As PlayStation 2 development continues to mature and the system becomes more entrenched in the market, its software library continues to grow. Fortunately for gamers, the library's growth in size also includes an increase in diversity as well. While a quirky title like Okage: Shadow King stands out from games like Gran Turismo 3 and Twisted Metal Black, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Released earlier this year in Japan under the nom de guerre Boku to Maoh (or "The Demon and I"), the title followed the adventures of a young boy and a demon. Given the title's left-of-center tale, it looked as though it would join the likes of Vib Ribbon as "one that got away." But as luck would have it, SCEA picked up the game and will be releasing it in October, just in time for Halloween.
The game is now called Okage: Shadow King, and its story has been localized, giving us more insight into the adventures of a young man named Ari and a demon named Master Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV, or "Stan" for short. Ari and Stan are introduced during a séance held to save Ari's sister from a curse inflicted on her by ghosts. A bargain is struck to save Ari's sister wherein Stan will lift the curse on Ari's sister in exchange for Ari's help in restoring Stan's power. It seems that once upon a time Stan was quite the fearful monarch. Unfortunately he was trapped in a bottle, where other spirits fed on his power, leaving him a shadow of his former self. Freed from his glassy prison, Stan is eager to reclaim his strength and kick ghostly tail. Sadly a few centuries spent in a bottle will take the wind right out of you, and Stan is unable to travel under his own power, forcing him to inhabit Ari's shadow and travel with him. Thus begins an unlikely partnership and a slightly off-kilter adventure.
Given the story's emphasis on cooperation between Ari and Stan, it's no surprise that teamwork figures prominently in Okage's gameplay. The game's control scheme is basic and very much in line with most RPGs. You move Ari with the D-pad or right analog stick on the PS2 controller. The X button is the "action" button and serves a myriad of uses depending on the situation in the game. The square button is used to make Stan appear, while the triangle button cancels menu selection, and the triggers or right analog stick will rotate the camera. Combat is menu-driven and turn-based, allowing you to ponder your best course of action in a brawl. Weak as he is, Stan is a useful ally because he can attack enemies in a fight. You'll appreciate the support at the beginning of the game as you acclimatize yourself and try to raise Ari's level so that you can be more than a stick-wielding 10-pound weakling relying on a shadow for protection.
As in life real, Ari and Stan must find a way to relate to each other in order to work effectively as a team. Outside of the "touchy feely" aspect of teamwork the game encourages, it's best to get to know Stan quickly, as he can be more hindrance than help in a fight until you do. You'll have opportunities to engage Stan in conversation and answer questions from him, which all work to improve your relationship with him. The give-and-take between you and Stan makes for solid gameplay and some funny sequences over the course of the game. Battles are turn-based and fairly straightforward as RPGs go. In case you and Stan don't hit it off too well, you'll eventually gain some party members to help you out in a pinch.
The graphics in Okage are solid but not too ambitious in scope, so don't expect to be blown away. That said, the game's art style and design are extremely cool. The stylized look of the characters and environments fits the game's slightly loopy story and narrative to a tee. The game offers clean textures and extremely detailed environments. The early part of the game we played had us traipsing through fairly small environments, so it was nice to see effort put into making them look as good as they could.
So far Okage is shaping up to be an intriguing game that should offer gamers a change of pace from mainstream gaming fare. The localization could use some tweaking, although we imagine it's a bit difficult to truly capture the Japanese game's tone. Gamers looking for something slightly left of center should check it out when it hits this October.