Overlooked Gems: Otogi

As I was recently scouring the various videogame walkthroughs on Youtube, I came across some footage from on old XBox game that, despite being very good, was completely overlooked.  Otogi: Myth of Demons was a hack-&-slash action game released all the way back in 2003 by From Software.  Hardcore gamers (or masochists) should recognize that this is the same developer of the infamous Demon’s Souls & Dark Souls.  They are also the developers behind another pet series of mine, the Tenchu series.  And although Otogi rated highly among critics, most people never played it.

I'm still not sure if that's supposed to be Raikoh's hair

Otogi: Myth of Demons is a very Japanese game.  The plot is highly influenced by Japanese mythology, which may explain why I like it so much.  I love Japanese culture, & its folklore in particular.  But no real knowledge of the myths behind the game is required to understand what’s going on.  The backstory for the game is that you play as an undead samurai named Raikoh Minamoto who was originally an assassin for the emperor.  He fled from his clan after failing to assassinate his target.  But then the seal that kept the demon world separate from the human world broke, flooding the land in darkness.  Raikoh would have died, had a mysterious princess not saved his life… sort of.  Now stuck between life & death, Raikoh is tasked by the princess with restoring the seal in order to redeem himself.

Vandalism = saving souls

The gameplay is the definition of hack-&-slash.  Destroy enemies.  Destroy scenery.  Destroy anything in your path.  One of the best features of the game is that, not only is most of the scenery in the levels destructible, but the game rewards you for destroying it.  One of the most interesting features of the game, to me, was that once you complete a stage, you can replay it with the same environmental damage that you left it with.  This means you can gradually work on destroying everything in a level, rather than having to redo it each time you play.  Throughout the game, Raikoh can find, earn or purchase a variety of weaponry, each with its own unique traits that can benefit or hamper your progress.  There are also four style of magic available.  I liked that there was some strategy to the magic.  Enemies belong to certain houses of magic, so it’s best to select the school that counters it to inflict the most damage.

The combat in Otogi is fairly unique, but not in the manner you’d expect.  While most of the combat is your standard light & heavy attacks, what’s unique about it is where you’re fighting.  Most of the combat is spent in the air.  Raikoh can stay suspended in mid-air almost indefinitely if you control him properly.  Attacking while in the air & using the upward thrust can keep you afloat for pretty much the entire level.  And that’s good, because some levels require you to not touch the ground.

I love how everything looks so forlorn

I think the presentation of the game is really where it stands out.  While some of the character models are dated, the graphics are still stunning.  The levels start out pretty standard, but gradually become more fantastical as you progress.  The game takes you from a palace of gold, to a floating graveyard, to a cavern full of crystals.  The enemy designs are also very unique.  Being taken from Japanese mythology, very few of the enemies are your standard fare.  Sure, you’ve got trolls, but you’ve also got things like the Corpse Weed, plants with human faces that spit fireballs at you, or the Water Spawn, literal water birds that try to freeze you.  And some of the bosses are extremely impressive.  But for me, the very best part of the game is the music.  It’s all traditional Japanese music, such as flutes & taiko drums.  The music has a haunting tone about it.  It sounds very ethereal, & it just fits the mood of the game so well.

But for all of my gushing, Otogi is not a perfect game.  The controls can feel a bit floaty at times, making precision & accuracy nearly impossible.  There is a targeting system, but it’s really only useful for casting magic.  This is also a game that could greatly benefit from a block function.  Yes, Raikoh can’t block attacks, with the exception of using magic to cancel magic out.  So expect to take a lot of damage.  I also hated with a passion the health system.  Because Raikoh is technically not alive & it’s the princess’ magic keeping him, he has a magic gauge in addition to a standard health bar.  This magic bar slowly depletes throughout the level, & if it completely depletes, Raikoh starts to die.  I found this incredibly annoying.  Your magic replenishes as you defeat enemies & find orbs, but it always felt like a ticking clock in the back of my mind, urging me to finish a level as soon as I could rather than taking my time to enjoy it.  I also have to say that, at times, it feels like the story is only remotely related to what you’re doing.  The levels, as fantastic as they are, can feel disjointed.  The story is interesting… when it’s actually there.  It just feels separate from gameplay.

Unfortunately, Otogi is not backwards compatible.  So if you want to play it, you’re going to have to pull out your old XBox.  But if you’ve still got the giant box lying around & can get your hands on this game, I highly recommend it.  It’s a very stylish, unique & overall fun action game.  You don’t have to be a fan of legends to enjoy this game.  Just take the background at face value & enjoy the ride.

– GamerDame


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