Things look pretty bleak for the next month or so, don't they? Ah, summertime -- when the gaming industry actually offers a pretty compelling excuse to get off your ass and get outside. There's not much between here and the end of August, when the flood comes -- that psychotic, wallet-destroying time of year where you practically hemorrhage cash into the open hands of publishers. At least killing season doesn't start for another month, right? Hold me, I'm scared.
Otogi: Myth of Demons (Xbox)
Developed by: From Software
Released: August 27, 2003
Returning to Otogi after some time away, I can't help but think of Okami -- not just because they feature otherworldly beings ridding ancient Japan of their wicked demon infestations and are based upon traditional Japanese folklore, but because they both have that sort of dreamy, legendary feel about them, due in no small part to the visuals and gameplay style. This isn't a promise that if you dug one, you'll love the other; rather, it's a suggestion that a certain sense of wonder is common between the two games. While the total package isn't nearly as satisfying or as visually jaw-dropping as Okami, Otogi: Myth of Demons is one of the best action games on the Xbox, and quite easy on the eyes and ears, to boot.
Otogi tells the tale of Raikoh, an undead assassin newly restored to the mortal realm by a princess who offers him the chance to clense his soul of the sins of his former life. To clense Japan of the demonic horde that has run rampant across her lands and redeem himself, Raikoh is given a new body and sent to exorcise his demon foes, and the game begins. The story is basic and delivered in very, very small doses throughout the game, and Raikoh himself never says a word; in this way the low-impact storyline might be compared to Shadow of the Colossus. There's certainly something at stake, but the game won't bother you with developing relationships or petty, angsty protagonists. Once the mission is made clear, Otogi becomes 100% action; there's little to concern yourself beyond completing the task at hand.
The combat in Otogi
is excellent, which is wonderful, as you'll not be spending much time doing anything else. Raikoh is fitted with many standard conventions of the genre; light and heavy strikes, a double-jump, and the ability to charge and cast magic. Basic though it may sound, there's a sort of elegance worked into the combat as you move from one enemy to the next, clearing out hordes of foes with deftly-timed combo attacks. Additionally, Raikoh can get quite a bit of hang-time off of his jumps, floating like a feather in the wind by holding the A button after a jump. Compound this with the ability to air-dash using the right trigger and attack in such a way that will propel Raikoh upward, and you could theoretically spend the entirety of a level in mid-air -- not that you'd necessarily want to, but once you get a hang of the combat, stylish ass-kickin' becomes that
stylish. It brings to mind that other Xbox classic, Gunvalkyrie
-- not terribly easy to master, but very rewarding once you do.
The environments and level design are a key feature of Otogi. While you're slashing and slaying your way through packs of demonic foes, you might notice quite a bit of destruction in your wake as you move along; indeed, almost everything in Otogi is destroyable. It's likely that you'll rack up quite a bit of collateral damage during your assault, which is actually quite fortunate; various objects throughout the game will leave behind all kinds of crap to make life easier, including power-ups, weapons, and items that extend your life and magic gauges. Beyond the practical, this element of gameplay is just awesome to behold -- tearing a hole in the world while you're zipping and slashing your way through a level, watching everything around you crumble in your wake. Very impressive stuff.
Otogi also boasts over ten spells and a staggering 33 weapons at Raikoh's disposal, which can be found, purchased, and unlocked by completing various tasks like huge combos, quick stage finishes, and big kill counts. These aren't just model swaps, either -- Raikoh moves and attacks differently with each weapon class, and gets different stat upgrades based on what he has equipped. More than simply expanding the arsenal, the huge assortment of weapons gives the game tremendous replay value beyond its over twenty base levels (which are later reused in that lame Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin sort of way) and will have you coming back for quite some time.
As I mentioned earlier, there's a dreamy sort of quality to Otogi, which is best represented by its visual style. Otogi is a gorgeous game, colorful and vibrant, misty and very stylish -- technically it's quite an achivement and looks great even by the dated Xbox standards, but beyond that, it's simply very, very well-designed. The mythological themes keep a constant presence, both in the level design as well as the characters they inhabit; there's a pretty substantial variety of enemy types that won't have you bored fighting the same groups over and over. Altogether, Otogi remains one of the best-looking games on the Xbox; a visual inspiration that, again, brings to mind Clover Studio's epic Okami, and that's hardly a bad thing.
Otogi, sadly, isn't yet playable on the Xbox 360, nor is its sequel, Immortal Warriors. A real drag, too -- where Microsoft has not one but all three games in the Ty the Tasmanian Tiger series represented in its 360 compatibility list, Otogi doesn't get any love. Let's join hands and mutter something to whatever God suits you that this'll change in the near future; in the mean time, though, Otogi is a game worth breaking out your original Xbox, rife with beautiful graphics, quality action and a metric ton of weapons to collect on the way. At under eight bucks and much cheaper elsewhere online, you can't afford to miss one of the Xbox's best action titles -- bust up those summer blues and buy this game!