Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors
Raikoh is back with new allies to rid Heian Japan of evil demonic nastiness once and for all - can more of the same possibly be a bad thing?
There's an old saying that gaming is a form of motion art, and going by that ideology, Otogi 2 should be considered the Picasso of games, and with good reason. The original Otogi: Myth of Demons was one of the great highlights of the Xbox last year. A gorgeous and very challenging game, it unfortunately didn't receive the recognition it deserved due to the tiny Japanese Xbox user base and the almost non-existent marketing the game had in the west. Many gamers had missed out on one of the best 3D action games on the market.
Players assumed the role of Raikoh Minamoto, the undead warrior charged with the task of vanquishing the demonic infestation that plagued Japan's sacred capital. Continuing where the original left off, Otogi 2 puts players in the role of Raikoh, who is summoned once again to destroy the invading demons. This time however he's not alone and with the help of some new allies, Raikoh and his band of warrior oddities will set out to destroy the demons once and for all and prevent an Otogi 3.
The story takes place during Japan's Heian period, which is pretty much becoming the storyline setting of most From Software titles. The demon realm has penetrated into the Earth realm once again. And thanks to the Imperial Priestess, Abeno, Raikoh won't go at it alone. She has provided him with four new allies that will join him as he battles mythical beasts and supernatural fiends - hoping to eventually defeat the awesome Nine Tailed Demon Fox!
Players initially assume control of Abeno Seimei, manoeuvring her through the early parts of the first level and utilizing her incredible agility and highly destructive fans to leave a path of destruction behind her by reducing the surrounding environment into rubble, while dispatching some very familiar foes in the crow demons - the awesome looking flying beasts that first appeared in the original Otogi.
As Abeno works her way towards a blossom tree located in the center of a small pond, the spot that is Raikoh's final resting place, players are treated to a cut-scene in which Abeno summons forth the four warriors that will serve as Raikoh's allies. After retrieving Raikoh's sword, Abeno begins the summoning process, but in order to complete it she and the four generals engage in some sort of bizarre ritual sacrifice by taking their own lives so that Raikoh may live again. After Raikoh reawakens and his mystical sword finds its way back into his capable hands, he sets out to finish what he started in Myth of Demons, and the real action begins.
While sleek and agile, Abeno Seimei isn't playable much throughout the game - but Raikoh's four allies are. I was pleased to see that the game controls have remained as intuitive as they were in the original, allowing players to perform smooth, flowing attack combos with the use of the weak and strong attack buttons, as well as unleashing special magic attacks that can wipe out multiple enemies at the same time. The game's targeting system isn't without it's kinks but is still implemented well enough. Raikoh and the gang can automatically lock onto enemies and cycle through them, focussing their attacks on their intended target. Along with performing different attack moves, players can also dash through the air, covering great distances in a short amount of time.
All of the characters are fun to control and unique in their own way, possessing different strengths and abilities. Some fight with speed and agility while others fight with brute strength. Abeno Seimei for instance, is quite graceful and has the ability to double jump after every dash, allowing her to remain airborne for as long as players can keep the rhythm going. She's also able to grab a hold of enemies and fling them into each other, making her quite a powerful character. Raikoh, on the other hand, isn't as over-the-top, and is a very well-rounded character with powerful attacks and the ability to double jump. Sakata Kintoki, while not as fast or agile as the others, is the strongest of the group, and despite his slowness and inability to double jump - is actually quite fun to control. Kintoki wields a large axe and possesses enough brute strength to fling enemies of various sizes into each other and towards the background structures throughout the environments, causing a great deal of destruction.
Of course, no group would be complete without their own K-9, and Watanabe Tsuna fits the bill quite nicely. As the dog-headed character of the group, this fierce beast warrior has more bite than bark, armed with dual blades that he can wield at swift speeds, quickly taking out groups of demons before they realize what hit them. Usui Sadamitsu, with her petite frame and young girlish look, is not to be underestimated. She wields a powerful scythe that can bring the demonic fiends to their knees and devastate the surrounding environments with ease. She also has the ability to remain airborne for long periods. And finally there's Urabe Suetake. Merged with a tree spirit while in his youth, Suetake is no doubt quite a strange character; he has no arms, and attacks using a wheel-shaped weapon on his back. On top of that, he can practically fly, as he can jump an infinite number of times while in mid-air and generate shockwaves while he's mobile.
As players take control of Raikoh and his allies, they'll guide them through a variety of highly destructible environments, laying waste to their immediate surroundings while slaughtering any demons that dare to challenge their might. The level of interaction throughout is quite astounding and has been significantly improved over the original. Players can not only plough their way through the plague of demons, but also drastically change the face of the beautifully serene surroundings by laying waste to a multitude of background objects and structures. While the missions tend to vary slightly from level to level, fortunately they're pretty straightforward, allowing players to focus mainly on kicking ass and hell, taking demonic names.
