Though the game is in many ways flawed, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery's interesting core game system often manages to transcend the game's poor production and haphazard design. It's not often that a console RPG attempts to challenge the established conventions of the genre. Indeed the lure of wrapping a trite narrative around a turn-based combat system and a set of "brilliant" CG movies often seems too much for most developers to resist, as the slew of me-too console RPGs makes evident. Granted, there is something to be said for a good story and well-thought-out characters, but when the genre is examined from a technical standpoint, only a few innovations have surfaced that have gained much in the way of mainstream acceptance.
Enter Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, a game with an altogether different game system. In many respects, the game plays much like a platform adventure, though there is a definite sense of character development, however streamlined its processes. The game puts you in the role of Orphen, a young ne'er-do-well of sorts who wields formidable magical powers. Along with two apprentices and the odd companion or two, you explore a detailed 3D world, complete with all manner of hazards. Platform-game elements are prevalent, as is a light load of exploration, which is facilitated by a set of real-time maps.
The game's most endearing aspect is its battle system. Drawing obvious inspiration from Panzer Dragoon Saga, among other games, Orphen's combat is a sort of hybrid real-time/turn-based system that most jaded console RPG gamers should find most refreshing. The usual trappings of RPG combat - magic points that regulate the use of spells and such - are shed in favor of a more dynamic, liberating system. For use in combat, any spell in your arsenal can be mapped to one of three face buttons on the controller, with the fourth button reserved for a standard "shield" spell. All the spells have differing effects. Some are geared toward melee combat, while others are straight-up projectile attacks. And you can "charge up" most of them by holding down their respective button to maximize their effect. A melee spell that mimics a sword, for instance, will cause the blade it summons to grow longer when charged, while one of the game's projectile spells will shoot forth a greater number of bolts, depending on how long you charge it. There are quite a number of spells available, and their effects are varied, making the assembly of your arsenal a pleasurable undertaking.
The enemies you encounter move in a sort of rhythm on the battlefield, which makes targeting an exercise in memory and coordination. True, most area-effect spells can effectively blanket the battlefield in destruction, but it's seldom that simple. The act of targeting is interestingly handled: Each battlefield will have its own preset target spots, onto which your enemies will often move. The key to victory is figuring out when your enemies will land where and deciding what spell would most effectively take advantage of the situation. Oftentimes other targets are more attractive than the enemy itself - such as swinging censers or flaming braziers, which damage your foes indirectly and often more effectively. In short, the beauty of Orphen's combat system is the way that it least resembles what has become console-RPG tradition; that is, it's active and engrossing.
In terms of the overall production, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery is a tad weak. The game looks decent graphically, and the fully rotatable camera present in most areas works like a charm. The graphics are clean, sharp, and cohesive. The quality in-game effects are wildly disparate - in some areas and encounters, the splashing of water looks laughable, while in others, subtle lens flares and motion blurs are used to an almost artistic effect. To say that Orphen has some of the most inventively rendered boss fights would be only a slight exaggeration - superbly scripted and immensely playable, the encounters keep you in control, and the action seldom relents.
Outside of combat, the game is often a series of disjoined plot sequences, which unfortunately highlight the game's poor translation. All too often the action breaks, and you'll be pulled into a cutscene - all of which feature spoken dialogue - that is likely replete with exaggerated voice work, hyperbolized gesturing, or an unpleasant mixture of both. These frequent intrusions into the heart of the game essentially hack at the seams of the overall experience and do much to undermine the game's effect as a whole. The inability to skip the cutscenes makes them even more annoying.
The disjointed nature of Orphen is unfortunate, because it's easy to envision great gameplay experiences being the product of its game system. Let's hope that Activision decides to make use of Orphen's high points in future products, in spite of the game's relatively lukewarm reception.