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Orphen: Scion of Sorcery
Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Activision
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Orphen: Scion of Sorcery was the first PlayStation 2 game to really amaze me with its graphics. Sure, I noticed sweet things in other games: physics, realism and detail PlayStation could never pull off before. But for a complete package showcasing the PS2's ability to push polygons, Orphen gave me the open-mouth-in-awe feeling I'd been waiting for. Mixing anime cut-scenes with movie-style segments drawn from the game's engine, Orphen showcases all kinds of little effects that make you proud to own a PS2. Water effects, particle physics, lighting, blurring and smooth shading to make a grown man cry... I can't say how many nice visual touches are in the game. Boss fights are extraordinary, and you feel like you're watching a CG movie where you actually get to participate. Character designs are on their way to being great, but the detail in movement is still twitchy at times. The music is nice, and there's an almost bottomless variety. Chalk it up to DVD-ROM, since Orphen is the first game I've seen in this format.

I'll admit I looked it up, but Webster defines 'scion' as a descendant or child. Orphen: Scion of Sorcery is adapted from a Japanese series about a sort of ronin in the sorcery world, cast off or removed from the mainstream of magic, maybe because he's such a smart-ass... Not having seen the original, I'm guessing the story behind this game is original, but some of the characters may be brought over. Of course, any good sorcerer has an apprentice, and a wise-cracking girl to keep the apprentice in line. Two weird munchkin types also seem to figure into Orphen's path during the game, and they are such die-hard anime types they MUST have come from the original.

Orphen: Scion of Sorcery begins with Orphen and his entourage boarding a boat which is soon attacked by monsters and sunk off the coast of a strange island. The secrets of Chaos Island are unearthed as Orphen follows three different storylines to find his 'true destiny.' Each storyline means a replay of the entire game, with Orphen using different party members and NPCs to solve the island's puzzles. And puzzles do take up a good amount of time, when Orphen and crew aren't fighting off monsters. This is good, solid Action-RPG fare, folks. Orphen has two different modes, Story and Battle, but Story Mode is what you're in 90% of the time. This mode involves Orphen walking around alone or with party members, able to jump, swing his sword and examine objects. Also, he can do the block-pushing thing or trip switches. In Battle Mode, Orphen can't be moved around, and has to use magic or his sword to fight monsters and bosses. What makes Orphen lean toward the Action side is that you don't really pick spells or control other members who may be fighting. You choose three different attacks for Orphen that are each linked to a key on the controller, under an elemental sign (water, fire, etc.). Along with attack options, Orphen can build a magical shield that will dispel certain attacks as long as the shield is maintained. Sometimes, you'll play as one of the other characters, but only for short periods, and usually to solve a special puzzle. No experience points at all...

One thing that will seem strange to RPG fans is the almost complete lack of use for potions and items. All that stuff is in Orphen's inventory, but can't be used in Battle Mode. Instead, you'll have the chance during battles to fire projectiles or attack health objects that bring you back from near-death. All the potions and items are needed for when you face monsters in Story Mode or have to navigate trapped rooms or dangerous puzzles. Also, changing attack spells during a battle means you have to start the entire battle from the beginning. This can actually be a nice way to bail out if you know you're getting whipped.

Most capable gamers will beat Orphen in about 5 hours. As with some Action-RPGs, there's calculated replay value that a 100-hour RPG doesn't have. The chance to explore different storylines in Orphen is nice, but you may find the whole experience a little too vanilla to go back for more. At least one of the bosses is quite hard, but most can be defeated by methodically pounding away at them. Puzzles are done well, but there aren't enough of them.

Game Mechanics:
My biggest problem with Orphen is in this category. Although everything looks nice and there's a good premise for all the action, Orphen has some real problems in execution and design. The voice acting is okay, but the dialog is terrible. Plus, the motions characters are making on screen seem clunky and repetitive. As I though of a way to say it, I imagined someone offering me a ride in a Ferrari, and then telling me I'd have to wear a clown costume the whole time. Orphen can't come through on what really makes an RPG memorable, and feels in some places like a bad imitation of the whole genre. I don't think I used an inventory item more than 2 or 3 times during the whole game, and then only to keep from replaying a long section. Fighting seems way too simple, and why have all these different magic attacks if you can just kill everything with a sword? The bosses are a definite exception to this, but you'll only fight a handful of those.

Menu selection is equally non-intuitive, and seems poorly thought out. For instance, after your party wins in a fight, images of monsters you beat can be earned, with variations in the picture depending on battle performance. Only problem is, where do you look at the Picture Book? Oh, when you die or continue, you can choose to look at the Picture Book before you begin play... What?! Could there be a stranger place to access this feature? Likewise, the fact that changing spells and attacks during a battle means starting over is so anti-RPG... Of course, this IS the new age, baby, and if you can just work with what Activision put together and enjoy the difference, you'll have fun with Orphen.

One new feature I like is Map Mode. During exploration, you can go to a birds-eye view and move through levels from any angle or perspective, helping find traps, secret areas and sometimes just the way out. Unlike the simple maps most RPGs give us, Orphen lets you into a fully realized model of the level, much as the developers might use to see everything in a level editor or some such tool. Very nice. RPG fans must try a rental for this one, but I can't say it meets my criteria for a great RPG on PlayStation 2. It has a lot going for it, and being pretty helps. But like those pretty faces at parties you wish had stayed at the other end of the room once they open their mouths, Orphen feels a little vacant. A good first effort for Action-RPGs on PS2, but we'll have to wait for the killer-app in this department.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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