Okage: Shadow King - Retroview

"What shall we do next, slave?"
By: Paul Koehler

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 4
   Music & Sound 4
   Originality 6
   Story & Plot 6
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 3
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Easy
   Completion Time 15-25 Hours  

Don't all families engrave sigils in their basements?
Don't all families engrave sigils in their basements?
Okage: Shadow King

   It's no secret that some of the most creative artworks ever devised are made by people who are, to varying degrees, out of touch with reality. These creations are still fun to examine and play with, and at the very least make for interesting conversation pieces. One of these games is Okage: Shadow King, released in North America in October 2001. This oddball title didn't have much to compete with at the time because of the small amount of RPGs available for the PlayStation 2. There are noticeable strengths, particularly the wonderful localization job, quirky dialogue, and Tim Burton-esque character designs. All of this is over-shadowed (pun intended) by a cumbersome battle system and horrendous load times, not to mention a sub-standard interface. In this sense, Okage showcases the inherent weakness of early titles on the PS2.

   Most blatant of all the flaws is the game's load times. Both the original PlayStation and its successor have had to deal with longer-than-average load times for console systems, and Okage makes this wait a chore. This is very obvious when the party moves to another screen, as the previous screen will fade out for up to ten seconds while the next area loads. The charade gets old fast, as wait times are even a problem in the battle system.

   Battles begin by encountering enemies on the various maps, similar to enemy encounters in Chrono Trigger. Like that game, battles are waged in a semi-realtime environment. However, characters have the option of waiting a turn to combine their physical attacks with either on or both of the other party members. This doesn't apply to magical attacks, but all characters have a wide array of magical skills and abilities to use in combat that are gained by leveling up. Loading times are horrible here too, especially when it comes to using items or casting magic spells. Just healing a party member with a Big Nut opens up a separate window, adding about five unnecessary seconds to an already lengthy battle.

   This isn't to say that battles are a waste of time in Okage, as random encounters are a fairly simple but necessary way to progress through the game. Leveling in the game is fairly balanced, as the amount of experience that characters gain after a battle is based on a character's particular level. Managing any items or wealth gained during these battles isn't an easy task though. The interface, while useful, is slow and difficult to navigate, especially when it comes to equipping weapons and armor. Not that this happens often, as equipment and item hoarding is of secondary concern next to the game's story.

Waging battle with a parasol
Waging battle with a parasol

   "Strange" only begins to describe the oddness of Okage's plot. Its story centers on a young boy, Ari. Ari's father is an eccentric town official who comes upon a mysterious bottle in the middle of the night. Curious to unlock its secrets, he unwittingly unleashes Master Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV, known to everyone else as Stan. Stan immediately takes over Ari's shadow, as the two go on a quest to reclaim the demon's lost power. Most of the characters are oddballs, and deliberately so.

   What makes the story all the more charming is the wonderful localization job, especially in the dialogue of some of the characters. If there is one particular feature that redeems this title, it is the plot and the interaction of all the characters involved. The best part was that certain lines rhymed perfectly without losing any of their original meaning. Something like this could have been easily lost in a shoddy localization effort, but the team responsible for this effort should be applauded for not letting that happen.

   Such oddity is also depicted in the look of Okage as characters look as if they could have come from Tim Burton's film The Night before Christmas. With extremely thin limbs and grotesque faces, every character has a ridiculous appearance that only defends their even stranger antics. As appealing as this art style is, the aforementioned load times gain much more attention in the long run.

   Not helping this is the game's music and sounds, which are an average effort at best. Voice acting is only done by the narrator, who will chime in at opportune moments to help move along the story. Other than that, the soundtrack itself is rather bland, with the possible exception of some of the boss themes and a dungeon track involving lots of chanting.

Master Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV
Master Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV

   Is Okage worth replaying a second or third time? Probably not. Stan and company are responsible for some of the best intentionally funny dialogue in RPGs for some time, but that aspect by itself isn't worth another replay. It's the horrible load-times that overshadow (that's a second one) any redeeming traits of this game.

   Even with these flaws, Okage can be easily beaten in less than 25 hours. Due to the game's balanced level system and frequent save points, it's also very easy to finish. All of the characters will be able to keep up with the action, and save for one particular boss fight; none of the major clashes will be too difficult. RPGamers will be too busy scratching their heads at the quirky dialogue.

   Okage: Shadow King is an oddity, and will remain one as long as it graces various bargain bins. This isn't to say that the title is a complete failure. On the contrary, compared to other first-generation PS2 RPGs, Okage was in a class of its own...for about two months. This game will most likely be remembered as the last grand experiment on the PlayStation 2 before other console titles made the RPG genre legitimate. Give it a rent if you're looking for some memorable quotes, but don't expect it to be much more than a conversation piece.

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