Okage: Shadow King

PS2

Review by Greg Wilcox

Sony

RPG

Graphics: 9

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 8


Featuring visuals that look like a Rankin-Bass holiday special conceived and directed by Tim Burton, Okage: Shadow King is an odd, wonderful RPG. From the bizarre character designs to the even weirder storyline that keeps you playing to find out what happens next, this is one of those games that has a curious charm from start to finish. If youíre a single-minded RPG fan expecting the usual end of the world scenario and super model heroes, youíll be missing out on a real treat if you pass this one up.

The wackiness gets off to a running start with the opening scene, and unlike most RPGs out there, youíll be hard pressed to predict whatís going to happen from one moment to the next. You play as Ari, a young boy out to help lift a curse placed on his sister. During a sťance, he ends up having his shadow possessed by one Stanley HiHat Trinidad XIV, or Evil King Stan, as he prefers to be called. Stan was stashed away in a magic bottle for a long while, and his powers have been stolen by a number of characters that also consider themselves Evil Kings. Now Ari and Stan set out to find and defeat the fake Evil Kings, with the assistance of Rosalyn, an umbrella toting swordswoman with a shady secret, and Kisling, a lecherous middle-aged man whoís also a scientific genius. Stan also has a not so hidden agenda for recovering his powers: he intends to use them to take over the world, however no one takes him at all seriously. In fact, most of the people in the game see Stan as either a cool trick Ari can do with his shadow, or they ignore him completely, causing Stan to spout off some hysterical insults and threats.

Okage is at its best when it sends up typical (read: boring) RPG conventions, and similar to another RPG that gamers either liked or hated, Earthbound, the more adventurous among you out there will get the joke and love every minute of it. Like most console RPGs, there are items to collect, optional subquests to tackle, and loads of NPCs to interact with. Except for boss fights, battles in Okage take pace when you run into any of the wandering ghosts that populate the overworld and dungeons. While itís possible to outrun some of the ghosts, they can materialize in front of you, pass through rocks, and turn on a dime, meaning combat can be too frequent (especially with low level enemies)

The battle system is a fun and fast paced turn-based affair, with both you and your enemies freezing in mid move when itís your turn to input moves. Here, itís entirely possible to deflect an incoming attack or use a healing item or magic spell as a monster is about to land a blow. Defense is exceptional as well: it actually pays to have characters wait so that they can unleash a powerful combination attack with the others in the party. In a hilarious touch, sometimes Stan pops up pre-battle to quiz you on goofy stuff like what his name is or who you think his ideal mate should be. A correct enough answer allows him to get in a powerful attack, while a bad one leaves you with a wisecrack from what amounts to a paper-thin Don Rickles with devil horns.

The one sticking point about the battles is that in some areas, enemy strength varies wildly, which may result in you loading your last save if youíre too careless. Return to the dungeon for about 30 seconds after killing off the Sewer Rat Evil King for example, and youíll be in for a world of hurt if you donít make it to the save point (which also restores your health). Youíre supposed to come back to this area much later in the game, but if youíre felling like taking on some super-tough enemies, go on ahead and knock yourself out. Also, the prices of many of the better items in the game are quite high, meaning youíll be doing quite a lot of fighting here. The great thing is that ghosts appear around almost any save points in the game. Once youíre strong enough, you can go into a tough area, save/heal and fight, then rinse and repeat until your coffers are filled.

As for those graphics, itís hard not to like the highly stylized and often funny-looking characters and enemies in Okage. Itís great to see a RPG that has enemies that are visually equal to the player characters, and the hyperactive animation during the battle scenes is a total hoot. As for the world map, thereís a little pop-up in some of the otherwise beautiful environments, but each area is full of nice little details and some cool effects that you wonít be complaining much. I loved the weird, effective music and sound effects here, as well as the soothing, humorous narration provided during certain points in the game. Also of note are the clean menus and typeface, and the way that the text boxes describe the changing conditions of NPCs youíre interacting with. In a way, I sort of wonder if Tim Burton has seen and played this game- I think heíd be pleased with the homage the developers have put together, and maybe heíll think of adapting the game for some future feature (he can definitely use another hit).

While some younger players (and the humorless RPG fans out there) wonít get or appreciate much of the humor and innuendo here, everyone else should give this game a shot. Okage: Shadow King is a more than welcome change of pace from the standard console RPG fare. Itís not as ďdeepĒ as the yearly Final Fantasy update, nor does it pretend to be. As a welcome change of pace, it more than gets the job done.

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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:29 PM