On March 25th, 2008, Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core and Koei’s Opoona were released to the retail market, competing for the limited budgets (and attention spans) of the RPG-playing population of the United States. It’s a true “David and Goliath” scenario. Where FFVII:CC has the Final Fantasy name, a huge budget, and traditional JRPG gameplay and story, Opoona is a brand new IP made with relatively little money that attempts to combine traditional RPG elements with “lifestyle” simulation gameplay, all with a never-before-utilized one-handed control scheme. Of course, FFVII:CC outsold Opoona by a huge margin, but did it deserve to? Do the vastly different parts that make up Opoona come together to form a cohesive whole like Voltron, or is the game a disgusting, Xavier: Renegade Angel-like amalgamation of incompatible parts?
Hit the jump to find out.
Opoona is weird. Everything about the game — from its look, its characters, and its enemies, to the way it plays — all scream “cult following”. The game’s storyline is no exeption to the kookiness.
Opoona (the game's title character) is alien boy, traveling with family and a couple of friends, all via spaceship, to another planet for a combination battle mission/family vacation. Due to mysterious circumstances, their relaxed journey is disrupted by an explosion, and the ship crashes on planet Landroll. At this point, Opoona is separated from the rest of his family, alone on an foreign world, with only the vague guidance of the citizens of Landroll to guide him.
From there, things play out like a cross between The Man Who Fell to Earth and Home Alone 2. The people of Landroll are well aware that Opoona is an alien, and they make a point to remind him of this. On one hand, Opoona is mocked by the local Landroll kids for being different; on the other hand, he's headhunted for work at fast food restaurant "Eat Everyday" because "People will come here just to look at you!"
It's under these bizarre circumstances that Opoona has to learn from the ground up how to fit into the society of his adopted planet -- not just to make some sort of life for himself, but also to make money to pay for his injured parents' hospital bills.
It’s all a pretty obvious metaphor for growing up and learning to be independent in the alienating, exciting world of adults — not entirely new territory for a RPG. What keeps it interesting is the setting. Landroll is a strange, serene, and beautiful place. Many familiar trappings of the sci-fi genre, like lightsabers, robots, and spaceships are commonplace. But so are instructional dance shows hosted by middle-aged men (viewable on Opoona’s PDA), stray dogs hanging out in the Spaceports, giant installations of neck tie sculptures in the park (viewing them increases your art appreciation stats), poison-coated battle Bon Bons, and giant, phallus-shaped jerks out to murder anything in their path.
It’s tempting to go on and on about about Landroll and its culture, its mythology, and its caste system, but that stuff alone could fill volumes. Suffice it to say that the level of detail put into the creation of Opoona’s world is one of the game’s strong points.
Unfortunately, the game’s Western localization didn’t fare as well. This is the most typo-ridden game I’ve ever played. For instance, Opoona meets a character early in the game named Tron. About 8 hours into the game, Tron’s name is inexplicably changed to Trong. We can only assume that Koei’s translation team didn’t see eye to eye on that one, and decided to go with both translations. Typos of this nature are intermittent throughout the game’s script, which is a shame because at its high points, the writing is nearly in the same league as the classic SNES RPG Earthbound. At its worst, though, the writing is more dry than a soda cracker sandwich on white bread toast.
This dichotomy between bland and grand maintains itself throughout most of the game, especially in its attempts to make good on those well publicized “lifestyle” elements. In Opoona, the term “lifestyle” elements basically equals manual labor, be it the above-mentioned Fast Food job, a bellboy at the Blue Desert Hotel, or catching Space Weasels at the request of a terrified old man. Some of these tasks are boring to the point that they are sure to cause many to put the game down for good. Others are real fun, like the fishing job, which — contrary to what you may have guessed — has no motion control whatsoever, and instead plays out like an endless endurance battle mode.
Speaking of Opoona’s battle system, it is by far one of the game’s best assets. Like Final
Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, combat in Opoona is only vaguely turn-based. But unlike FFVII:CC, Opoona's battles actually involve some level of strategy. The system actually has a lot in common with Nintendo’s classic Punch-Out series. If you anticipate the direction your enemy will attack from, low, high, left or right, and counterattack in that direction, not only will you make contact with your foe, but you’ll stun them as well, preventing them from landing a hit. Do it wrong and attack to the left while your foe is attacking from the right and the opposite will occur: you'll miss while your enemy slams you.
Unlike Punch-Out, your sparring partners in Opoona have few “tells”, so you have to wait for their attacks to start before knowing how to counter. Also, every non-boss fight in the game is timed at two minutes. Go overtime and you automatically lose, so waiting around isn't really an option. But other than those differences, Opoona’s battles gave me a taste of what a full fledged Punch-Out RPG would play like, and it tastes pretty darn good.
Sadly, the game is not always this refreshing. Like so many third-party Wii titles, Opoona is riddled with mystifying faults. As fun as the battles are, they occur at random, sometimes up to every four seconds. This was tolerable back when our only options for home console RPGs were the 2D Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games, but by today’s standards it’s just irritating. Also reminiscent of the 8-bit RPG era is Opoona's reliance on fetch quests. Structurally, the game is basically just one errand after another, with bits of story filtered in-between jobs. In this way, Opoona fails at its attempt to integrate traditional RPG gameplay with “chores are fun” lifestyle elements. With neither the freedom to choose what exactly you’ll do at any given moment like in Animal Crossing, or the over the top, high-stakes storyline to push you forward like in your standard Final Fantasy, Opoona sometimes feels like the worst of both of both worlds.
Opoona’s designers have an answer to this structural flaw in the game's design, and that answer surprisingly comes in the form of the control scheme. Opoona can be played in multiple ways, but the most effective method is the one-handed option that only requires use of the nunchuck. Depending on your definition of the word, Opoona may be one of the least “hardcore” games ever made, as it actually encourages you to do something else while you're playing.
Like Endless Ocean (which also allows for one-handed play), Opoona is actually more fun for the fact that you are permitted to do something else with your free hand while playing, be it partaking in a tasty beverage, surfing the internet, petting a pet, or whatever else you people do with your hands. Opoona may be under-stimulating at times, but the flip side of that is that it isn’t demanding. It’s not the kind of RPG you can play for eight hours straight and not get bored, but it is the kind of game you can play for a half an hour every morning while eating your breakfast and have a consistently good time.
For many hardcore gamers, Opoona will not be worth the full retail price of $50. It just has too many shortcomings. Despite its flaws, it is still worth a look for anyone who appreciates "special", one-of-a-kind RPGs. It can't be denied that, for better or worse, there is no other RPG quite like Opoona. In many ways it's perfect for younger gamers curious about the world of adults, as it gives you a quirky, simplified taste of what it’s like to engage in social networking, crappy jobs, and world travel (three big highlights of adulthood). It’s also great for fans of games like Earthbound, and/or appreciators of weirdness in general.
If Opoona had a more motivating story and more enjoyable in-game tasks, it would rank as one of the best RPGs of the past five years, due in no small part to its innovative battle system and unique in-game world. But as it stands, Opoona is like the Teletubbies of videogames: it's easy to recommend it to kids and weirdoes, but everybody else might want to try before they buy.
Score: 7.5 (Replayable, fun, but nothing innovative or amazing. The game potentially has large flaws that, while they don't make the game bad, prevent it from being as good as it could be.)