Maybe all this life/death stuff is just a whole lot of hooplah. Look at Raiko. As the top warrior of a "cursed" clan, he sold farms to his fair share of people. So one can understand how he might be philosophic when he got his own head handed to him. Yet no sooner does he die that he's alive, again, thanks to the magic of some princess who wants him to use his skills to save the world from an ancient evil that has just escaped from its seal. Thus begins Otogi: Myth of Demons, an action RPG based on Japanese mythology.
If the previewer's kid asked, "Daddy, what's an RPG?" Otogi wouldn't be the first title Daddy would show him. From the top down, the gameplay is much more typical of a 3D hack 'n slasher. Regardless, Raiko does undergo an increase of his abilities throughout the game, as he recovers the power that left him after his trauma. As he slashes his way through multitudes of enemies, he earns currency, and if he slashes through them well and gets a high end-of-level rating, he earns a bonus. This currency can augment Raiko in a number of ways. The player can purchase improved weapons, accessories, and spells, but must take care, for even expert samurais have a limit to the weight of their equipment.
All this talk of numbers calls for some numerical facts. Otogi offers:
- 10 accessories/items, which are restricted by their weight;
- 30 weapons, and since their usefulness weans over time, the player will have to make use of at least several;
- 15 hours of gameplay;
- 12 magic varieties - four elements (purple lightning, green lightning, ice and fire) and three power levels for each;
- 25 levels/stages/incremental game divisions, many but not all of which have bosses. Some feature puzzles, and all show quality design.
It is the interactivity, or rather the destructibility, of these levels that From seems to be most proud of. Basically, everything that isn't the ground can be chopped up and blown apart. While this undoubtedly means tons of fun for the player, it remains to be seen just how practical this device is to the overall gameplay.
The game controls like a charm. Raiko can lock on to nearby enemies with the left trigger, and the right trigger causes him to perform Otogi's (MP consuming) piece de resistance, the aerial dash. Hitting the A button causes him to jump, and hitting the A button twice causes him to double jump. The rest of the buttons are for attacking. This layout allows for great ease in performing combos, and great expediency in wasting opponents. Killing foes with decent speed is necessary for survival in Otogi, perhaps even more so than common prudence. This is because Raiko's magic meter drops automatically, just as his life meter rises when he isn't taking damage. Once his magic falls to zero, however, his life quickly deteriorates. He needs the power-ups that enemies drop to stay on his feet. Of course, spell casting makes for an even riskier situation.
Otogi is one of the games being touted as an example of the Xbox's graphical excellence, but its stunning visuals are as much a result of careful development as they are of quality hardware. Whilst many Xbox games present gamers with unnecessary showiness, Otogi visuals give off a more down-to-earth feel, which is actually befitting the game's creepy atmosphere and historical (in the same way that King Arthur is "historical") setting. Nonetheless, the game is top caliber technically, as the appearance of the sinister character and creature designs testify. The only debate in regards to the graphics has to do with the camera: some find it problematic, others sing its joys.
Sound plays a crucial role in setting the mood, as well. Traditional Japanese music, with the occasional techno beat thrown in, makes up most of the Dolby-compatible soundtrack. The sound effects also pitch in their support, and the sword slashes hit that gamer-friendly middle ground between realism and splatter. The result is quite effective. The English voice acting may not be up to everyone's standards, but the original Japanese vocals remain an option.
Although it's not the classical RPG that the Xbox has been missing, Otogi: Myth of Demons may become a classic in its own right.