Ever since the passing of SNES, Nintendo consoles have proven to be painfully slow starters when it comes to RPGs. The first full year of GameCube, for example, was a bare one in this respect, with nary more than a few mediocre titles to sate the hardcore faithful. Over a year after launch, GameCube owners finally got something substantial with the release of Skies of Arcadia Legends, a charming epic that shined despite dated presentation values and some annoying gameplay conventions.
The Wiiís first year has been scarcely better than GameCubeís; other than Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (which is a strategy RPG) and Super Paper Mario (which is barely an RPG at all), Wiiís library in the genre has been a pretty disappointing lot. This time around, we have Opoona, a charming but flawed epic arriving a little over a year after launch. The question is, does Opoona do for Wii what Arcadia did for GameCube? Not entirely, but for the serious RPGer looking for a fix until Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World arrives, Opoona is a solid option.
Although Opoona is a ground-up Wii-exclusive title, the graphics donít push the technical envelope. Backgrounds are mid-gen GameCube, character models are about the same, and most of the combat effects are understated. Even the larger attack effects are something less than awe inspiring, although they do the job.
More effective is the gameís art style. Not only are the gameís major characters well-conceived and memorable, but the world they inhabit exhibits a nuanced sense of style. One of the finest touches in this regard are the dozens of art pieces spread throughout the game, representing everything from canvas to geometric structure. Opoona isnít a texture powerhouse, but does have a solid aesthetic appeal.
Opoonaís music is absolutely superb. The score was composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, whose credits include Radiant Silvergun and Final Fantasy XII. The game mixes and matches among electronica and classical lines, which fit quite well in the gameís science-fiction setting. Oboe-dominated dome tracks, string-led field themes and an absolutely haunting final dungeon score are among the pieces that make this soundtrack one of Wiiís most memorable. The linchpin of any RPG, the main battle themes, are beautifully chaotic and hold up well throughout the game.
Less impressive, but still adequate, are the gameís sound effects, which work particularly well in combat. The bonbon sound, in particular, is unique and memorable. There is no voicework, although the localization is troubled enough that it might be for the best.
Opoona offers a decent length for the genre. A minimalist might finish the game in 20 hours or so, but most players will get about 30-35 hours out of the game. The game does allow, under the right circumstances, for players to continue the adventure after the credits roll, so completionists out there can still come back and finish everything the game has to offer.
The gameís plot is passable, but hardly Oscar-caliber; the main storyline is fairly minimal, from the underdeveloped opening sequence to the no-frills endgame. The tale involves a young boy named Opoona who is marooned on a planet after his ship is shot down. His quest takes him into the fabric of the planetís society, even as he seeks to reunite himself with his brother Capoona and his sister Poleena. It's all cute and even a bit endearing, but none of it is particularly deep.
The real sell of Opoona, instead, lies in its wholly original gameplay. The core of the game is a turn-based RPG, but there is also a myriad of other elements woven in. The most notable of these is a job system. While Opoonaís default job is a ranger (a warrior class), the game also allows the player to take on such disparate roles as hotel attendant, fisherman, and even media star. Some of the jobs, such as that of "rogue observer," merely run parallel to the gameís course. Others are separate ventures entirely; the job of a store clerk, for example, requires Opoona to correctly assemble orders for customers using items that Opoona himself can actually purchase for use in the field. Not all the jobs work as well as they could, but most of them work well enough to add variety. Jobs that run parallel to combat, such as rock farming, add a little incentive to dungeon crawling, while non-combat jobs provide a nice respite from the random-battle grind.
The game is replete with other things to do, including a friend system, art profile collection and rogue profile collection. What makes all of these extras work is that they are actually meaningful to the main game. Making new friends, for example, opens new jobs and advances the plot, while many of the collections can yield monetary payouts or even improve character abilities. This interconnection within the gameís varied gameplay elements -- player statistics, combat, the friend system, the job system, collections, etc. -- makes each of them seem useful rather than superfluous, giving the player ample incentive to do as much as possible.
Opoona supports three different control configurations which can be swapped without changing any in-game settings. The most-touted control scheme is the nunchuck-only configuration; all of the gameplay can be handled using the C button, Z button, and analog stick. Alternately, gamers can use the Wii remote in tandem with the nunchuck, or go an altogether different route with the classic controller. GameCube control is, sadly, not supported.
