Posted by Sean Aaron
Stranger in a strange land...
Would you like to hear a story? Good! This is a story about Opoona and his family: his daddy is a famous Cosmo Guard -- that's right, Opoona and his family are from the planet Tizia. In fact, Opoona's daddy is one of the most famous Cosmo Guards ever! He was recently awarded the title of Startizian -- a rank only a few in thousands of years have achieved -- so he was given the use of a space ship to take Opoona, Copoona, Poleena and their mummy off on holiday to the famous world of Landroll. I'm sure you've heard of it: Landroll is the planet where centuries ago a Dark Force comet struck and threatened to consume the planet, until a mysterious beam of light divided the world into two halves of eternal daylight and undending darkness. Anyway, Opoona's family were getting ready to land when suddenly something struck their ship and caused it to crash! Just before impact Opoona's mummy and daddy hurried him and his brother and sister to the escape pods and sent them off to safety. Opoona awoke to find his parents were injured and recovering in hospital. Alone and separated from his brother and sister he found he had to make his way alone in an alien world...
Thus is the stage set for the latest RPG from Koei, a company that is best known for creating detail-oriented historic wargames and simulations. Whilst Opoona's sci-fi theme may be a bit of a departure for the veteran publisher/developer, Koei's simulation experience is put to good use in creating an interesting and believable world with endearing characters which should appeal to gamers who like a good story -- whether you've played RPGs or not.
If you have played role-playing games before, Opoona will come off as a mix of old and new. The environments are 3D and frequently have animated objects and people in them, but this is not an action-adventure game and a lot of time is spent going from place to place conversing with various characters in-between battling the agents of the Dark Force called "rogues." Landroll is a meritocracy where everyone is believed to have a role to play in society. As a result Opoona is expected to make a contribution -- despite being an alien -- whilst he waits for his parents to recuperate. Given his Cosmo Guard heritage it's suggested he join the Landroll Rangers, a group of soldiers who protect the domes Lanrollians have been forced to live in due to roaming rogues that have gradually crossed over from the dark side of the planet.
Landroll Ranger is just one of the jobs that Opoona will have in the course of his adventures, but it's the main one he'll be undertaking thoughout the game. Progressing through the ranks of the Landroll Rangers and other jobs will mean travel between the many domes of Landroll, each of which has its own unique features and inhabitants. By taking on various jobs you'll be given access to new areas and equipment as well as rewarded with the energy called matia, which is used as currency on Landroll for buying various items such as food and drink to restore health, offensive weapons to use against enemies or to save for hastening Opoona's parents' recovery. Though there are many jobs to perform in the domes many of them are optional. Through encounters with the elemental spirits of Landroll it quickly becomes apparent to Opoona that he's destined to help save the planet from the rogues and bring happiness to the people. Making friends is an important part of this so talking to people is something you'll do a lot of. The more you interact with Landroll's inhabitants the better your friendships will become, and ultimately you'll need a lot of friends in order to save the world so be friendly and do a good job!
Opoona resembles a children's story in tone and execution. The human characters are represented with distinctive physical characteristics like large noses or crazy hair and everything is overlaid with a subtle cell-shaded look. There are some unique characters like Serge the concierge, or Goldy, the head of the Landroll Rangers, but unfortunately model re-use is common and you'll often find yourself chatting up someone thinking it's a character you've met before only to have it turn out to be some generic person that happens to look like their twin. Opoona and the other Tizians look like they were designed by Fisher-Price and have faces that appear to be drawn on their smooth, round heads with markers. Despite the simple design they're quite expressive and Opoona's reactions are a delight to behold, wonderfully conveying his openness and innocence. The domes largely consist of rooms connected by bland corridors, but each dome is given plenty of personality to set it apart from the others with large indoor and outdoor areas for parks, fields and water features. There's a lot of sculpture and art installations to view, many of which are animated. These and other details abound which bring the domes to life and make the world real.
Being a Landroll Ranger often involves roaming outside the domes to fight rogues. Unlike the dome interiors where you can move the camera about as you please, outside the domes you're limited to a simple up/down tilt and mostly follow a fixed path littered with random rogue battles and treasure boxes that contain special items or matia. It's a bit of a shame as many of the areas outside the domes are as nicely detailed as the interiors with lava and water effects on display. Throughout the game Hitoshi Sakamoto's excellent soundtrack is there to motivate and entertain you (regrettably this has not been released separately on CD); marking another excellent effort from the composer of other well-regarded game soundtracks such as Gradius V and Final Fantasy XII.
