Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a nifty little dungeon crawler from Zen Studios. Taking inspiration from what I believe is Hungarian folklore, Operencia takes you through the adventures of a ragtag bunch of misfits trying to bring the sun back to the world of Operencia.
Over the years I’ve played my fair share of dungeon crawlers. In fact, I currently have two on the go right now in my spare time. While Operencia does offer some neat new gimmick and elements, it gets bogged down by some rather skeptical balancing issues and overarching issues. The first, and arguable biggest, example has to do with the plot. It’s pretty cliché, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if played right. The basic premise in Operencia is that your main character, as named by you, has a dream about a deer, and ends up in a cursed castle. Once escaping the castle, it turns out the sun has been stolen, and so you venture forth to progressively more cursed castles, gathering one of the most eclectic groups of protagonists I’ve seen in quite some time.
While the key points of the plot are given to you primarily on entering an area, the bulk of the game backstory comes from visiting campfires, which act as sort of mini-hubs during your adventures, which I’ll get into a bit more later. While this is quite an interesting way of breaking up exploration, puzzle solving, and combat, you also need to remember to visit campfires until you run out of conversation topics if you want to make sure you get all the backstory, a lot of which is surprisingly pertinent. Also, something I only really realized when I started writing this, but no-one ever refers to your character by name, which makes sense since you name your character, but it never really clicked until now. Banter between characters however is…bipolar, I suppose is the best way to describe it. Half the cast sound like they were forced into a basement somewhere until they gave a halfway acceptable performance, and are really only being held aloft by the other characters. The banter alternates between kind of funny and some of the cringes dialogue I’ve heard not out of someone with 8th grader syndrome.
While the storytelling can be best rounded off as “acceptably positive”, the gameplay is the real crux of any dungeon crawler, and Operencia certainly has…something to show, although I’m not entirely certain how I feel about it. Like most traditional dungeon crawlers, you roam a map, and when you get into combat, you start a turn based battle system. Walking on the field map is performed in cardinal directions as you move on a grid, although you have full reign over the camera, so you’re free to look around. In fact, you kind of have to in order to pick up key items, money on the ground, and interact with some items or levers. You can see the enemies wandering around as well, and attacking from behind gives you advantage. The camera freedom is an interesting concept in a dungeon crawler, and I mostly like it. Mostly because it’s nice to get a good look at the area you’re exploring, but it can make corners or u-turns a little awkward. Additionally, some items are placed with the intent to look for them, making them rather easy to overlook at times.
I will mention here that there are a limited number of fights in the game. That’s right, after beating up that skeleton over there, it’s gone for good. No grinding, no over leveling, no going back to get just a little more exp to make that next fight easier. On the one hand, no random encounters is nice, and being able to explore an area for all those hidden and secret areas you missed while trying to conserve health is nice, especially since the amount of times you can rest to heal at the campfire is limited to the number of firewood you pick up, although you are still able to use the other features at the campfire.
Speaking of campfires, you get a wide variety of options at a campfire. While equipping your main party and doling out stat points and level can be done at anytime not in combat, campfires allow you to save and rest, edit your party, go shopping, travel to previous campfires visited, even in other areas, and play the most addicting puzzle game I’ve ever seen added to a dungeon crawler. No really, you have a synthesis mini game were you do logic puzzles to figure out ingredients, with clues like “The root is not from the mountains or the plain” and “the crop is poisonous” and other such hints. You then have to select the correct order and types for each of the options in order to craft your items. Items are consumable, but replenish upon resting.
Props to the devs for allowing you to respect at anytime by the way, that’s basically a godsend, especially when enemies start getting really annoying. Combat is turn based, with higher initiative characters taking precedence. While in combat you have a number of standard option: melee, ranged attack, and guard are your first three, and the rest are the skills you have your character learn, with a possible equitable item at the end. Skills require stamina to use, which can be recovered by guarding.
While it’s fairly basic at it’s core, it is a pretty tried and true formula. Operencia decides to go the interesting route of having cool downs in addition to a stamina cost, even for the guarding. While this doesn’t apply to the standard melee and ranged attacks, or presents too much of a hassle, some of the fights in Operencia are basically relegated to relying on skills based on how horribly offensive the AI can be. The first instance is actually in the second area, where giant spiders will eat their allies at low health, getting a full heal and tripling their health. Then in the next area are theses stupid fungus things that have a healer in the back, and two tanks alternating taunts while the healer keeps restoring them. Next area has spawners that have just enough health to keep bringing more and more to the field, and after that you have enemies with the “evade” skill. I was honestly about ready to flip a freaking table by the end of it.
On the plus side, the rendered 3D graphics are a nice touch, and while the sound effects are annoying most of the time, they’re a far cry from the worst I’ve ever heard. While there are a bunch of rendering issues for a chunk of the game, they aren’t super noticeable unless you’re paying attention most of the time. The neat environments and cool puzzles are really nice to see in something other than text.