It can be said that a country’s myths and legends are one part of its cultural attraction, and some of the best tales come from Japan. Face it folks, we get stuck with Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed and George Washington’s wooden teeth (made from that cherry tree he chopped down, I bet), while they get all those cool ghosts, demons, and warrior heroes. Hundreds of great books, films and even games have been based on popular Japanese legends but not so many of these works make it stateside. And I doubt that a US developed Johnny Appleseed game would go over big on any side of the ocean. Fortunately for Xbox owners, Sega has given us Otogi: Myth of Demons, and it’s one of the best games on the system to date.
At first glance, the game looks like a cross between last year’s PS2 Shinobi remake and Gun Valkyrie, and you’d think that it’s another solid Sega created title. But Otogi is a From Software creation through and through. Yep, the folks who brought you games like King’s Field, Armored Core, and The Adventures of Cookie and Cream have crafted a definitely different masterpiece with amazing visuals and fluid control. Everything clicks throughout the game’s 29 stages, and despite the gameplay being fairly straightforward, there’s a great amount of depth to be found.
Playing as the undead swordsman Raikoh, you’re tasked with “cleansing” the land of a wild assortment of demons while freeing a number of hidden spirits. That’s pretty much it as far as the plot goes, and the Otogi doesn’t need a ton of back story or boob-shaking sidekick eye candy to hook you. Some truly impressive levels and the bizarre enemies you’ll face off against also help draw you into the game world, and the stunning overall presentation is what keeps you playing.
Raikoh starts out with a basic sword and no magic or accessories, and similar to any console RPG, you earn experience and gold as you “purify” enemies. You can purchase new equipment and repair damaged weapons between stages, and areas can be replayed in order to acquire more gold and experience. Raikoh controls effortlessly, and can take to the air, pulling off combo attacks to keep afloat or dispatch monsters as he glides downward.
Using the combo moves successfully is a definite must, as some new weapons can only be had after you pull of a multi-hundred hit attack. Other bonuses open up when certain objectives are met, but you’ll have to play the game for yourself to discover them. Raikoh can also use some very powerful magic as he goes through the game, and some spells are well hidden, while others turn up in the shop as the game progresses.
The game uses the Xbox Hard Drive to store level data, so you can go back and replay stages with all the damage you’ve already done or as they were initially presented. It’s not a gimmick as some trapped spirits are well hidden inside walls, trees, statues and the like. You can’t actually waste your sweet time dallying through the stages looking for secrets. Raikoh’s life force will dwindle and he will die if he doesn’t constantly clear enemies, so things do get a little hectic from time to time. Some stages last a paltry minute and a half or so and some go on for a while, but you’ll always find yourself battling against an invisible clock as well as the many monsters in the game.
As I said earlier, Otogi’s presentation is truly something else. The level designs and characters are diverse, deadly, and dreamlike, and every weapons hit or magic spell causes some beautiful special effect to appear onscreen. From has put together one of the best-looking Xbox games to date, and despite some minor (VERY minor) clipping in spots, everything looks rock solid. The amount of damage you do in each level is quite something to see- this sort of thing definitely can’t be done on the PS2 (at least not until that systems’ HDD comes out next year). The game really feels as if you’re running around in some sort of waking nightmare full of bizarre creatures and occasionally dizzying heights.
The fantastic sound effects and haunting score also deserve special mention. Raikoh is silent throughout Otogi, but the Japanese and English voice actors for the supporting characters in the game are dead on perfect. Well, except for the one early boss whose constant scream of “NONE SHALL PASS!!!” will get on your nerves no matter which language it’s played in. Beat his stage, and Hard Drive or not, it’ll be one you’ll not want to return to anytime soon for extra loot or bonuses. The music in Otogi is splendid and eerie, full of traditional Japanese instruments. Crank up your TV or home theater if you have one, and the pounding drums, creepy flutes and string instruments will seep into your bones.
The minor complaints I had with Otogi were with the somewhat slow to catch up camera, and the overall sameness to the action. But you can automatically tap the camera behind Raikoh with the control sticks, and on second thought, I actually prefer the camera here than the clunky camera systems that foul up games like Devil May Cry and the like. As for the repetition, the game does such a great job of immersing you in its fantastic world that the action doesn’t seem mindless at all. Every new sight and sound here makes for a new thrill each time you play.
Based on what I’ve seen and read elsewhere, From is readying a sequel for Japanese gamers by the end of the year. Definitely do yourself (and Sega) a favor: pick up Otogi and help make sure Japan doesn’t keep the sequel all to themselves. As for that Johnny Appleseed game, if it ever comes out…you’ll probably want to pass on it.
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