Okage: Shadow King Review
Even with its flaws, Okage remains a breath of fresh air for a genre in desperate need of the kind of originality and variety that it provides.
Released earlier this year in Japan under the name Boku to Maoh (either "The Devil and I" or "Me and Satan King," depending on who you ask to translate), Okage: Shadow King is one of the most unorthodox role-playing games to come out in years. While other RPGs attempt to outdo each other in the areas of special effects and eye candy, this one manages to stay competitive by being incredibly funny. How funny? Think Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog, written by Daniel Pinkwater, and you have the general idea.
The game's premise is about a boy who makes a deal with an evil spirit to cure his sister of a curse that's caused her to speak entirely in pig Latin. The spirit, Evil King Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV (or Stan for short), assumes the role of your shadow and orders you to track down the lost remnants of his power, which have been siphoned away by imposter Evil Kings over the last few thousand years while he was trapped in a bottle. And, while you're at it, Stan would also like you to help him take over the world.
Okage: Shadow King pays a notable homage to Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, a movie that earned a huge cult following in Japan but never really caught on here in the US. Nearly every single character in the game is reminiscent in some way of one of Burton's Halloween land cast, and its off-kilter sense of humor often smacks of the film as well. Only missing are the musical numbers...although it does bear pointing out that your enemies always appear to be dancing to whatever battle music is playing.
You routinely end up playing the straight man to your terse, arrogant, and bitingly sarcastic shadow. Whenever you begin a conversation with a new person, Stan butts in and begins ordering the person to drop to his or her knees and tremble in his mighty presence. Everyone in the game thinks that this is very funny, and you're congratulated numerous times on the strange trick that you can play with your shadow. It's a joke that never gets old--no one ever takes Stan seriously and it drives him crazy.
Your character is no slouch in the comedy department either. You're given three choices of things to say every time there's a break in the dialogue, and one of your lines usually includes something like "That's some really cutting edge headgear" or "(Man, that's really profound.)" You'll find yourself going back to talk to people multiple times to see if you have new and better lines with which to harass them.
Beyond that, instead of fighting evil wizards and dragons, as you do in standard RPGs, the enemies in Okage: Shadow King run more along the lines of wild cows and man-eating onions. The local townspeople also have names like "Old Guy Who Appears to Be an Elder" or "Freaked-Out Man," and they sometimes like to tell you embarrassing personal secrets. The beginning of the game is a constant barrage of funny dialogue, odd premises, and strange creatures. While the humor in Okage does begin to fall off after a certain point, the first few hours of the game are nearly worth the price of admission alone.
The battles are turn based, requiring commands to attack, cast spells, and use items, just like in traditional RPGs. Stan helps during battles by offering powerful attacks when you're severely injured, and he also quizzes you on evil catchphrases at certain points in the game and rewards you with help if he likes what you've come up with. And Stan's not the only one who can aide you--you can execute joint attacks with members of your party as well. Those RPG fans who despise random battles will appreciate Okage's ability to avoid fights, but the longer you go without fighting, the more enemies appear, and the chances that one materializes right in front of you increases. Combat can be repetitive, as in many other RPGs, but the battles rarely take long, and you can escape them easily.