Me and my evil shadow.
As any teenager can tell you, waiting to realize your potential destiny can be a pain. Your whole life you've been told about college, heard tales of success, and been exposed to a culture that idolizes the hero, that rare individual who takes on the world and lives to tell about it.
The fear of mediocrity is deeply entrenched in our society, and those who feel they may be nothing special often feel pretty crappy about it. Enter Ari from Sony's new RPG, Okage: Shadow King. Ari is your average, skinny, passive, everyday kid who's secretly admired by girls, but too certain of his own shortcomings to do much about it.
Suddenly, Ari's destiny (his shadow) takes command of his life in exchange for lifting a curse on Ari's sister. Ari and his shadow strike out to become the most powerful evil force in the world.
The plot admittedly has some real potential, but Okage takes itself about as seriously as an In Living Color skit. The whole game is a parody, and the potential for a real plot or an amazing story is squandered in the name of tongue-in-cheek humor and rim-shots at regular RPG conventions. But it definitely strives to be different, I'll give it that.
The cracks range from naming static villagers things like "Random Guy Sleeping Under Tree" to the shadow, named Stan, spouting evil gospel and being ridiculed by the townspeople because for all his evil designs, he's just a dumb kid's shadow. It's amusing at first and irritating after a few hours.
In order to return Stan to his super-powerful state, Stan and Ari take off to vanquish some faux-Evil Kings who have somehow been sapping Stan's power (Stan spent the last few decades in a bottle). Each Evil King has an evil realm, including a field, a couple cities, and a dungeon (where the evil King lives). The different realms are accessed via magic teleportation stones. Upon vanquishing Evil Kings, Stan grows more powerful and more fearsome, and the game grows less "funny" and more boring.
Like the uninspired magical stone circles, Okage lacks impact. The game is purposely perfunctory, and even though Okage mocks RPG conventions, it's about as conventional as an RPG gets.
One area in which the game attempts to transcend its mundane fate is in the art department. Many of the enemies and characters are clearly stylized after Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas, but that's as far as any Tim Burton influence goes. Whereas Tim Burton's Nightmare walked a subtle line between creepy and funny, Okage pretty much tries to stick with the funny.
The music dashes any illusions of sophistication. There isn't a dark tone or note anywhere, and the rhythm is constantly up-beat and mindless. Great if you're a giddy child huffing gas, but for the rest of us it just gets annoying.
Still, the graphics are admittedly cool and the enemy models are interesting, even if they're kind of boring to fight. The camera is controlled in Okage via the right analog stick, though you still get a pretty limited view of the action. Stuff always gets between you and the camera, and you inadvertently miss seeing things you were supposed to see. A good idea, but poorly implemented. A first person view might have been helpful.
Considering how hard the game strives to be different, the battle system is surprisingly generic. It's essentially Final Fantasy, a turn-based system with the limit breaks being called "overdrives," the status ailments being called "curses," and the attack rhythm being based on a timer. It's sufficient (if a little bland) and should satisfy RPG newbies just fine. The more advanced RPG gamer will find it a little too shallow. However, one saving grace is the ability to avoid random battles, which traditionally drive any RPG gamer mad.
Ari has the shadow backing him up, and if Ari gets hurt, the shadow will start to attack. You can also scrounge together up to three party members at a time and can swap them around at inns.
The game's puzzles are regular RPG fare, but again suffer from the lack of a serious plot or motive. For example, the whole reason you allow yourself to be subjugated by the shadow is because your sister gets "The Pig Latin Curse." That's right, she speaks Pig Latin all the time. In order to save her, you have to promise to attempt to become an omnipotent herald of doom. The absurdity of the situation, while marginally funny, makes it a little hard to care much about the plot.
Okage is certainly a creative attempt, but while it succeeds in looking cool it fails in really making a unique gameplay mark. It borrows art from a popular film and clearly tries to be very funny, but it's distinctions from other RPGs sort of end there. If you have a very innocent sense of humor and are dying for a PS2 RPG, Okage might not be a bad rental. However, the only shadows Okage: Shadow King is going to be ruling at my house are the ones under the stack of other games I'd rather be playing.