Players who complained about the challenge of Myth of Demons will probably be a tad disappointed upon discovering that Otogi 2 is in some ways a little more challenging than its predecessor. While the game starts off at a decent enough difficulty level, with the warriors being able to take more of a beating than Raikoh was able to at the start of Myth of Demons, it won't be long before the game's difficulty gets bumped up a few notches and frustration sets in for some gamers. One of the earlier levels in particular had us glaring at the game over screen a few times after battling against a constant swarm of enemies. Only after trying out all of the available characters for that particular mission did we finally annihilate the pesky evil spirits with ease. Picking the right characters for certain missions is key.
The demon siege in Otogi 2 has certainly gotten worst this time around, with a plethora of bigger, badder monsters that Raikoh and company will have to contend with. The action remains steady throughout a good portion of the game, and while the challenge is there it's certainly never as frustrating as a certain Tecmo action game. Dramatic boss battles further heighten the experience by testing player skills and reflexes against some magnificent beasts. As one of the more entertaining aspects of the game, the boss encounters are as intense as they are epic, taking place in prodigious settings that help elevate the experience to another level.
As players battle their way through the game's feature-rich story mode, they'll hack through about 27 stages and complete 18 bonus challenges in the process. The bonus missions are unlocked throughout the course of the story mode with the completion of some of them leading to more levels being unlocked in the story mode. Players select their missions through the map screen and can perform the missions in different order making for a non-linear path of progression through the game.
While Otogi 2 is predominantly a hack n' slasher, it also contains a few RPG elements that go a long way in providing the mythical beast slasher with more depth than most of the other hack n' slash titles on the market. The game's emphasis on character development is realized through an experience system that allows you to gain more experience as they defeat demons and uncover hidden items throughout each of the missions. You'll also be able to use money earned from slaughtering fiends to purchase items and magic spells from the shop screen that appears in between missions
Visually, Otogi 2 was no doubt a labor of love for its 3D artists and graphic designers and is just as stunning if not more so than its predecessor. The high quality graphics feature some of the most beautifully modeled and textured environments we've seen in any game this generation. The visuals are further enhanced by some very effective uses of shadow, light, particles, and hazy texture effects, giving the ethereal settings their dream-like quality. Ancient temples, chasms, castles, shrines, crystal caverns, lush vegetations, and gorgeous waterfalls are just a few of the beautifully rendered sights that give Otogi 2 its artistic flair.
The increased level of interaction and improved physics afforded by the game's new engine has made it possible to drastically change the appearance of the environments with just a few swipes of your sword and as beautiful as some of the environments are, it's almost a crime as to what can be done to them. While the frame does a great job of keeping things flowing at a consistent pace throughout the most of the game, it still takes a few hits during some of the more chaotic portions of the game but never enough to detract from the overall experience.
With the amount of attention given to the game's backgrounds it's great to see that the character designs weren't neglected in the process. Reikoh and his group have certainly entered the after life in style with Raikoh sporting his otherworldly samurai outfit, Seimei with her smooth flowing Shinto ceremonial robe and Kintoki with his giant axe. The demon world is also well represented - these creatures feature well designed character models that have been blessed with generous amounts of detail and animate as smoothly as they look.
Moving past the fantastic visuals, Otogi 2's sound presentation falls within the same category as Myth of Demons in that music is used somewhat sparingly throughout the game. However what Otogi 2 lacks in quantity it somewhat makes up for in quality with a soundtrack that utilizes traditional Japanese instruments to set the game's atmospheric tone. But none of the in-game themes were memorable enough to warrant owning the OST. On the flip side, Otogi 2 does feature some fantastic voice acting with the option to switch between the stellar Japanese and surprisingly good English language tracks, as well as a variety of solid sound effects, all highlighted by Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound.
Once completed, Otogi 2 not only leaves a lasting impression with gamers but also dares them to relive the adventure by playing through once more, this time with all of the experience, weapons and accessories they had from the previous game carrying over into the new one. On top of the 2nd play feature there's also the inclusion of the all-new "Havoc Mode" where players can focus on nothing but mayhem and destruction as they tear apart everything in their path in a series of bonus missions/mini-games - some of which are timed - and get rewarded with extra bonuses upon their successful completion.
Otogi 2 is still not without its flaws though. While the camera system works fine for the most part, there are times that it tends to stray away from the action a little and trying to readjust it can be a somewhat slow process. However the game's interface still remains its biggest flaw as navigating through its numerous menus and sub-menus can be quite cumbersome. But overlooking those minor issues, Otogi 2 still remains as one of the best action/adventure games on the market and one that should keep players fulfilled with over 15 hours of solid demon-slaying action.
Like its predecessor, this game has turned out to be quite a memorable experience and remains one of the best action/adventure games on the Xbox. Fans of the original will love Otogi 2. Those who weren't fortunate enough to experience it last time won't have a problem with quickly coming to grips with the storyline and gameplay of Otogi 2. It features intense action, highly destructible environments, more characters, and graphics so beautiful you'll probably feel guilty after demolishing the beautiful landscapes. Given all of that, it's a shame that Otogi 2 probably won't make a dent in the sales charts in any region. But that never stopped From Software from creating this, so here's hoping for Otogi 3 on next-gen platforms.
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