Like playing with balls? This game’s got balls aplenty.
The main character in Opoona has balls on his head. Yes, that’s right: balls. On his head. And one of his siblings walks around… on his own balls. Even his sister has balls. When you run into creatures you don’t like, you throw your balls at them. As the main character matures, his balls grow more and more powerful. If it isn’t already obvious, this game inspires the most juvenile of thoughts, and most of them have to do with balls. And just because these balls are called “bon bon”, that doesn’t make them any less suggestive.
You play as the eponymous Opoona, the oldest sibling in a family of ball-shaped people. It’s an entire family tree full of balls. They all wear balls, and they all fight with their balls. Balls. Balls. Balls. One day, while Opoona’s family is all in a spaceship headed for a balls-filled vacation, the ship comes under attack, and you all jump into ball-shaped escape pods and land on a planet made up of human-looking folks (you know, the kind of creatures who don’t have balls coming out of their ears). The remainder of the game is spent trying to get the whole family and all their balls back together again. The developers could have just called the game “Testicular Reconstruction Quest”, but then we’d miss out on such a wonderfully suggestive title like “Opoona”.
The title of the game is just asking to be mocked. For a character who shows so much cajones, the name “Opoona” sounds more like a strange euphemism for female genitalia. Maybe I’m being unfair, but then again maybe I’m not, considering the game’s made for a console called the “Wii”. I can’t imagine why the Japanese might have a thing for naming games and characters after genitalia, but I’ve already sworn off Pokémon and its “gotta catch ‘em all” motto. There are very few things I’m interested in “catching”, especially if I have to use my balls to do so.
But now that I’ve (mostly) gotten the requisite “balls” jokes out of the way, that leaves the game itself. Unfortunately, my childish puns about testicles are a hell of a lot more fun than this game. As far as I can tell, this is meant to be an RPG for little tykes. The look of the game, the simplified combat mechanics, and the storyline are all molded to hook the little ones into the crazy world of Japanese turn-based RPGs. I’d be all for this if it weren’t one of the most non-intuitive, poorly designed RPGs I’ve played in a long time.
First, the English localization is awful. Not in the “Ha, ha, laugh at the funny Engrish translation” sort of way, but in the “it’s so awful in that it actually causes confusion when you’re trying to figure out what to do or where to go next”, sort of way. Multiple times in the game, a character will tell you something like “go through that door”. Ordinarily, I’d happily oblige. But in the whacked-out world of Opoona, “that door” could mean any one of four doors in the room. Or worse, a character facing a window will tell you to go through the door on the left, but as you might be able to guess, the character isn’t facing any doors, so figuring out which way “left” is extremely frustrating. Many times I felt like a test subject for Aperture Science, suspecting that some creepy, genitalia-shaped GLaDOS was watching my every move.
Also, through large sections in the opening of the game, characters hold your hand and lead you through mazes full of corridors, doorways, hallways, rooms, and elevators. Finding your way through the environments isn’t difficult when you’re following an NPC who knows where they’re going, but the instant you’re cut loose, you suddenly realize that you’ve been taken down, around, and through so many twists and turns that you can’t possibly figure out where you are or where you’re going. More often than not, an NPC will lead you where you need to go, but when that’s not the case, finding your way around can be a tedious chore. And because of the bad translation, if you need a reminder of where to go, the locals can do no better than tell you to “go that way” without moving a muscle. Which way? “That way.” Oh. Thanks.
Otherwise, this is a pretty average, barebones JRPG experience. Every quest is some variation of a fetch quest. I don’t mind occasional fetch quests here and there in an RPG; they help change the pacing a bit and help to familiarize you with a new environment. But here, they dominate the storyline and the gameplay.
Opoona also falls back on the old-school JRPG trope of random combat. Random encounters may have been acceptable once upon a time in JRPGs, but the random encounter mechanic has become stale and tired over the years and needs to be dropkicked to Pluto along with quick-time-events. Even the term “random encounters” sounds creepy and like something you have in the back alleys of sex clubs.
Once in combat, you have your typical action menu listing an assortment of attacks, defenses, special abilities, and items. The one twist is that you can adjust the speed and curvature of your ball throws by how you use the controller. As you level up, you have more options in how you can, um, “manipulate” your balls. It gives you something to do beyond just watching a turn-based battle unfold. And since there isn’t much strategy involved in the combat itself, tossing your balls is the only variable you’ll have to worry about.
Graphics are right on par for the Wii. Characters all have a colorful, cartoony appearance, but objects and textures are relatively drab and simple. Camera controls are a bit wonky, and in the outdoor areas, you have no camera control whatsoever. Sometimes this means not being able to spot a path that should otherwise have been obvious; other times, this means getting snagged on unseen objects. I can’t speak for Opoona, but if I were out wandering the wilderness, I’d want to be damn sure my balls didn’t get snagged on anything. Needless to say, it’s frustrating and painful not being able to see where you’re going or what you’re looking for.
There were moments in the game—particularly early on—when I was nearly seduced by its cutesy look, its vibrant design, and its playful premise. But each time, I was let down by some major flaw: a bit of bad translation, a few too many random battles, or yet another fetch quest. You could do worse than play this game, but you could certainly do much better. It calls itself a “lifestyle RPG” because you can do things like fish or pick up odd jobs around town, but these side tasks aren’t compelling and don’t add anything to the genre that hasn’t been done before.
Opoona fails as an introductory RPG for the young’uns, because it’s not as easy and straightforward as it should be; and for more versed RPG players, it doesn’t provide anything innovative or compelling. There are other, simpler, more unusual JRPGs available on Wii for those who want their fix. Stick to those. If you were hoping to play this game so that you could have the chance to play with some balls, do yourself a favor by staying home and playing with your own. And for the truly ambitious, this game also includes an optional one-handed control scheme, so you can actually do both at the same time. [Editors Note ~ Balls.]