Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: a lot of people criticized “Oceanhorn” for being too much like “Zelda” (which in and of itself is like criticizing me for looking too much like Brad Pitt – I don’t -). Another issue here is the fact that this is a port of a mobile game. So, ew, right? Who wants to play a mobile “Zelda” clone? Well, I do. And so should you. “Oceanhorn” goes way beyond being a copy of any “Zelda” game. It’s a well-crafted, fun, beautiful love letter that runs well, plays even better and hell, it may just be the Game of the Year for the Vita.
Do you think I’m going crazy? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Let’s dissect it and see.
The story is probably the weakest point about the game, which can also be said about even some of the best entries in the franchise that inspired it (A Link Between Worlds was great but the story was… well, not). You wake up, left by your dad with some vague instructions about a monster and your mom. It is obviously derivative but it serves nicely as the backbone of the game play, which is where “Oceanhorn” really shines.
So, without further ado, let’s move onto the good stuff, shall we?
Oceanhorn plays very much like a “Zelda” game: you have a sword (and some other weapons) at your disposal, you traverse the overworld, finding puzzles in dungeons and getting keys. It’s really difficult to put into words, though, just how good the game feels when played. It’s light-hearted in its identity, precise in its execution and joyful in its delivery.
Collecting items is satisfying, getting heart pieces alleviates your woes, and interacting with NPCs is quirky and I know I’m gushing but I just had a blast playing this game.
One thing that I want to emphasize: it’s an isometric game. And I love isometric games. I think it allows for some very clever level design (as we can see in this very game) and it provides a retro-yet-familiar look that makes you think of games like Diablo and Age of Empires. And who doesn’t like them?
I have a minor gripe regarding the sailing, though: I wish there was more control over what we can and can’t do with the boat. Yeah, there’s eventual stuff you’re allowed to do, but it’s not free-roaming. I know that would have escalated development time a hundred-fold, but I do miss it.
You cannot fault the game on its presentation, though: just look at that screenshot. I may be wrong but considering all the platforms they’re exporting the game to, my guess is that it’s running on Unity. If that’s the case, it makes me both happy and sad. It makes me happy because it means that there’s a lot more that can be done on Unity than what we’ve seen on our handheld. It also makes me sad, though, because I’ve seen other Unity ports just fumble the ball completely, running like a pig at 5FPS.
UPDATE: Apparently these guys are not only great game-makers but also magicians. They built the engine from scratch!
Thanks a lot! Spoiler: It’s not made with Unity 😉
— FDG Entertainment (@FDG_Games) May 31, 2017
Custom Engine, created from scratch.
— FDG Entertainment (@FDG_Games) May 31, 2017
Oceanhorn runs as smooth as the wind on an ocean beach. It looks darn beautiful, too: the art is fantastic, with colorful palettes reminiscent of the Wii and DS era “Zelda” games.
The music is fantastic, as can be expected when you’ve got Final Fantasy musicians writing it for you. My only gripe is with the voice acting: it’s not bad, but the dialog is on the bland side, which makes any kind of heartfelt delivery a bit difficult, even for seasoned actors.
It’s not enough to ruin the experience by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a point against what’s otherwise an absolutely perfect looking and sounding game.
I’m sure you’re tired to read me gush about the game by now, so I’ll give you my closing thoughts on it.
“Oceanhorn” doesn’t do anything new. But it doesn’t pretend to, either. It knows exactly what it is, and it executes it perfectly. The thing is, though, that thanks to its wonderful execution, it is much more than a “Zelda” clone. It really is just a fantastic, fun and beautiful adventure game.
Its derivative nature does knock a couple of points off, as do the standard story and improvable voice acting. But everything else about the game is so full of charm that one can’t help but fall in love with it.
We’re very late in the Vita’s lifespan now, and new releases will dwindle. But to have such a fantastic game come along is a blessing for us who will continue to brave the storm as the doors close on the Vita and it becomes a legacy device in the next couple of years.
I promised you my closing thoughts, and so, here they are: “Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas” is that cover band that does sound better than the real thing.
At a Glance:
- Title: Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas
- Developer: FDG Entertainment GmbH & Co.KG
- Publisher: FDG Entertainment GmbH & Co.KG
- Format: PSN Download / Limited Edition Physical Card (coming soon)
- Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Required:192mb
- PlayStation TV Compatible: TBC