One of Activision's more recent acquisitions, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery (known as Orphen Sorcerous Stabber in Japan), is shaping up to be quite an interesting RPG. Developed by Kadokawa Shoten and ESP - both relatively big names in the worlds of Japanese anime/manga and video gaming, respectively - Orphen is based on the anime/manga series of the same name. The game stars Orphen, a gifted but lazy young man who wields impressive magical powers. Always in search of the perennial easy buck, Orphen is somehow coaxed aboard a ship by a couple of shady characters, with the promise that some quick cash awaits him at their destination.
Needless to say, things get ugly prior to their arrival, and Orphen and his crew find themselves on an adventure of sorts, after a series of mishaps befall the ship they've boarded. After they shipwreck on Chaos Island, the gang of magicians must traverse the ancient, arcane isle and deal with its many hazards, both living and nonliving.
Orphen: Scion of Sorcery's action unfolds in a third-person perspective, similar to most adventure games. Orphen and his party are all visible onscreen at all times, and the camera can be manually shifted to accommodate any sort of view desired. The game's button layout is wholly customizable: One button allows Orphen to jump, one serves as the standard action button, and the other two control his projectiles and melee attacks outside of the combat engine. When you're in the exploration mode, Orphen's attacks let him aggressively interact with the environments, making it possible, for example, for him to launch a projectile at a barricade, thus destroying it, or to attack an enemy in the environment.
Most combat, however, takes place within the actual combat engine, and this is where the game really seems most interesting. When in combat, you're allowed to freely map a spell to each of the face buttons, with a few limitations. First, each button has a certain spell type associated with it, and only spells of that type can be mapped to it. Secondly, the square button will always activate the defensive shield. Spell types include sword attacks, which are your typical melee/energy attacks, and elemental attacks, which have a wide area of effect and often damage more than their target.
The game's combat occurs in real time, and it is rather quickly paced. You can choose to attack various targets, which aren't always actual foes. One battle, for example, had a swinging censer as a target, and knocking it down set fire to the area immediately below it, damaging all foes in the area. In lieu of magic points or a similar method of regulating spell use, you have to "charge up" spells by holding down their respective buttons, allowing Orphen to power up their effects before unleashing them. While it's possible to unleash a flurry of, say, projectile attacks, the effects will be more lethal if they're charged for a period of time. That goes with most spells. In the end, Orphen's combat system is very active (unlike the combat systems in most RPGs, arguably), and it thoroughly engages you. As was mentioned by Activision when the game was demonstrated at our offices, it almost feels like a shooter - but, I must add, a shooter with a more defensive element, as erecting the shield to block enemy attacks is of utmost import in most serious encounters.
Orphen: Scion of Sorcery is due out on October 26, alongside the PlayStation 2's launch. Expect to see a full review of the game in the coming weeks.