Operencia: The Stolen Sun is deeply inspired by the dungeon crawling party RPGs of the late ‘80s and ‘90s, hugely reminiscent of games like Wizardry or Bards Tale. It’s evident everywhere you look, from the gameplay, to the setting, to the story itself. And thankfully, it takes the best from that genre and creates a mixtape of fantasy role playing content that you can spend hours going through. It does not do everything right but it’s a worthwhile experience.
The gameplay comes across as a first person grid based RPG, and this means that your player moves through invisible grid based open maps. You can look all around but you can not move diagonally, only the cardinal directions. This is common for the dungeon crawling RPGs that this is inspired by, and it’s not as bad as it seems. Operencia does a great job at hiding it, making it seem natural and seamless. It must be said that I came into it with doubts, but the movement system works a lot better than I expected and does not hinder the game at all. Further to this, the maps that the player explores are intricate and interesting, with areas that are filled with enemies, and plenty of secrets to find. I found myself wanting to get 100% exploration on every single map before I moved on – that is a good sign.
Combat in The Stolen Sun happens through randomly patrolling enemies on the map that you can approach. The fights are turn based affairs where you and a group of three companions use skills based on their class to take down the enemies. Everyone has a basic melee and ranged attack but then they have skills they can use that deplete their action points. It is all very typical for the genre and Operencia does not try to innovate too greatly on this front. If you do not like the turn based gameplay, Operencia will not change your mind and will probably bore you to death, however if, like me, you love this style of combat, it does not disappoint.
The enemies are varied too, however playing on regular difficulty I found many to come across as far too easy, especially in the first couple of levels. I understand that Operencia is trying to ease you into the game but after the first dungeon I was ready to deal with much more engaging threats. The difficulty does start to rise later on and it is then when things start to become much more involved and challenging; certain enemies like poison rats who slowly take health away, most certainly took me out a few times. The bosses are a real test of skill and strategy too, genuinely taking several attempts to conquer.
Puzzles are also a regular encounter that you will have to deal with, and it’s good to see that these are genuinely impressive and really thought provoking; so many are clever and have ingenious solutions. I found myself with a huge smile on my face after I managed to conquer one of the many brain teasers that scatter the world of Operencia, and at no point have they ever felt like they were unfair.
As you progress, you will slowly get access to several companions throughout the game to take these challenges on with. The player can change who they have in their party on campsites throughout the maps, with these basically running as a hub. This is where your store is, allowing you to buy equipment, where you can eventually travel back to the different maps you’ve taken in, and where you build your team. And it is these campsites which soon become invaluable as the game grows in challenge.
The companions that you meet throughout Operencia are this game’s lifeblood, providing the character and creating momentum. See, conversations will often happen while you’re exploring and they provide context for what your doing to keep the game steadily entertaining with humorous dialogue. Operencia is filled with banter and witty one liners, and while there are certainly serious moments throughout – especially near the end – the tone of the game is usually quite fun and adventurous. If you’re expecting the grim and intense atmosphere of something like “Game of Thrones”, you might just want to look elsewhere. The motley crew that you assemble to help you on your quest are all varied and interesting as well, however not all of them are created equal and many have some hit or miss voice acting in place. In fact, it is only the main character who has a consistently great voice performance. Also, many of them are just flat out unlikable, like the magic user you meet later in the game who is constantly annoying – possibly due to the laughable bad voice acting.
Holding everything together is an entertaining plot; entertaining enough for its purpose, anyways. It’s not incredibly original though, telling about a great underworld force that is threatening the world and you, the unlikely hero, has to save the world and stop the evil. It works as a good enough reason for the story to move forward and enables an end goal for the player. What’s much more impressive is the world building in Operencia. The world feels real and has a past, and Zen Studios have done a great job on filling out the lore to create unique creatures and places with a past. The journal entries that the game gives you for each aspect of the world are enlightening and entertaining, as they are written by one of the more entertaining characters in the game.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun on Xbox One is gorgeous as well; graphically impressive and a consistent joy to look at. The textures are intricate and deep, the lighting is wonderful, and it uses Unreal Engine 4 to great effect. I was in awe at some of the environments from the dripping wet walls of a sunken castle, the pulsating mushrooms of an infinite tree, to the moonlight piercing through stone windows. Operencia never disappoints when it comes to visuals, and it never slackens off in the audio department either. The music is wildly original and sets the mood for many of the areas and fights in the game.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun is wildly ambitious for Zen Studios and for their first RPG it is incredibly impressive. It’s filled with passion and the team clearly love the genre. It does not get everything right, but if this is evidence of more to come, I can’t wait to see what the studio can do next.