Operencia: the Stolen Sun
Developed By: Zen Studios
Published By: Zen Studios
Category: Adventure, Dungeon Crawler, Role-Playing
Release Date: 03.31.20
As much as I love RPGs – with a particular soft-spot for dungeon-crawling looters – I have something of a blind spot in my experiences with the genre when it comes to first-person dungeon crawlers. I’ve played a few of the older Shin Megami Tensei games and a few recent releases that follow that subgenre, but when it comes to most of the classic series like Wizardry or Might and Magic I don’t have much of a frame of reference. Operencia: The Stolen Sun for the Nintendo Switch is Zen Studios’ recent take on the genre, and the best argument I’ve yet seen for giving it a try.
Not That Attila
Years ago, the great King Attila and his wife Reka defeated the three-headed dragon and supposedly sealed off the Underworld, preventing the demons from committing their invasions. Well. We all know how that usually works out, don’t we? Some time after Attila’s death, a farmer begins to have visions of a white stag going on a journey of destiny. Eventually, he submits to his visions and sends his child on the journey from his dreams; you are that child. After meeting the charming thief Joska in his first dungeon, the duo emerge into a changed Operencia; some demons apparently showed up and stole the friggin’ sun. Together with Joska and an ever-expanding cast of champions, the simple farmer’s kid embarks on a grand quest to find Attila’s fabled sword and put the sun back in the sky.
Right from the get-go, I was drawn in by Operencia’s great cast of characters. The game starts with a short prologue featuring Attila and Reka before transitioning to the player character, and I was charmed by their natural repartee and relatable relationship dynamic. Once things picked up with the player meeting Joska, I was again struck by the naturally clever, organic way the characters interacted with each other. While the whole “destined quest to save the world” angle isn’t exactly original, the witty, well-written characters are perfectly sufficient to ensure player investment throughout the experience.
The story and characters are all well and good, but if the game sucks they don’t mean much, right? Well, there’s more good news; it’s actually really fun, too! The game world is a series of tile-based maps about which the player moves their party as a unit. It’s a pretty common system in the subgenre, but it does have one twist that I can see; while movement is tile-based, your field of vision is 360 degrees. This is something of a double-edged sword; it works well in narrow dungeons with small hallways, but it just doesn’t feel natural anytime you’re in an open space. You can be looking one way and hit forward, but move sideways instead. It was very jarring. I never got used to it in the open world; I always had to use the minimap to orient myself and move with that instead of with the game screen. I did enjoy being able to see in a wide arc; the game’s environments are well-worth appreciating for their nice design, but it made for an uneven movement experience in practice.
Tools of the Trade
Like most RPGs, you can’t just move around the dungeon all willy-nilly; there are puzzles, locked doors, and hidden passages to discover that you need to find or solve in order to move forward. Sometimes getting past an obstacle is as simple as finding a key, sometimes it’s just hitting a switch somewhere. There are also some tools and magic artifacts to acquire that allow players to manipulate the terrain, like a shovel for digging or a magical griffin feather that lets you move heavy weights around. The puzzles range in difficulty from blindingly obvious to “WHAT AM I EVEN LOOKING AT AND WHY WOULD THEY THINK A HUMAN BRAIN CAN DECODE THIS S#&T?” so I hope you like puzzles. It’s been out for a couple months, so there are walkthroughs when I need them. I mean if you need them. I am a genius and got everything immediately.
Everybody Was Turn-Based Fighting
Roaming the game’s dungeons are mobs of fiends, ranging from skeletons and giant bugs to demons and bigger demons. If you come into contact with an enemy, battle starts. If you can walk into an enemy from behind, you execute a sneak attack and all your party members get to act first. If an enemy sneaks up on you, though, they get to go first. Don’t let that happen. Combat follows a fairly standard turn-based setup; every character gets an action once per turn, and turn order is determined by each participant’s initiative. Your characters all have a basic melee, ranged, or guard move that power up based on your equipment. In addition, every character has skills that can be used as long as they’re not in cooldown and you have enough skill points. So, like I said, the mechanics are pretty standard. Most importantly, however, is that it’s well-balanced to be challenging but not cheap; I got plenty of game overs against tough opponents, but I always felt like I lost due to an inefficient strategy, and not because the game was just piling BS on top of BS.
Operencia Goes to Camp
Monsters, treasure, and puzzles aren’t the only things scattered about the game’s dungeons; there are also campsites spread out pretty evenly through each level. From the jump, you can use the camp to rest and heal your characters – as long as you have some firewood. You eventually unlock the ability to use a magical shop, fast travel between previous and current dungeons, change your party composition, and use a cauldron to craft potions when you find a recipe. Potions are super-useful and restore automatically every time you rest; the only drawback is that they all have pretty limited uses. Many can only be used once per rest. The shop is fine and all, but I’ve yet to find a single item in the store that is better than any of the weapons I found in chests, so I found it a bit meaningless except for the few times firewood has been available for purchase.
I’m going to vent on a small problem that happens to hit one of my pet peeves in RPGs, so skip ahead to the next heading if you don’t feel like hearing me whine. I don’t like that you have to change characters at camp; there are plenty of fires scattered around so it’s not a big problem, but the characters who aren’t in the active party are in cutscenes, so why can’t they join the fight outside of camp? I know sometimes you have to ignore logic to make a challenging game, but sometimes the rules just make too little sense from a logic standpoint and make the game frustrating or tedious without adding anything of value to the challenge, and this is one of those examples.
The Sun’s Still Shining on These Graphics
While Operencia doesn’t boast visuals that can compete with the absolute top of the line modern graphics, they are very nice. The environments are crisply detailed and well–designed, and I really liked the art style of the character portraits used for dialogue and custscenes. Overall, the visual design reminded me of a personal favorite RPG series, Fable, and things just generally looked really good. There is some loss of quality if you play undocked, but it’s not game-ruining. I also had some problems with the game encountering errors and crashing while playing undocked, so be aware of that as well. Maybe being undocked had nothing to do with it, but it crashed twice undocked and never while docked, so at least for me there was some correlation.
The music is fine; everything is very fantasy-inspired, bordering on somewhat generic, but it always complements the game well. The game does feature fully voiced dialogue in its many cutscenes, and even in random inter-party banter. The quality of the voice work can be uneven, unfortunately. Character banter is almost always natural and witty, but a lot of the exposition or post-battle comments feel trite, uninspired, or just generally suffer from flat delivery. Still, like I said earlier, the interplay between the characters is the highlight of the game’s narrative portions, and the voice cast does their share of the work in accomplishing that.
I’ll See Ya in Operencia
Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a testament to the power of great execution. It doesn’t necessarily have any original ideas; the combat system, exploration mechanics, and storyline are all fairly standard for the genre. But the battles are balanced and challenging, exploration rewards players with treasure and well-rendered visuals, and the writing emphasizes the story’s relatable characters with witty dialogue and instills genuine affection for the cast. I had a few nitpicks about the way the movement system interacted with the camera and an even nittier pick about party management, but those are small potatoes compared to the rest of the package. Whether you’re already a fan of first-person dungeon crawlers or if you’re in any way interested in them, Operencia: The Stolen Sun is highly recommended as a great example of what the genre has to offer.
Buy Operencia: the Stolen Sun
Digital – $29.99
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.