Title: Operencia: The Stolen Sun
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Genre: First-person RPG, Dungeon Crawler
Available for: Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Tested on: Nintendo Switch
Official Website: Operencia RPG
Release Date: Out Now
Operencia: The Stolen Sun is proud of its roots, to say the least. The game is a modern take on the tile-based first-person RPG. A style of game that was once the pinnacle of role-playing games until the JRPG unseated it in the late 1980s. While the game makes some smart changes to the formula, this style of game may not be compatible with modern tastes.
The highlight of playing Operencia is the story. By basing the story of the game on Central European myth and folklore, Operncia stands out against a backdrop of fantasy games. The trendy Norse setting or the more tired Tolkienesque backdrop have become practically ubiquitous recently. Character names, styles of dress, and the moral underpinnings of the story all stand out from the norm in a refreshing way. An excellent example of this is the way curses are used in the game. In Operencia, a curse is a way for the gods to punish the wicked and empower their victims to enact vengeance. In more traditional fantasy settings, curses tend to be tools of villains.
In addition to its refreshing setting, the story in Operencia is told through some quite stunning 2D cutscenes done in a paper theater style. The game is fully voiced as well, which helps a lot with developing the characters who might have turned out a bit flat in a text-only game.
The moment to moment experience if the game is where it will lose some players. Operencia does an excellent job of updating the formula of the first person grid-based RPG. The problem is that no amount of updating will make this style of game palatable for some players. The game is broken up into exploration, combat, and puzzles, and each of these has problems that stem more from the game’s format than any other production decision.
Most of the player’s time in Operencia is spent exploring dungeons. Whether it’s a cursed castle, creepy forest, or moldy crypt, players will wander these spaces one square meter at a time. This style of movement was originally a solution for producing a first-person experience on machines that could only render one screen at a time. More recently, the style has made a comeback on mobile because it doesn’t require precise controls that are lacking on touchscreen devices. On console and PC, it just feels clunky, especially on the rare occasions that the game requires quick movement to solve puzzles. Another issue that Operencia shares with the first-person games that inspired it is that occasionally necessary quest items blend into the background a bit, making the exploration a bit of a square by square pixel hunt. The way that moving one square at a time shifts perspective on an object in the environment is so different from the full 3D movement that modern audiences will struggle a bit to pick things out of the background. The environments all look good, though, and the 3D art lines up well with the 2D cutscenes.
As players explore, they will encounter various enemies. This is where the game’s traditional turn-based combat system comes in. Each character in the fight is assigned an initiative slot and takes turns attacking, defending, or using special abilities or items. The system goes for the quality of encounters over quantity with only a few monsters per area, none of which respawn. This makes the boss encounters a bit more challenging since players can’t really grind for levels. Operencia does, at least, allow players to fully respec characters so that if a particular enemy type counters a favorite build, they don’t need to restart the game. This is one of the design choices held over from the first wave of this genre that could have been changed. Turn-based combat is such a known quantity that it can’t really be left as bare-bones as it is in Operencia without becoming a bit boring. Recent titles like Darkest Dungeon and Into the Breach have found ways to add clever new mechanics to turn-based combat systems, and playing through a vanilla version doesn’t cut it anymore.
The final obstacle that Operencia throws at players is a wide variety of classic puzzles. All of these puzzles are pretty standard RPG fare. There’s a lot of pressure plates, heavy objects, weirdly shaped keys, and fluids that need to be manipulated to open doors in all these dungeons. A few of these puzzles do a poor job of signposting their rules to the player. The game does have in-world hints in the form of scrolls players can find, but some of them are more interested in being funny than helpful, which ends up being frustrating. Most of the puzzles are solvable without hints, so this doesn’t happen that often.
A given player’s enjoyment of this game is going to depend almost completely on whether they fondly remember playing this type of game. Operencia makes a valiant attempt at updating a classic game formula. Unfortunately, that formula may be beyond updating.
Verdict: Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a very well made tile-based first-person RPG. Players who remember enjoying this type of game should not hesitate to check it out. Those with no experience with this style of game will be better off passing this one by unless desperate for a fresh take on fantasy storytelling.
- Fresh Setting
- Fun Characters
- Good art style
- Dated Combat
- Lack of puzzle feedback