Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a dungeon crawler. The heyday of this genre was in early 90-s when graphics became elaborate enough to create captivating visuals, but CPU struggled drawing something in full 3D. With many technical restrictions, moving player along the grid and allowing only 90-degrees turns was a viable trick to make an illusion of a rich world with just a set of backgrounds and a few animated details.
Interestingly enough, there is a number of successful dungeon crawlers made in recent years. Instead of static backgrounds they use gorgeously rendered 3D world (and in Operencia you can actually rotate the camera freely), but apparently grid movement is still a viable shortcut to make level visually stunning, and at the same time easy to navigate. And thus to make you feel as an adventurer from a fantasy story.
Once Upon a Time
Except, the story in Operencia is more of a fairy-tale/myth than typical “high fantasy”. It starts with a dragon attacking a village and a legendary warrior Atilla defeating him (with the help from his wife Reika and local powerful shaman). Though as you play through this prologue (which also serves as a tutorial) some hints pop up that there can be more to this seeming cliche plot.
The main portion of the game, however, you play as your own character. Years after Atilla’s reign. Mage, warrior or hunter – class will determine your special skills for combat (spells, melee or ranged attacks). Plus an initial set of characteristics. And few details in background story and dialogs.
You don’t have any dialog choices – the story is totally linear, but there are many cut-scenes and occasional commentary, all fully voiced. It’s cool to hear mage throwing a word about spells and enchantment, while warrior bragging about own prowess during a conversation. Of course, some phrases differ for male and female protagonists too.
For a more flavor, you have four options for each hero appearance. Though they all look like characters from some 90-s fantasy TV-show, I think that fits the game pretty well, considering how your protegee behaves. Clever, sharp, quick for some snide remark. As plain and short as they are all conversations in your party always entertaining.
Ah, yes, the party. First one to join you on the quest will be a rouge named Joshka. In addition to a swift blade in battle, he will also provide even more snide remarks and clever insight to the events. Especially in his journal, that would in time contain the whole encyclopedia of locations, monsters, characters.
Then will be a turn for honest and brave (if naive and somewhat dim) knight Mezei. Sebastian the Dragonslayer will join you on a glorious mission… of robbing Reika’s Tomb. And many more unique and memorable personalities will follow. Along with backstories clearly inspired by well-known mythological archetypes.
And here is how the story goes – new location, new characters to meet, new sub-guest to complete. There are no cities or other “civilized” hubs, even a shopkeeper is actually a member of your party (she joins you after you complete the third dungeon). On the one hand, it is good – each chapter of your adventure has a distinct atmosphere and style. Your path will come across the underwater castle, cursed fortress, various labyrinths, even the World Tree itself.
However, the overarching plot about (as you can guess from the game’s title) the sun disappearance and the world going dark will be just a motivating goal for the most part of the game. Each locale (or level if you will) is a self-contained adventure with its own story (again, reminds me of TV-shows like Conan or Beastmaster). And also a setup for unique challenges.
Interestingly enough, battles are not the primary challenge in Operencia. In fact, until the later game, they are not a challenge at all. But even then, winning most fights is a question of just using the right type of attack, considering enemy’s resistances and vulnerabilities, weapon effectiveness and buffs/debuffs available. And choosing a correct skill, plus attributes to raise during level-up is far more important for victories than your tactics in the fight itself.
Also, there is a little “stealth” element. Enemies patrol area by designated routes and if you manage to sneak on them from behind, in the battle (which always happens in a separate “mode”) you will get a few preemptive strikes.
The progression system is totally standard – gain experience and advance through skill tree upon reaching a new level. But this is also intertwined with resource management. Each campfire that restores health and mana (and later in the game you replenish your potions during the rest) requires firewood. Considering that monsters don’t respawn, you will often face a dilemma – to use another log or go and fight (even boss) with only half health.
However, the main challenge for the player are dungeons themselves. Puzzles that require solving, traps that will diminish your precious health if you don’t react quickly, various secrets (remember that you need to look for experience points as well as money and better equipment) – that’s where your brains and attention will be for the most of the game.
Treasure hunting starts really shine when you get some Artifacts. A magic shovel helps to find buried chests, griffin feather allows to lift (and carry) some heavy objects, enchanted hammer raises bridges in certain points… With their help, you can find many useful items, equipment and resources (plus exp of course) that will make the game quite a bit easier.
Where History Meets Legend…
Operencia is first and foremost a story. Its plot is not as intricate or twisted as in some story-based RPG, but many interwoven subplots inspired by European legends and characters with memorable personalities still make it engaging.
You will most certainly enjoy beautifully crafted environment and splendid voice acting. While challenging puzzles, various trials and battles with most peculiar creatures will keep you engaged and entertained.
Even if you don’t find much of tactics here, overcoming the obstacles (be it corridor where you dodge fireballs or tough boss fight) will make you feel a part of a story.