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screen1.jpg (8775 bytes)There’s no question that Role Playing games are in need of a little freshening up. Most of the cut and paste dribble that slides into the RPG fan’s disk drive is predictable in style and story. As I fire up a new role-playing game (no matter the title), increasingly, I am haunted by the feeling that I’ve played this game before. If only I could just remember when, perhaps I could say something witty or offer some profound insight or clever comparison. Unfortunately that elusive first time is long gone; in its place I have a jumbled collage of memories from games that I can no longer tell apart but seem to stretch at least as far back as the NES. Not much has changed and not everything that’s changed has been for the better.

screen10.jpg (8123 bytes)Take for example party size. Back in the day one could reasonably expect to go dungeon crawling with a sizeable party. Want five or six hard-nosed brawlers to scrap with the baddies? No problem. Want to try five wizards and one kung fu hero? No problem. Not so anymore. These days parties have three characters –no more, no less, with little exception. So we need fixed characters instead of a created party in order to make a better story. I’m down with that, but why does it always have to be three? What’s so special about the number three? While technological limitations are one possible factor, this isn’t an excuse I’m buying anymore. Technology changes but the games don’t.

screen11.jpg (8189 bytes)What’s more, this isn’t even the real problem; it’s a symptom of the real problem. The real culprit is an unwillingness to take chances with something new (give the public what they want, development is expensive!), and a failure (or cowardice) to think outside the proverbial box. It is precisely when it manages to think outside the box that Okage succeeds, while it disappoints when it subscribes to the ho-hum reality of RPG’s. The originality of Okage comes from the unique story and dialogue, while its ultimate failure comes from the blah combat system and method of progression.

screen12.jpg (7574 bytes)The wacky story revolves around our boy hero who’s sister is stricken with a disease that causes her to speak only in pig Latin. Enter the Demon King Stan, recently freed from his bottle, who offers to cure the girl if he can live in the poor boy’s shadow. Stan’s wacky antics are unquestionably the highlight of the game. Convinced that he is the all-powerful lord of ultimate evil, Stan is unable to come to grips with his own impotence. Stan spends a great deal of time commanding people to bow down, tremble with fear, pay him homage, and so forth. Yet Stan is never taken seriously and is generally regarded as a parlor trick and arouses bursts of laughter instead of trembling knees. Stan’s appearance sets off a plague of people claiming to be evil kings (who of course need to be vanquished), and thus the quest begins. The dialogue is generally pretty interesting, as you play the straight man to Stan’s ranting, comical threats, and personal jibes. It’s actually kind of strange; Stan’s dialogue seems to be much better translated than everyone he is speaking to. This either makes the whole situation more or less comical, depending on your personal tastes, though in either case the problem is only slight. What’s really bothersome is that the effect seems to fade with time. After the first eight or nine hours the enjoyable parts have become noticeably less enjoyable and further apart. In their place comes an increasing reliance on the relatively mundane battle system.

screen2.jpg (6661 bytes)The turn based hack/ slash/ heal affair leaves much to be desired. Through much of this game I kept thinking of Evolution for the Dreamcast, and the comparison is most apt for the combat system. The three characters take turns attacking, picking a target, and hopping across the screen to deliver a good whack before promptly jumping back across the screen to resume his or her place in formation. Experience is rewarded and items are received in the usual fashion. Far too soon, I simply lost interest in the combat and henceforth my desire to keep playing. On the upside, there are no random battles as all enemies are on screen. You can simple avoid enemies if you wish, but it becomes increasingly difficult to do so as you successfully evade your foes.

screen3.jpg (9516 bytes)Graphically, Okage looks nice though by no means stunning. It has a certain wacky aesthetic to it and this helps contribute to the overall vibe of the game, though the PS2 has proven capable of doing more in the texture department. Still, Okage succeeds graphically because it is portraying precisely the style it wishes to.

screen5.jpg (9657 bytes)Okage is a respectable effort, and with a more energetic combat system and more consistency in the enjoyable dialogue, it could have been a heck of a lot better. It’s definitely worth a look for RPG fans desperate to see a little something different, but for those easily put off by cumbersome combat systems, Okage is not for you. Younger audiences may well find the animation and Stan’s eternal quest to be respected as an evil king humorous and enjoyable, assuming they’re willing to read a lot of dialogue and go for long stretches without battle early in the game (later in the game the situation is reversed). Despite all the ups to Okage, I have difficulty giving it an across the board recommendation because it just didn’t drive me to play, and the ever important fun factor just wasn’t there for me. Without this, it’s difficult to stay engrossed in an RPG. Though in all fairness those less familiar with the tried and true RPG system will likely find significantly less disappointment in the combat system. The bottom line is, I wanted to like Okage a lot more than I actually did.

Jeff Luther   (01/05/2002)


Ups: Great dialogue; good sense of humor; wacky aesthetic; really long.

Downs: Cumbersome combat system; really long; a bit bland.

Platform: PS2