Sunday, 21 September 2008

Opoona - Wii

Given the global success of the Wii, it's somewhat surprising there is a lack of decent RPGs available for the system. So when a new title comes along, I always like to take a closer look.

The latest game to appear on the system is Opoona, and while it's not without its problems, it proves to be a charming little RPG. It's refreshing to see developer ArtePiazza and publisher Koei taking a chance on the title and releasing it in the UK, so good on them.

Opoona and his family are on holiday when their spacecraft is attacked. Opoona's parents bundle you, your brother and your sister into escape pods, which are jettisoned into space, eventually landing on the planet Landroll.

Landroll initially seems an idyllic place. The planet's inhabitants live in huge closed off domes which are scattered across the surface. However, after waking up following his crash landing, Opoona discovers that a menace called the Rogues roam the wild lands between the domes. He then sets out to discover what happened to his family and take on the Rogues that threaten peace on the planet.

You control every action in the game using just the Wii's nunchuk. The larger 'Z' button accesses the menu screens, while the smaller 'C' button is used to interact with other people and objects. To scan your surroundings while indoors, you hold 'C' and rotate the analogue stick.

Combat is somewhat unusual, too. Opoona has an orange ball above his head called a Bonbon and he uses this to attack his enemies. Moving the analogue stick back then flicking it forward fires the Bonbon at the enemy. Some strategy is required to dispatch enemies with shields or those who hide behind others by moving the stick left or right before firing it. This adds spin to the Bonbon, allowing you to curve the projectile around objects to reach its desired target.

While battles are random, this unusual control method keeps them ticking along and it's refreshing to see something different.

While roaming the wild lands and taking on the evil Rogues takes up a significant chunk of the game, Opoona will also find himself taking on a variety of jobs - serving in a fast-food restaurant, taking dogs for walks, working in a clothes shop, cleaning up rubbish, fishing, mining and playing musical instruments are just some of the things Opoona will find himself doing as the story unfolds.

While the majority of these jobs are nothing more than fetch quests, they provide a nice change of pace in the game, and it's fun to explore the different domes, taking in the sights and sounds as you go about your business.

While the Wii is not known for its graphical punch, there are some lovely moments in Opoona. Lead artist Shintaro Majima has previously worked on the Dragon Quest games and some of the scenery is beautiful. The lighting effects in the Artiela region deserve particular mention, with the sunset bathing the entire area in beautiful warm colours. The blue-black skies of Paradiso, complete with rays of sun piercing through the clouds, while a flock of birds fly across the horizon is another particularly lovely sight.

There will be times when you stop in your tracks just to spin the camera around to gaze at your surroundings. The team at ArtePiazza have done a fantastic job in making the world a joy to explore. You never know what's around the next corner and the game throws visual surprises at you at every turn.

You'll wander through gardens filled with waterfalls and artistic sculptures, you'll come out of a lift to be confronted by a massive satellite dish, beaming TV signals to the stars, you'll open a small door only to find yourself in a sizeable concert hall and you'll find museums peppered throughout the domes, each one displaying fantastic and original exhibits. My favourite is the sculpture entitled 'Eternal Ice Cream' in the museum on Artiela. There's definitely more to Opoona than initially meets the eye.

Opoona's soundtrack was composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto - best known for his work on Final Fantasy XII - and is one of the best I've heard for some time. It features various styles, from laid-back electronica and folk themes, to jazz fusion and upbeat summery pop. Coupled with the game's distinctive look, the atmosphere the soundtrack creates is simply wonderful, bringing to mind the Dreamcast classic Phantasy Star Online.

A few niggles slightly sour the experience, though. First is the inability to change the camera angle when you're out in the wilderness. This means you'll be hard-pressed to find treasure pods scattered about the locales which can be annoying.

My second gripe is the confusing layout of the first dome. It's needlessly complicated and you'll spend a while trying to learn where everything is. Also be warned, there is a fair amount of backtracking involved, which can begin to grate after a few hours.

However, if you are willing to overlook these slight annoyances, you'll find a lot to like about Opoona.

It's the sort of game the Wii desperately needs and it's a pity it will probably sink at retail without a trace. With a push in the right direction and a little TV advertising, Opoona could be a success. It's a great family game and for younger gamers who may not have experienced the RPG genre before, this is a great place to start.

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