As a huge fan of first-person grid-based dungeon RPGs, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Operencia. Thankfully, it did not disappoint.
Ever since I played Moraff's World on my old DOS computer back in the early '90s, I was hooked on dungeon exploration games. We've come a long way since then yet the genre remains undeniably old-school. Operencia: The Stolen Sun continues the tradition of challenging gameplay, rewarding RPG elements, and mysterious locales although it also offers a very distinct formula. Although I've played dozens of these games over the years, I've never played anything quite like this.
For starters, Operencia: The Stolen Sun features a fixed game world meaning that it is not procedurally generated. On top of that, there are many puzzles that you'll have to solve within its elaborate dungeons. However, this preset world does not work against it as every dungeon is carefully and thoughtfully designed to create a constantly engaging and rewarding campaign. One of the most impressive aspects of Operencia's gameplay is the fact that the exploration portion plays like a blend of classic grid-based traversal and a first-person adventure game. By this, I mean that you move on a grid but you can also freely move the camera around which creates a fluid sense of movement. Plus, being able to scan your environment to interact with items is a crucial part of gameplay.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun boasts impressive visuals and sound and lives up to the level of quality that Zen Studios is famous for. The dungeons are impressively detailed and the character artwork is absolutely gorgeous. Meanwhile, the sinister orchestral score is perfect for its dark fantasy setting and the effects are spot-on. Finally, the voice cast does a phenomenal job of fleshing out the characters and providing a welcome and enjoyable sense of humour to the otherwise ominous world.
Enemy encounters are initiated whenever you come into contact with a visible monster. When you approach them from behind then you'll get an advantage but if one sneaks up behind you when you're distracted with a treasure chest or something then you'll have a tougher battle. I'm very happy to see that there are no random encounters and the battle system itself is simplistic yet challenging. Basically, each one of your party members selects an attack or skill (which uses up EP) whenever it's their turn while enemies reside on 1 of 3 planes. Choosing skills and attacks that are more powerful against certain planes is a key part of battle.
Growing your party members' capabilities is also rather basic. Aside from equipping the best stuff which you'll have to do often, characters will level up which grants them Talent Points that you can spend on either new skills or stat boosts as well as Attribute Points that allow you to enhance a character's base stats. You can also configure each character's active and passive skills which becomes much more crucial later in the campaign once you've unlocked a ton of them. Additionally, you'll acquire artifacts, spells, and potions that can be used in dungeons such as a shovel that can locate and unearth treasures and spells that can heal your party.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun is an enormous game. At first, its campaign is set up as if it's stage-based where you progress through a series of dungeons but once you reach a certain point about 6 or 7 hours in, you'll unlock a vendor where you can buy and sell stuff as well as the ability to fast travel to any previously visited location via a world map. Once you reach this point, the campaign really opens up and it becomes a much more satisfying game. This is especially true when you revisit locations in order to uncover more treasure which you may have to do to topple some of the more challenging bosses. Needless to say, uncovering everything will take a very long time.
Although I absolutely loved my time with Operencia, it does have a couple of problems. The most notable of which is that some of the puzzles are abstruse to the point where you'll aimlessly pace around a dungeon for an extra hour or so while wondering what to do. Once, I had to enter a false wall in an isolated corner of a dungeon to retrieve a key item in order to progress. Other times, you'll need to search for glowing symbols on posts, discover hidden buttons next to other buttons that hurt you when you touch them, and figure out which order to activate certain switches. It can be frustrating stuff for sure. My only other complaint is that the menus can be quite cumbersome. Sometimes, I'd level up and not allot the earned points because I didn't feel like fumbling around in the menus. Even in battle, familiarizing yourself with what each skill specifically does takes a while due to the lengthy explanation of each.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a top-notch old-school dungeon crawler that modernizes the genre in impressive ways. If you enjoy these sorts of challenging retro RPGs then you definitely won't be disappointed with this massive and memorable adventure.
- + Challenging old-school dungeon crawling fun with well-accomplished fresh ideas
- + Gorgeous visuals and immersive audio
- + Huge campaign with tons of secrets
- - Some puzzles will drive you crazy with how abstruse they can be
- - Menus could be more intuitive