Island Hopping Adventure
It wouldn't be unfair to describe Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas as a 3d Action-RPG island hopping adventure. With a lot of Zelda DNA baked into the game. It's a formula that works surprisingly well, and you only have to look at Nintendo's sales to see just HOW well that's worked out for them. Yet Oceanhorn isn't just a copy-paste, best-of, Zelda-alike at all, it has its own distinct identity and whilst it's been out on iOS for a while, it's now the turn of the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
We managed to snag an Xbox One version code from the PR folks at FDG Entertainment. I've been playing this gem of a game for a few days now, clocking up over 12 hours on it so far - the verdict in short form: Fun, frustrating at times, but worth persevering with.
Where'd you go dad?
Oceanhorn focuses on your single protagonist, a young fellow who finds that his dad's vanished and he's all alone barring some nutty old hermit, on an island far from his home. Thus begins your journey between 3d isometric islands brimming with monsters, treasure, secrets, and an overarching main-story quest. It seems pretty pedestrian stuff to begin with, run around, find treasure, kill monsters with a stick. But pardon the pun, stick with it, and you'll find that things begin to open up. The Hermit's Island is but one of a smattering of themed islands in the game which you'll visit.
The controls are simple enough to learn, with face buttons controlling melee, magic, using items (on B for example) that you can switch via the d-pad. You can swap spells with up, items with right, switching between a bow (later on), bombs (later on, but very Zelda like), and some other cool loot.
There's a bunch of gear-gating going on in the game too, so in a rather Metroidvania-like manner, you'll revisit areas as you progress through the story quests, gaining new abilities, spells, and loot which will allow you to get to areas you couldn't access before.
There's a smattering of secret stuff to track down, some of it's particularly useful, like the heal spell (but only recommended for experienced adventurers, for the island where it lies is pretty tough), and a few secrets to discover.
It's a fun journey though, and that's what's important.
Tip: Smash pots by throwing them, you'll get mana jars and hearts back most of the time. Also, defoliate areas with small green bushes, since you'll get bonus gold, hearts, or mana the same way. Failing that, murder monsters for those drops.
Quests, Monsters, Gold, Levelling Up!
Quests: check, Monsters: check, Experience points: check. Yep, all three are there and with monster respawns you can farm XP if you so desire. It's not really worth it unless you're only a few points off getting that new level though, since the main quests give you a ton more, and often lead you to dungeons/areas that have bonus XP in the form of crystals. Some of these are a measly 25 XP, others are 500 XP. Killing monsters, doing quests and recovering these crystals all adds up to an eventual level up, here your character grows in power, but not in health. You'll also find chests with gold in them, and plenty of secret places with various treasures you can loot, for, you guessed it! GOLD!
You'll gain new abilities for your titular hero, allowing you to carry more bombs, more arrows, and eventually do some pretty badass things.
Loot's the same, drip-fed to you over the course of the main story arc, resulting in a new sword, shield, and some other cool stuff.
If you die you'll lose a small portion of XP earned toward the next level, with only a short time to get back and grab it. Fortunately you can trigger checkpoint as you progress that record your position on the map, which lessens the frustration a lot.
Getting from A to B
If you see the trailers for the game you might think you're going to be able to sandbox open-world roam Oceanhorn's various islands. You can, kind-of, only you're not getting on your boat and sailing where the wind and waves take you, the boat's your method of reaching new islands, but it's on rails as you plot a course and then defend the boat from sea monsters that spawn, and mines that float in your path.
Early on you get a neat little gun that lets you do just that, spraying gunfire with nary a care for other waterborne vessels. You can't harm them anyway, but the best method for clearing your path ahead is to spray gunfire into the water in an arc, adjust your aim, and blast away.
You'll net a stream of gold, XP, and refill your hearts/mana. It's classic stuff.
It's also not really tiresome, since you're getting a good reward for sailing from one island to the next.
Puzzling it Out
At times Oceanhorn doesn't lead you to where you need to be next, so you'll need to explore the area you're in, check every house, read every note/bottle that you find. You'll often unlock new islands and find the next leg of your journey. It also doesn't tend to give you many clues regarding environmental, and dungeon puzzles. There's a particular puzzle later on, and it's quite tricky, made easier by the use of the Xbox One's sticks compared to iOS controls.
Some of the puzzles are great though.
Aesthetics and Action
One thing that really does stand out in Oceanhorn is the aesthetic design of the whole game, it's gorgeous and it looks really nice on the One. The islands and characters are vibrantly designed, unless they're creepy scary islands full of ghosts. The enemies have that Zelda-like JRPG-like aesthetic that sets them apart from their Western (serious) counterparts. For such a dark story, the game's a pretty, and fun-looking one.
It runs smoothly too, I've not had a single crash, hitch, graphical problem, or texture issue over the 12 or so hours I've put in.
Music Maestros' Please!
Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), and Kenhi Ito (Seiken Densetsu) provide the orchestral score for the game, and it's definitely got that Nobuo feel to it, and any FF fan will immediately recognise the man's musical cues.
Voiced with a Passion
There's a bunch of voice work in the game too, and whilst not every line's voiced, there's enough voiced dialogue to make it a welcome change from totally silent protagonists. The voice work quality is also pretty good, with everyone putting some life into the characters.
Is it Worth It?
Well, it's a legitimate question, and my answer is: Yes. I've had a lot of fun with Oceanhorn, the puzzles are good, the combat is pretty fun, a little tricky now and then, but workable. The boss battles have been interesting, with the typical design of such things - usually requiring a rinse-repeat tactic to take the bad guy down. Again though, nothing too taxing. There's even a little fishing mini-game if you want, and stuff to collect for rewards.
Mainly though: It's been smooth, crash-free, and engaging.
Make of that what you will!