There's a good reason why few of the dozens of
games based on anime that are released every year in Japan ever make
it to US shores. Beyond the obvious fact that many of series themselves
are virtually unknown in America, the games, like their movie-inspired
counterparts, have notoriously weak gameplay, leaving them to live
or die on the strength of their characters and story. It was an odd
decision then for Activision to localize Orphen: Scion of Sorcery,
a game which not only bears the shoddy gameplay of its anime-inspired
brethren, but also one of the least likable casts this side of Legend
Meet the heroes
Orphen's eponymous lead is a lazy sorcerer with
a 'tude, who turned his back on the scholarly life to wander the countryside
as a moneylender and generally act like a cad. Serving as foil to
the "cocky hero" stereotype are Cleo the "brash tomboy" and Magnus
the "whiny apprentice." The game begins when a debtor offers Orphen
easy money, just a day's travel away by boat. Apparently, the ship
must first cross the dangerous Ocean of RPG Cliches as it's immediately
attacked by a giant serpent, leaving Orphen and crew stranded on the
foreboding Chaos Island.
Before leaving the ship, Orphen meets three fellow
travelers, all of whom have their own reasons for visiting the the
island: Zeus, a mercenary searching for his daughter; Sephy, a dancer
come to pray for her dead fiancee; and Mar, a young musician led there
by a song his mother used to sing. Depending on whom you chose as
a companion, the game presents a different set of dungeons and challenges
to conquer as you attempt to unlock the mysteries of the island. Once
a path is finished, players return to the ship to begin another, until
all three converge at the game's true end.
The bulk of the gameplay takes place in an over
the shoulder 3rd person view, reminiscent of Tomb Raider. The similarities
don't end there, however, as Orphen's many dungeons come compete with
same sort of block puzzles, swinging blades, and switches we've seen
a hundred times before. The settings themselves, though occasionally
impressive visually, are equally familiar. The usual suspects of desert/ice/lava/mechanical
tower each make their appearance; all that's missing is a mine cart.
Occasionally, you'll be forced to switch characters to overcome an
obstacle, but considering they all basically control the same, this
doesn't offer much in the way of variety. A game need not be wholly
original to be enjoyable, but Orphen's determination to trot out every
cliche in the book is almost an accomplishment in itself.
The parade of the expected doesn't stop with the
gameplay. Orphen's characters are universally hackneyed, trite, and,
what's worse, extremely talkative. Players are subjected to scene
after scene of Cleo acting jealous of Sephy, of Magnus whining to
Orphen, of Orphen acting like a jerk to everyone, including one scene
where he lusts after a ten year old girl. There's nothing wrong with
extended story sequences driving a plot forward, but many of the conversations
here are nothing but arguments, sniping, and witless banter. Granted
these exchanges serve to flesh out the game's characters, but when
the characters are as charm-free and tired as the cast of Orphen,
you'll seldom want insight into their hidden motives.
Luckily, the battle system offers a bit more originality
for gamers willing to sit through the hours of insufferable dialogue.
When the party meets with one of the preset battles, characters are
frozen in place. You control only the party's lead (usually Orphen),
and each of four buttons actives a different spell or a melee weapon.
Attacks can be powered up by holding a button, while a magical shield
is available to deflect incoming attacks. Meanwhile the rest of your
party continues to fight along side you -- coordinating your attacks
results in more powerful combos. Though not being able to move during
a battle sounds limiting, the fights themselves play out like a realtime
version of a standard RPG battle, with your party and the enemies
each lined up on a side exchanging attacks.
Blurry, but pretty
Unfortunately, once you add eight or more combatants,
copious motion blur, and quick camera movements, the action becomes
more chaotic than dynamic. It's often impossible to tell who's attacking
whom, or even whether an attack landed. To compensate the difficulty
level is extremely low, leading to blind, repetitive button mashing.
Different creatures do have a weakness to certain spells, but considering
the game actually starts the battle over each time you change your
spells, there's little penalty for coming to a battle ill-equipped.
The battle system does work extememly well for the brilliantly executed,
often stunning, one-on-one boss battles, but these are far too infrequent
to carry the game.
What's left is a title with scant little originality,
interspersed among hours of tedium. Though Orphen may still appeal
to fans of the anime, the rest will be wondering how a series featuring
such flat, lifeless characters could have any followers at all. The
fact that anime-based titles are beginning to appear on this side
of the ocean is definitely promising, even if Orphen only goes to
show that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the
Review by Zak McClendon, GIA.
Scion of Sorcery
|9 character illustrations
|North American packaging