Of all the control schemes, the Wii remote / nunchuck is the easiest option to use, as it maps the camera to the d-pad and adds some functionality to the + and - buttons. The nunchuck-only control scheme requires a little more menu surfing, although it is perfectly serviceable and is actually quite handy for gamers who like to pair other activities with their gaming sessions. (We playtested Opoona with eating, baby-cradling and writing, and found the game to be well-suited to the task.)
While there is no motion or IR used in the game, the combat still manages to take a unique approach to control. Each of the playable characters uses a "bonbon," which is essentially a large ball. By pulling on the analog stick, the ball is charged until the analog stick is returned to the center position. Pulling the stick in different directions results in different types of attacks: holding to the right effects a curveball, for example, while pushing the analog stick forward results in an underhand throw.
Combat proves to be a deep affair. Throwing a curveball can dodge a bomb or (with the right power-ups) wipe out an entire row of enemies, while a well-timed underhand throw can interrupt an enemy attack. Opoona also obliges with a staple of special attacks, including attack and healing spells that draw on force points. Mix into that the ability to add special equipment to player bonbons, and you have a satisfying combat system.
Donít let the gameís cartoonish appearances fool you -- Opoonaís combat is not for novices. The best way to describe the game is that it has a hardcore level of difficulty and a forgiving death penalty. With challenging enemies, a two-minute time limit and real-time combat that doesnít even stop for menus, even a seasoned RPGer will find themselves staring at a failure screen a few times. The game compensates for all of this by allowing killed players to return to their last save point with all their items and experience intact; the only death penalty is a small fee for being rescued from the field. Itís nice to know that an hour of dungeon-crawling need not be wiped out by one bad fight; it is also nice to know that ArtePiazza did this while refusing to sacrifice a high level of combat difficulty. Our one minor quibble is that the gameís final boss sequence is a lot more bark than bite, especially for players who have been doing any extra leveling. Still, the game succeeds in creating a largely old-school level of difficulty for most of the course.
There are a couple of significant shortcomings in the game that need to be mentioned. The most unfortunate, perhaps, is the writing. The English localization is sloppy, sporting a lack of polish that would even make Ted Woolsey cringe. There are noticeable errors in grammar, punctuation, mechanics and capitalization throughout, and while most of the mistakes are a rough edge rather than a problem, that is not true in all cases. For instance, the game has a decent plot, but some of the points are a little hard to follow because of the phrasing. A second instance where this is a problem occurs in some of the dialogue questions, which are so poorly translated that the player has to choose the wrong answer to get the desired outcome. Less of an issue but still notable, some of the directions to a location or instructions on a quest are so nebulous that they are more or less useless. While this may owe to the fact that publisher Koei is unaccustomed to such word-heavy games, it is nevertheless unfortunate that the game did not allot an extra month of time to Q&A the translation.
A few other shortcomings mar the experience. The game uses random battles, a convention that should have seen its demise fifteen years ago. The indoor camera can be rotated but can be a hassle in cramped spaces. The outdoor camera is fixed, making treasure-hunting in the field a trial-and-error affair. The gameís auto-map is low on detail and not very useful. The gameís indoor domes can be labyrinthine, although Opoona compensates somewhat with symbol-coded markings pointing to important areas.
As a bona fide turn-based RPG, Opoona fills a large gap in the Wii library, but itís not a seamless fit. The plot is a little underdeveloped, the presence of random battles is archaic, and the camera system has some troubles. Most damaging is the poor localization, a flaw that is intrusive enough that it knocks this game down a point in terms of its final score.
In spite of its shortcomings, though, Opoona still manages to do a lot of things well. The game avoids the derivative pitfalls of other games and their spiky-haired 17 year-old protagonists, instead serving up a premise that is refreshingly different. The gameplay is lengthy and is nicely varied, thanks to a robust job system. The musical score is magnificent. The gameís controls donít use motion but are nevertheless well-conceived. Most importantly, the combat system -- the staple of any RPG -- is deep and challenging without being aggravating. This is a game designed with the hardcore player in mind, a refreshing change of pace among Wiiís casual-centric library.
As a whole, there is much more good about Opoona than bad, and it is one of the more ingenious additions to Wiiís catalog of games. Itís a charming and memorable title that is, in the end, a lot of fun to play. Casual RPGers may or may not latch onto this one, but longtime fans of the genre will should pick up Opoona without hesitation. Hopefully, Koei isnít done with this solid franchise.