Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm
Cornfox & Bros.
I played the first Oceanhorn game about four years ago, but I don’t remember it super well. I still have vague impressions of how it played, and I remember liking it well enough, but if you asked me to tell you any specifics about its story or level design I would not be able to. Still, here are the basics: Oceanhorn is a series of games that seek to emulate the Legend of Zelda series on an indie budget. The first game, Monster of Uncharted Seas, played from a top-down perspective, while the sequel – subtitled Knights of the Lost Realm – uses a behind-the-character third-person camera.
The gameplay in Oceanhorn 2 is nothing terribly complex, but it works. The player has a sword, a shield, a gun that serves as either a basic ranged attack or various selectable elemental projectiles, and a number of other gadgets that can be used in both exploration and combat. In true Zelda style, more and more of the world opens up as you get more of those items, thus incentivizing the player to constantly revisit older areas and see what new treasures they can uncover. Though sword combat is a bit on the basic side, there is one aspect to it I really liked, which is that pulling off a full three-hit combo triggered a critical hit, dealing extra damage to the enemy and, if possible, knocking it off-balance to allow for further bonus damage on the next hit after that. Another way to get bonus damage is to hit unaware enemies, but I found the stealth mechanics to be a bit lacking as I could very rarely manage to sneak up on anything. That’s fine, to be honest since it’s not really a game designed to be stealth-oriented in any way, but it’s still odd that they would make any attempt to include it at all.
Apparently, Oceanhorn 2 is a prequel to the original, but as I stated previously I remember very little about Monster of Uncharted Seas, so I can’t really speak to that. That said, the story of this one was fairly compelling. While I didn’t get through the whole game for reasons I’ll touch on later, the part that I did play seemed to be shaping up to say something about the dangers of hubris and authoritarian nationalism; surprisingly complex themes. It gave me very Mortal Engines (the books, not the movie) vibe, through both that and its aesthetic, which I very much enjoyed.
Though the story and gameplay are both sound, the presentation is where Oceanhorn 2 starts to show the most faults. While not a mess, there are definitely things to be critical of. For starters, the character models are detailed and well-rendered, but they look a bit lifeless at times, especially during cutscenes and conversations. It’s hard to be too critical of this, as it is still a game with an indie budget and one has to consider that when judging a game’s graphics, but still – unsettling. There were a few instances of improper grammar or misspelled words here and there, but nothing that stuck out too much and certainly not enough to ruin the experience, but there nonetheless. Finally, there was an issue in some parts of the overworld where enemies would very suddenly drop from the sky to start encounters, and while this in itself is not so bad every time it happened the camera would focus in on them in a very disorienting way that also broke the flow of gameplay by forcing you to stop and watch. Of the presentational issues I encountered, this was the most jarring, but again it does not completely ruin the game.
I mentioned earlier that I didn’t finish Oceanhorn 2, and I feel I should explain why. For some reason, this game was not able to hold my attention very well, and I could never play it for long stretches at a time the way I do most games. Oddly, I can’t think of any qualifiable reason why. By all accounts, the exploration, combat, and story should have been engaging enough to keep me around, but they weren’t. As a longtime fan of the Zelda series, I should have adored this game, because all the right elements are there for me to adore, but I don’t. I wish I could offer a more coherent bit of commentary on this, dear reader, but my lack of focus when it comes to this game I perhaps something worth bearing in mind when you decide whether or not to buy it.
My personal issues aside, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is a solid title. Though it lacks a bit of polish here and there, it’s a very impressive independent attempt at the Zelda formula made all the more impressive by the fact that it was initial developed as a mobile title. If you’re like me and not terribly interested in Age of Calamity but still want more Zelda-like action to hold you over until Breath of the Wild 2 comes out, you could do a lot worse than this.
Oceanhorn 2 is pretty good but leaves something to be desired, even if I can't quite put my finger on what.