Random encounters with rogues serve to increase Opoona's level to the point where he can go toe to toe with the next level of enemies and bosses. Though the battles aren't terribly lengthy, having a random encounter literally every 2-4 seconds can get tiresome; especially after 10+ hours of play! Thankfully there is an item you can purchase to avoid them for a limited time and the battles themselves are interesting due to Opoona's rather novel control system. You can choose to play using the Classic Controller or the Remote and Nunchuk, but the game works very well using the Nunchuk alone -- an unusual choice, but one recommended in the manual and referenced throughout the game as the default control method. No motions are used at all, and since Opoona doesn't do any jumping the controls are fairly basic: when roaming use the alone to move Opoona, press and hold to change the camera angle with the , press to speak to people or interact with objects, press and hold and to reset the camera behind Opoona and press to bring up the OMP.
The OMP is the game's in-game inventory system: conceptually a PDA which not only has your stats, but contains all your equipment, lists your jobs (and licenses required to perform them), allows you to buy certain items and contains "TV programmes" which tell stories that expose you to more Landrollian culture (programmes change from dome to dome). Whilst the OMP acts as your hub and in-game menu, it doesn't allow you to save progress: for that you need to activate one of the pink save terminals that litter the game like parking meters.
Battles work much like a realtime version of those found in old turn-based RPGs: there's no running or jumping action, but you do need to use items and carry out attacks against enemies that will be attacking you at the same time. Being a Tizian, Opoona's primary weapon is the Energy Bonbon: a sphere which is constantly floating above his head. Attacking is via the : holding it in various directions charges the Bonbon with energy from a reserve and controls the direction it travels in after you release the to launch it at the currently targeted enemy. Every launch requires waiting for your energy to recharge to full capacity before you can take another action so there's a trade-off between using only a small amount of energy; therefore allowing more frequent, but slower, less-powerful attacks and using more energy for a less-frequent, but more powerful and faster attack. Pressing and using the allows you to change targets between attacks; if you're charging up your Bonbon and need to swap targets you can press to toggle through them. Pressing between attacks brings up a menu where you can choose to use items (only items that you've moved into your "pocket" via the OMP prior to battle are available for use), change your Bonbon add-ons (upgrades to enhance offensive or defensive capabilities that are purchased or acquired through various means in the course of the game) or use "Force Powers" -- magic abilities that have offensive or defensive properties.
Early in the game battles aren't too tough and you'll only face a few enemies at a time, but later on it can get quite frantic with multiple enemies attacking you at once. You only have two minutes to complete any given battle (otherwise you run out of energy and collapse) so there is some strategy involved in determining which enemies to take down first and via what means. If you fail and are defeated by rogues you'll awaken near the closest save station restored to minimal health with the explanation that you've been rescued by sages -- they'll also deduct some matia for the favour. Whilst it's nice not to have to restore from a previous save, having to trek through underground caves and numerous random encounters to get back to a boss fight can be slightly annoying after the 3rd or 4th attempt!
If you don't enjoy the battle system you're going to have a big problem because it features heavily in the game even when you're not outside patrolling. Healing the sick or fixing computer bugs involves fighting "virtual rogues" which are synthesised by sages (mystics and healers on Landroll and Tizia) or computer systems to represent human or computer maladies. This conceit seems a bit lazy; even moreso when you go fishing and find yourself using the same battle system to "catch" fish -- only your fishing rod has a Bonbon! There are plenty of jobs which don't involve the battle system though many of these involve collecting things by touching them and pressing . Thankfully very few of these activities are so challenging they drag the game down overmuch and there's more to the game than fighting and doing chores!
Exploration is something you'll need to enjoy if you're going to get the most out of Opoona as you can expect to do quite a bit of roaming as you try to learn your way around the domes. Whilst your OMP does contain a GPS, it only shows you a map and your location; without a legend to indicate what the map is actually showing it's not terribly useful. There are usually signs to indicate general areas, but the game doesn't hold your hand with any on-screen indicator of where you should go. You'll need to have a good memory and learn your way around or take notes along the way when you're told where to report for your next assignment. Don't forget that the OMP will show you information about your current jobs and remember to talk to friends who can lead you to new people and places which will advance the story. It's not too demanding, but this definitely isn't a game you can put down for an extended period of time and expect to be able to pick up again easily!
Opoona should appeal to a broad range of ages with its unique visuals and heartfelt story. Whilst there is a bit of repetition in the battle system the game world and its characters are endearing enough that anyone looking for a good story-based game to play would be advised to give it a look.
Note: This review only describes a portion of the game story to avoid spoilers for those who haven't played it yet. We hope our readers will respect this when making comments below.