When a quirky title comes along, one that I think most people won’t hear about or will more than likely ignore, I tend to jump on it. So far, I’ve gotten lucky (Portal and Steambot Chronicles, I’m looking at you). Whether or not Opoona, a quintessentially quirky RPG from Arte Piazza for the Nintendo Wii, can go beyond its mere charm remains to be seen.
Opoona is a unique game, and its battle system and interface expertly show it. It has all the trappings of a traditional RPG battle system: turns, stats, magic, items, equipment. In battle, though, things aren’t so cut and dry. Enemies take turns attacking you at all times, and you can attack at any time as well, so long as you have the energy for it. You, as a Tizian, possess a sphere hovering over your head called an Energy Bonbon, full of energy that is used to fling it at enemies. Your energy meter is a box depicting how much power goes into a hit. The more power, the longer the recharge time to 100% before the next possible attack. Spells, called Force, use points called Force Points, or FP, as well as Energy from the “box”. This can lead to tactical battles where you must time the use of bonbon attacks, spells, and items, which can also use Energy, in order to minimize damage done to you and maximize damage output. Typically, some enemies fall to one or two weak hits, and other require more than one, so the player learns to recognize the weak enemies of the area and take them out first, to minimize the amount of damage done to Opoona and crew.
It’s really a frantic way of doing typically monotonous RPG battling, and never really gets that old, given that normal attacks can be aimed in four different ways depending on the direction you tilt the control stick, and that you have to take advantage of this in order to hit some enemies or find their weak spots. All this is done using only the Wii’s nunchuk accessory (attached to the Wiimote of course). The simplified interface really helps out. The stick moves menu choices and the crew on the overworld, the C button acts as select and as a way of switching enemies in battles, and Z opens the main menu and battle menus, as well as providing a quick target switch while charging the bonbon attacks. It works surprisingly well, though if the player doesn’t like it they can use the wiimote to take over camera control, menu selection, and the select/cancel buttons.
The only drawback to this frantic system is that it can sometimes be overwhelming. If you aren’t suitably prepared for some boss fights, you may walk in only to realize you’re dead already. Typically this can be remedied by that old standby of leveling for 30 minutes, but even then you have to be on your toes to take out the enemies as fast as possible. It would have been better if some of the boss fights weren’t a sudden difficulty spike, but overall it’s nothing the usual RPG player can’t handle. Additionally, while not related to combat, later in the game you may be tasked with completing sidequests you’d not expected to in order to progress. Sometimes the game doesn’t give you much of a clue as to where and what you need to do to complete a quest, or requires you to remember something from much earlier in the game. Generally it shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve been doing a few sidequests and making friends.
When it comes to the visuals, again the game’s unique style shines through. All characters are cel-shaded. While this isn’t anything new, everyone looks great in that style. Tizians, of which Opoona and his family are members, have to be the cutest aliens this side of tribbles. They’re basically made of geometric shapes, like balls, cones, and cylinders. All Tizians have an Energy Bonbon, and they usually make up the “hair” of a character, though in the case of Opoona’s brother Copoona, it’s actually his “legs”. The characters are so charming, as they walk and roll around, bonbons bobbing about. That the bonbons are lethal weapons is a side bonus. Similarly, the humans of Landroll take up many different shapes and sizes, from the long-faced farmer-types, to the straight and narrow businessmen and sages, to even the security personnel. While most body types are repeated in places, you still get a sense of each person in an area being unique in some fashion. Throw in a few exchange students from the planet Nikoniko, who look like a cross between a fruit roll-up and Gumby, and you’ve got quite the eclectic mix.
The enemies of the game have a wacky variety not seen since Earthbound: From strange “elephant” like creatures with multiple musical horns, to paper-thin figures (notably called papermen), to giant hippo-like things that jump and body slam your characters, to even robots that transform and puddles of goo. But wait, act now and you’ll get several lush environments, all suited to a particular area. There’s the bustling metropolis Tokione, with its rustic forest area outside; the earthy Lifeborn, with its mountainous region complete with mine; the artsy Artelia, home of Landroll’s artisans, artastic museums, and TV station; even the majestic Sanctuary dome that gives off an aura of peace and tranquility. No area ever feels repeated, and the interiors of the domed cities are all fairly well laid out, with architectural design reminiscent of some of Monolithsoft’s sci-fi works.
Amazingly, it doesn’t stop there. Opoona‘s score was created by the venerable Hitoshi Sakimoto. It’s a mix of various styles, from orchestral to smooth techno to jazz. The main battle theme is actually a remix of “Sabredance,” and amazingly fits with the game’s style and the frantic nature of the battle system. As with the visuals, the music is almost never dull, always lively and fitting the nature of the area it’s played in. Sadly, as nothing is perfect, some songs tend to grate on you after a while, but thankfully this is a rare occasion, as most of the time you aren’t in an area long enough for that to occur. Though the developers seemed to have drawn from the international CD of generic sci-fi sound effects, they are well integrated into the game. The sound of the bonbon charging, the elevators, even the hum of the hoverboard as you zip along a hill match well with the game’s style.
The story of Opoona and his family is a somewhat tragic one. While on a vacation to Landroll, their ship is shot down over the planet, and the children Opoona, Copoona, and Poleena are forced into escape pods along with the rest of the crew. Everyone survives, but the children are separated and the parents injured. In order to get back to them and try to help, Opoona is tasked with helping the citizens of Landroll, who seem to be a meritocracy based on the abilities and skills of each person contributing to the whole of the society. To this end, he is inducted into the Rangers: a group of dedicated defenders that protect the domed cities from the bands of monsters, called Rogues, that inhabit the planet’s wilderness. Along the way, Opoona can gain licenses to do other tasks such as fast food waiting, cleaning, even going so far as to become a star, or fish his way to glory. It all adds up to an amusing and fulfilling experience, where you always feel like you’re helping somebody besides yourself, and thus are you helped on your own task to find Opoona’s siblings and parents. It’s basically a glorified mask for a main quest and side quests, but it’s done well, and none of the side quests are without reward. That said, the phrase “expected twist” will likely ring true for most players regarding the main quest, which ends the game on more of a whimper than it should have.
While the story isn’t exactly anything to write home about, at least you could probably write home about it better than the localization team of Opoona. Everything else about the game screams charming little RPG, but the localization brings it down hard at times, with spelling errors, grammatical errors, and typos aplenty. See the title of this review for an example. There are many points in the game where you have to answer a question. Typically these are yes or no questions and aren’t that hard to figure out. However, in quite a few instances, the question isn’t clear, or worse yet, asks a question that necessitates more than a yes or no response. And yet, that’s all you get for responses: Yes and No. It’s mind-boggling how this got through its North American play-testing phase with these errors.
Even with the localization constantly beating you over the head with problems, the game just dumps a bucket of charm on you that makes you forget those problems and enjoy the game for what it was meant to be: A cute, fun, quirky little adventure. If only the translation had gotten a little more spit and polish before being released here, it would probably have gotten much more attention and than it currently does and wholeheartedly deserves. Dragon Quest veteran developers plus Sakimoto music equals a winning combination.