Review – Opoona

If a game contains art, is the game itself art? Is it moral for the local populace to manipulate an alien child into doing their bidding? What in the hell does that old engineer want with a sand weasel? These questions and more are asked in Koei’s latest published game, Opoona.

Reviews have not been altogether friendly to Opoona. I am here to tell you that yes, it may well be a horrible game. It has an occasionally annoying camera, a bad translation, and it’s easy to get lost even in the first dome-city. I am also here to tell you that I still really enjoyed Opoona despite these flaws.

But is it art?

I’ll get the bad parts out of the way first. First off: No voice acting. Sorry. I didn’t care; hell, I didn’t even notice until I realized the whole game sounds very uniform and ambient. Nothing breaks it up. Some people think this is a negative. I’m just glad they didn’t give Opoona and his siblings horrible squeaky voices.

Second: Bad translation. Not quite incomprehensible, but there are some downright odd lines. Planets are often referred to as “stars”, for example. Though they are the same word in Japanese, there’s really no excuse for it if you have an editor. The worst parts, though, are when someone says “Don’t you think I’m a poor student?” You’d think that “yes” might mean “yes, I think you’re a poor student”. In reality, it means “yes, we have no bananas, also you are a great student” and your conversation will go downhill from there. This occurs quite often; a certain shopkeeper will ask you “are you all set?” and “yes” brings you back to the shopping screen.

Third: Bad camera. In towns, you have some control – not as much as I’d like, but I could deal with it. In the field and dungeons, there’s no control whatsoever. It’s a bit frustrating, but your view is never really blocked off. This game is downright beautiful in places, and I would have loved to have a free camera (or the opportunity to make a certain pudgy orange guy transparent).

Fourth: Poor difficulty balance. If you die, you just get taken back to town and docked a bit of money. But it’s very possible to die to particularly rough normal enemies, especially early on. Areas seem to alternate between too easy and too difficult. Swarms of enemies are particularly dangerous, since you can only take them down one by one, but all of them can attack you at once. Battles take place in real time, so casting spells can be dangerous if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Thankfully, a bit of grinding (shudder) will get you through most tricky areas.

Now that that’s out of the way… there are some very good things that Opoona does right. Probably my favorite part of the whole game is the plot. Opoona is going to visit the planet Landroll with his family when they are attacked just outside Landroll’s orbit. Opoona and his siblings make it to the escape pods, and Opoona wakes up in a bed on-planet; he is told by the local governor that his whole family survived, and he would “see them soon”. For now, though, he should explore his surroundings and make lots of money, because his parents’ treatment will be expensive.

Sounds easier than four years of homework and overwhelming debt.

Right from the start, there’s a wonderful feeling of malaise that carries through despite the translation. It’s obvious enough that Opoona is far, far too trusting. Often the subject of his family is waved aside by his various employers with “Oh, if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to see them soon for sure.” You see Opoona’s brother from time to time, and he joins in the quest-going, but it becomes increasingly clear that something Very Strange is going on, particularly from the player’s more detached (and hopefully more skeptical) perspective. Most inhabitants of Landroll seem to be nice enough people, but there are hints – some subtle, some outright – that things are not what they appear.

The setting itself is excellent as well. The domes are filled with people who seem to be content, but nearly every aspect of their life is controlled by a bureaucratic License Center. A soldier outside a town remarks that he would like to collect flowers for his girlfriend, but he can’t without a license. Thankfully, there are no licenses required to wear equipment (*cough*), but if there’s a minigame you can play or a sidequest you can embark upon, you can be sure there’s a license (official or unofficial) involved. There’s even a nifty piece of bait; once a person completes a 3rd rank license, they are free to retire in the wondrous tropical dome of Paradisio. That way, all those plebs won’t get all uppity… er, I mean, once people contribute enough work to society, they can enjoy themselves to their heart’s content.

This setting is complemented by wonderfully ambient music and well-designed areas. I had heard the game has good music composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto. I wasn’t a big fan of his work in Final Fantasy XII, but he did the music in Gauntlet IV for Genesis, and that’s enough for me. The day I hear this game’s soundtrack is out (and available to purchase stateside) will be the day I buy it; until then, I’ll have to settle for looking for a rip somewhere. It’s cohesive in the best ways – some themes are heard throughout multiple songs – and appropriate in almost all places. The battle music, unfortunately, feels out of place in an otherwise very laid-back soundtrack. The style is great; among the places you will visit are an untouched forest, a grayish-blue desert with a spectral feel, a dome that is largely underwater… there are several places that are at least as well done as Skies of Arcadia’s locales. In several areas, particularly the domes, there are scattered art pieces. They’re relevant to certain quests, but some are pretty cool to see in their own right.

There is some cliche to the plot, but much of it is well done (given the translation). The “friend” system in Opoona feels like a somewhat lighter version of Persona 3’s Social Links, but offers the same diversion and motivation to explore. A year or so ago, I might have reviled this game for the very same reason, but now it really helps me stick with a game to have significant portions that don’t involve combat. Between the licenses and other sidequests, there is enough variety that it kept me playing once I got bored of the combat.

Even fast-food managers can’t pass up the temptation to manipulate Opoona.

Speaking of combat, most reviews that I have seen say it is the best part of the game. I have to disagree; I found combat to be entertaining enough, but it just doesn’t have enough depth. It feels like it wants to be an action-RPG, but the nunchuk-only control of your character’s bonbon-swinging (there, I said it) in battle just isn’t enough to give it the solid control that an ARPG requires.

In the end, though, Opoona managed to keep me hooked for a solid week. Generally even when starting a good RPG I am prone to distractions from online games, rhythm games, jingling car keys, et cetera… but there was very little that managed to draw my attention from this game. It only lasts about 30 hours, but it feels like the perfect amount of time.

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