is a small set of combos, all of which are performed by executing an extra attack or spell at the end of a string of light attacks. The timing required to pull such moves off isnít entirely evident solely from watching and reacting to Raikoh, but can be learned fairly easily with a bit of practice. And finally, there is an uppercut maneuver that can be performed simply by attacking at the end of a dash. This is one of the most interesting maneuvers, in this reviewerís opinion, as it allows Raikoh to remain airborne almost indefinitely.
Itís a great control scheme for an action game; one that will rarely have the player tripping over their own fingers attempting to execute a move, but varied enough that gameplay does not seem repetitive for the most part. The enemies are, for the most part, large and somewhat dumb, but there are more than enough boss-caliber monsters, amongst other occasionally surprising challenges, to keep the player on their toes. On the whole, Otogi manages to avoid the tedium that can overcome some melee-heavy action games, save for a few stages that need to be completed repeatedly to access all unlockables.
It should be noted that equipping different weapons changes the range and scope of Raikohís attacks, but generally doesnít change the function of the game much at all. Weapons decline in power over time as they fall in need of repair, and cover a wide range of classes and weights, but to be honest, except in the most extreme cases, such as the weapons designed for players who prefer magic use over melee combat, I didnít really notice that much of a difference in terms of overall power or usefulness. Then again, perhaps this was simply because I was distracted by the pretty trails of light most of the weapons leave behind.
As for the camera, frequent bane of 3-D action games, the designers seem to have managed to keep it largely out of trouble. Occasionally an enemy will come flying out of nowhere to strike Raikoh from off-camera, but in general this doesnít happen very often, and usually only in very crowded battles at that. When left on its own, the point of view can careen about a bit, but this is easily corrected with use of the lock-on button (the left trigger), or a click of the right analog stick, which turns the camera directly behind Raikoh.
A feature of somewhat more dubious validity, unfortunately, is the gameís somewhat use of a magic meter that acts as a sort of indirect time limit on each level. Raikohís meter depletes slowly over time, and regenerates only slightly each time he fells a foe. While he still has some magic power remaining, Raikoh possesses a limited regeneration ability, as well as a basic immunity to drowning and lava streams. But once the meter empties, not only does he lose those abilities, but also access to his dash and magic spells. In addition, his life meter will begin to diminish continuously.
While this does create some quite tense, thrilling sequences near the end of certain levels, if the player is anywhere other than a few enemies away from completing the stage, then their efforts thus far will probably end in frustration. Having to keep an eye on the magic meter becomes particularly irritating while searching for unlockables, as several stages are designed to cause the meter to decrease significantly faster if the player leaves the beaten path for more than a few seconds.
This is a shame, as some of the environments are absolutely gorgeous, and worth taking time to check out. It is in aspects of the game such as this, that truly showcase the power of the Xbox system, as quite a lot of effort went into Otogiís graphical design, as well as into programming Raikohís interaction with his surroundings. Enemies, protagonists and inanimate objects alike are all brought to life in a resounding fashion; accompanied by a pleasant, ambient soundtrack that fits the theme of the game quite well. Stages range from serene bamboo forests, to eerie moonlit bays, to glittering golden palaces, to the surreal, alien landscape of Raikohís dreams.
Furthermore, as one may have concluded from earlier statements in this review, thereís an awful lot to destroy in each level. Walls, columns, giant crystals, totems, candlesticks...if it looks like it would be entertaining to smash something, then it can be probably smashed one way or another. Otogi may not be the first game with breakaway environments, but I dare you to find a game where you can have this much fun soaring a hundred feet in the air, delivering a massive blow to a raven demon, and then watching him plummet through a support column, sending floorboards and other assorted debris raining down atop his dazed form.
Finally, there is a fairly generic New Game Plus feature (referred to in the game as 2nd play) that allows Raikoh to keep all his items and levels (Raikoh levels in small increments by experience, but this barely matters, as player skill and equipment choice far outweigh Raikohís base stats as bellwethers of success), while playing through a slightly more difficult version of the standard quest. There isnít anything new to see other than a very slightly expanded ending, but personally, in my opinion, the game was entertaining, and visually stunning enough that it merited a second play-through, just to see everything a second time. Did I mention this game is gorgeous?
In conclusion, while hardcore action fans may be turned off by the simple controls, and fans who favor the storyline aspect of an RPG may be somewhat disappointed, on the whole Otogi is a fulfilling action experience; levels never seem overly long or tedious, and though there is little actual statistical development, Raikoh nevertheless proves a versatile warrior on the battlefield. I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone seeking a decent action game, or a break from the turn-based standard for the RPG genre, and encourage anyone intrigued by Raikohís world to come on in, and cut loose. Itíll probably be worth your while.
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