In English, most fairy tales lead with the phrase "once upon a time." In Hungarian, they begin with the word "Operencia," which roughly translates to "far, far away." And that's exactly where Operencia: The Stolen Sun transports you--to a realm steeped in magic and mystery, wonderfully detached from all things real.
Operencia is a dungeon-crawler RPG set in a fantasy world. It begins by plunging you into the salivating jaws of a three-headed dragon. However, as soon as you slay the colossal serpent, the prologue ends. Before you know it you're no longer a dragonslayer, but a runaway farmhand determined to follow their dreams. Those mad powers you had ten seconds ago? Gone. You'll have to make your own destiny if you're to retrieve the mythical land's stolen sun.
Composed of 13 different levels, the world of Operencia boasts some breathtaking vistas. You explore a variety of locations, from the murky depths of a castle cursed by tears to the metal wilds of The Copper Forest--which is infested with copper soldiers sporting chainsaw-like utensils for hands. The diversity of the game's art makes for a journey that is at all times fresh, awe-inspiring, and wonder-inducing. Its bright colors and intricate art style create an aesthetic that complements the mystique imbued in its magic, and it boasts a score that screams tales of monsters and creepy crawlies told around the warm hearth of a dirty tavern. This envelops you in a world of imagination and fantasy, more concerned with evoking a sense of wonder than any sort of fantasy realism.
After you embark on your journey across this fantastical realm, you slowly begin to come across a whole host of intriguing companions. These characters all speak in pre-written conversations, leaving you no option to intervene with your own dialogue. However, conversations between characters are so well-written that it doesn't really matter. The banter between companions while resting at bonfires--which replenishes your health and energy--is no less arresting. Every companion you come across is their own person and has their own sense of humor--the witty Joska hurls jests at everyone in the party, whereas the strong-willed Kela ensures that you don't falter on your quest. I enjoyed sitting back and drinking in the conversation more so than I experienced a longing to interject with my own thoughts. This world is so wonderfully weird that it's better for telling you its stories, rather than affording you the chance to write your own one within it.
Combat in Operencia is fast-paced, fluid, and engaging. It revolves around turn-based mechanics, involving a mix of physical, ranged, and magic attacks. The magic attacks utilize a strength/weakness system based on elemental typing such as frost, lightning, and fire. Your build can either lean heavily into one fighting style, or encompass all of them in order to gain versatility at the expense of specialization. While maxing out a single stat allows you to deal devastating damage in some cases, immunities can render you completely ineffective if you've overcommitted to one particular attribute. I played as a mage, as I usually do in fantasy RPGs, but without my Strength-based companions I would have been Ancient Elemental bait before I could say abracadabra. After battles, you'll gain experience and loot. For every level you gain, you'll get three ability points to pump into attributes. Leveling up feels well-rewarded, and the game allows you to carve out a combat niche for yourself with its myriad permutations of attribute/ability point combos.
Managing the ability cooldowns and energy point costs of each individual character in your four-person team can be tough, especially in the late-game when a mistake can mean death, or game over if you're playing with permadeath enabled. As a result, it's important to play smart. Even the strongest of enemies can be quickly incapacitated if you're willing to exploit their weaknesses and be savvy with your potions.
Operencia's combat takes customary turn-based RPG mechanics and makes them feel fresh with its own pacing and style. The only thing it could use is a little bit more versatility, as at times it feels as if your own character is a bit vanilla compared to the more advanced predetermined builds boasted by late-game companions. At the same time, you have seven characters to build a team of four from, so you can always change things up if frost spam is starting to get a little watery. As for enemies, there is a whole range of different beasties of all shapes and sizes who would love to eat you for dinner. Some of their niches can be very annoying, but not in a way that seems unfair.
Traversal in Operencia is tile-based, creating opportunities for intriguing environmental puzzles. However, at times this system complicates attempts to look at the finer details of the world's beauty. There were moments where I wanted to look at objects caught between tiles or move an inch closer to the horizon in order to take the perfect screenshot, but I couldn't because the traversal system got in the way.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun transports you to a realm steeped in magic and mystery, wonderfully detached from all things real
Most of Operencia's puzzles are excellently designed. In one case, you have to defeat four powerful enemies, all of whom drop a token. These tokens are then placed in slots around a magic circle; you need to place each one in the right position, and then spin the circle's three tiers to match animals with the tokens' likeness. This might seem like the kind of puzzle you'd come across in similar RPGs, but Operencia's aesthetic really makes the solution feel special. Before you know it, a surge of color and light encapsulates the circle and magical powers begin to work in wonderful and mysterious ways.
The puzzles that aren't solved by environmental manipulation or visual prompts usually require you to use creative key items, which range from magic shovels to griffin feathers. These feathers can be attached to any object with a feather marked on it, and cause that object to become drastically lighter. This allows you to uproot trees and move heavy weights with the flick of a wrist. You even get magic beans to grow beanstalks with! The puzzles get progressively harder as you make your way through the game, but are almost always intuitive and fair.
Some don't fit this formula, though. While optional puzzles used to unlock secrets and legendary items are understandably best fitted with esoteric solutions, ones that are tied to story progression shouldn't be as niche as they are. On one occasion, I spent almost an hour and a half looking for one of four keys, all of which were used to unlock a series of doors that led to the mould for yet another key. While the first of these was an easy find, the second one was randomly hidden far away from the cave and could only be found by using the magic shovel in a certain area. This made me decide to scour the whole map looking for hidden doors and buried treasure, of which I found neither.
As it turns out, the third key is actually obtained by returning to a melting pot I used to acquire a different key. There are so many keys. When I solved the puzzle I felt annoyed, not relieved. And I still had one more to get. Lo and behold, the fourth key was right in front of the last door, requiring no puzzles or exploration. After such arbitrary solutions to the previous puzzles, this was subversive. It was also incredibly irritating. I couldn't stay annoyed for long though, as the joyous booming of your relieved companions is infectious, and the game picks up so quickly that you're bounding onward into the next dungeon before you can get sufficiently annoyed to stop playing.
Operencia tells a wonderful story derived from Central European folklore, mythology, and history, and it does so with unwavering confidence in its makeup. Companion characters are funny, and the banter between them makes for a fun experience that's not without its heartfelt moments. In terms of combat, the strategizing is so engaging that you'll likely end up charging rat warriors headfirst instead of hopelessly attempting to avoid bumping into them. Best of all, though, this world is so stunning that you'll just look at the trees, the water, the rocks--everything. It’s a shame that some of the puzzle solutions are needlessly frustrating and present significant obstacles in getting through the story, but aside from that Operencia provides a truly special experience.
Operencia transports you somewhere far, far away, and once you get there, you'll probably want to stay a while.