Version tested: Wii
If it had been released a few years ago, Opoona would have been one of those Japanese PlayStation 2 titles nobody ever noticed on the release list - one of those quirky, average games that no-one really knew what to make of. Thanks to the dearth of Wii RPGs, though, it might have better luck.
Opoona is a simple, charming Japanese space-RPG, miles away from others of its kind in tone, but not up to their standards in execution. It's interesting, though, sufficiently so to make it worth a second look for RPG-starved Wii owners; people with other consoles might wish to turn to shinier, bigger-budget productions like Lost Odyssey and countless PS2 games for their traditional-JRPG needs.
Opoona's toned-down cel-shading and relaxing, spaced-out music are a good indication of what to expect from the game: it's extremely laid back. You take control of Opoona, a cheery little spaceman whose ship ran into trouble on a family holiday, leaving him separated from his parents and siblings on a strange planet.
Although reuniting him with his family provides the plot's impetus, the vast majority of the first half of the game is spent doing strange jobs around the city - being a waiter, tidying rubbish, hoovering, hunting sea-monsters, playing the ukulele - in order to make equally strange friends, gain job licences and access new parts of the city. The jobs range from dull to mildly entertaining, but never far beyond; thankfully the variety, amusing presentation and occasional funny mistranslation ("You've won acceptably!") save things from becoming really tedious.
Things pick up a bit plot-wise when Opoona's sister turns up, and we take control of her for a good few more hours until the family is reunited. Here, the action moves away from the domed cities and their part-time labour and out into the big, wide, beautifully-rendered world. Opoona's graphics are hardly cutting-edge technologically, but it does look really very gorgeous at times, especially outdoors - Opoona's stylistic direction is the most extraordinary thing about it, from the weird monster and character designs to the striking space-age lines of the cities. Opoona's art direction is the work of two former Dragon Quest artists, which perhaps explains its strange and occasionally beautiful appearance.
Out in the big wide world, things revert to a more traditional JRPG framework of dungeons, side-quests, exploration, treasure chests, items and random battles. There's about thirty hours in here for the averagely adventurous player, more for the dedicated, and Opoona does a lot to make the hours slip by. The space-children protagonists move around at a fair clip, which makes running around and around in dungeons a lot less trying than it is in lesser examples of the genre, and the action-based fighting system keeps things lively in the random battles.
The one-handed control system, too, makes Opoona very chilled-out and easy to play. For the most part it's a frustration-free, brainwork-optional little adventure. The music, too, is genuinely great - which, given that it's done by Final Fantasy's Hitoshi Sakimoto and his studio, is perhaps not entirely surprising.
Controlling the game just with the nunchuk works perfectly well, although having the Wiimote to hand does give you a few extra shortcut buttons and stops you having to stand still in order to look around with the camera. Battling is engagingly simple. The weird floating ball on Opoona's head is an Energy BonBon, and you attack enemies by flinging it at them with the nunchuk stick (no silly waving, mercifully). It's as simple as flicking the stick in a curve or straight ahead to smash monsters in the face/groin/tentacle thing - you have to judge when to hold the stick back for longer to deal more damage and when to go for quick attacks, but that's as challenging as it gets.
It's a shame that Opoona's general production takes the sheen off the very likeable presentation. Although the music's great, the same can't be said for the sound effects, which are actually non-existent in most cases. Significant cut-scenes happen to absolutely no sound at all on more than one occasion, which makes you wonder if Opoona was rushed out of KOEI's studios for some obscure reason.
The standard of the translation is poor, too - not bad enough to stumble unwittingly into genius, sadly, just banal and inaccurate. Characters will tell you to take the corridor on the right when there is no corridor on the right, for instance. It's a shame, because Opoona was obviously a funny game in Japanese, and a better-translated sense of humour would have really complemented the beguilingly strange visual style.
The environments might look great at times, too, but they're irritatingly hard to navigate, especially near the beginning, when you're presented with a stupidly vast city spread out over multiple floors, a confusing elevator system, a useless map and very vague mission objectives. You'll spend a lot of time wandering about looking for something or someone, and you're lucky if you know exactly what it is you're supposed to find. Opoona's protagonists do at least scoot about at a decent pace, but it's still annoyingly hard to get to where you're supposed to be.
To make things worse, at the beginning of the game, once you eventually get where you're supposed to be, the repetitive task you're usually assigned is a depressing reward for all that wandering.
Opoona is probably especially suited to younger players thanks to its simple control, leisurely pace and imaginative presentation; as long as there's someone around to help navigate the confusing cities, kids will have no problem at all enjoying this, and might take more readily to the game's humour and odd charm without feeling stifled by its simplicity. For most of us, though, Opoona is a curiosity - it's charming, strange and often fun, but too shallow and stretched out to make for a genuinely engrossing RPG experience.
6 / 10