A poor excuse
Of all the PlayStation 2 games I've waded through in the last two weeks, none has been as depressing as Orphen: Scion of Sorcery. It's yet another Japanese translation that sells well based on the reputation of its namesake, yet when released into a Western climate falls into the 'Anime-based video games that really shouldn't have been commissioned' category. It's not as bad as some of its contemporaries, but the characters' weakness and Activision's poor translation have consigned it to the ever-growing pile of substandard PS2 launch titles. The plot is fairly standard RPG fair. You control Orphen, the title character and his young students Magnus and Cleo who are out on a boat one day when a nasty sea monster wrecks their ship and leaves them stranded, washed up on the shores of Chaos Island. From here you have to locate the various pieces of the Crystal Egg, achieved by time-shifting back and forth through the island's history. Henceforth there is little to shout about it. Cutscenes intersperse the action, implemented in a similar way to those in the Final Fantasy games, and battles take place in real-time, where timing your attacks is very important. You have four major offensive attacks, each one bound to one of the four buttons on the right of the joypad, and as you progress through the game you unlock defensive magic and other spells. You can't perform two spells at once, so there's no shielding yourself while you chuck fireballs; the trick therefore is to work out the best way to order your attacks. However, this eventually leads to the battles becoming very repetitive as you learn to adopt a new attack sequence each time. Outside of the battles, it's a startlingly linear game.
Orphen's biggest downfall is the weakness of its characters. Unlike those found in similar titles, the strong, exciting young heroes are actually badly lip-synched and poorly translated, and come over as insufferable, snide little wretches. Orphen himself is the worst; even the people translating the game and re-dubbing it must have figured out he hadn't come out right, because it's ridiculous. The charismatic threesome remind me more of the annoying trio in Pokémon than new-age sorcerers. I dare say they do their on-screen namesakes no favours. The worst thing about the dubbing though, is that it looks, feels and sounds affected. There are peculiar pauses, clearly used in the Japanese version to complement a key moment in the script, which are simply inappropriate. At times it sounds like this is a word for word translation too, and that doesn't work for obvious reasons. Whoever directed this should be shot. Lines take on a whole new meaning thanks to him and it ruins the atmosphere. The best analogy for it is a five year olds' drama class, where they say their lines but in not quite the right way, accentuating the wrong parts and emphasising obscurities. The one redeeming feature Orphen can lay claim to is that occasionally, albeit rarely, a nice visual set piece is executed and is actually worth watching. The whole game is like one long scripted sequence, and this does make way for some brilliant 3D artistry and some stunning effects, with impressive lighting and explosions rendered by the PS2's Emotion Engine.
The problem for us gamers who are forced to play Orphen though, is that in between the stunning set pieces and visual extravagance lies a maze of tat; badly connected and poorly realised tat. Exploring dungeons is a mundane job and made all the worse by the graphical idiocy on display within the dark confines, and elsewhere, such as onboard the ship at the very start of the game. The extraneous detail, too is rather perplexing. In most RPGs, if a room or item serves no purpose, the door will be locked or the item will offer no interaction. With Orphen, everything is open to you, and upon entering a room it's pretty clear whether it's important or not because if it is it will be animated from top to bottom and superbly lit, whereas if it is not, it will look like the inside of the caves. I suppose it's only fair at this point to consider how Orphen: Scion of Sorcery would appeal to its actual fans. If any are reading, you probably know more than me about the series, so I offer two possibilities. If the game is actually based on an annoying cartoon with weak characters, bad dubbing and bland visuals, then you will no doubt know what to expect and lap it up. If, by some quirk of fate the series it is based on is actually good, then this will do nothing but annoy you. The game is so bland in so many areas and so badly pieced together that it will do you little justice.
Down and Out
If you have come this far, you will have fathomed that I deeply detest Orphen and want to construct vast planetary defences to prevent it invading our peaceful way of life, however despite myself, I found the musical side of the game to be sublime. The battle theme (the key part of any Japanese RPG) is right on the money, as good as that found in Final Fantasy VII, I would say (although still a fair way of Chrono Trigger and its generation). Outside of the … well lets say it, the game itself, the bland areas are made more bearable by some nice ambient accompaniment. The only downside to the musical score on the whole is the cheesy theme that follows some of the cutscenes. Apart from that it's quite well done.
So, I approached Orphen hoping for an epic RPG adventure, and I left it hoping that I would be able to slag it off without too many fanboys jumping about my feet trying to catch my attention. It's a shame, because I bet if you have a decent foreknowledge of the series it could actually be quite enjoyable, but I'm not going to make allowances, because very few people who will end up with this game will have. On its own, it's just not worth buying. If they had translated the series and run it on Sky One for a while, we might be looking at Oprhen in a different way, as it is, I feel no pain in giving it a resounding thumbs down.