Operencia The Stolen Sun is an RPG adventure of the grandest scale that takes us back to the days of magical wonder and genuine amazement. Games like Morrowind, Ultima Online, and Dragon Age hit this same wonderful nerve with me. Just because Operencia is turn-based, has tile-based movement doesn’t mean it’s retro. I keep seeing this posted online, stop. Sure, Operencia borrows heavily on the past. Leaning heavily upon the roots of the 80s and 90s gaming with RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons. But Operencia does this in an excitingly fresh and new way that makes it a pure joy and wonder to play.
Without hesitation, I can say Operencia is my 2019 game of the year. It is unlikely to be beaten until we all toast to the new year and wipe the slate clean for 2020. I’m letting all this out of the bag a little earlier than usual, but there’s little I can do to hide it. I really love this game. It hit on a lot of spots that many other games have in the past year. Except for this time, they are all wrapped up on one package called Operencia The Stolen Sun. Hardly any game is infallible though. There are a few game elements that I didn’t agree or found an issue with during my playthrough. We’ll get into all of this soon enough. There’s so much else to talk about here so let’s get to work.
First things first! There’s no debating that Operencia is a beautiful game. If you don’t think so I’m sorry, but we will have to ask you to leave. Orencia’s style is best summarized as an evolving canvas. This game keeps pushing its own boundaries, keeps looking better, and keeps the player engaged. Operencia is filled with worlds created by magnificent masterminds of fiction. It all starts with the first castle where you seamlessly transition in and out magical water pools mysteriously placed within solid castle walls. It doesn’t end for quite some time either. You’ll find magnificent scenes and gorgeous lighting throughout all of Operencia’s 13 levels.
The transition between each level is just as amazing as the levels themselves. Each level is its own living and breathing world with its own assortment of enemy monsters, secrets, and story pieces. You’re continually thrusted from location to location with each being a glorious and sometimes surprising step forward. One hour you’ll be battling undead ghosts within the halls of a floating castle and the next you’re on your way to the tippy top of a magical tree fighting lizards. There are even times when the landscape itself is key to the story. For instance, a tree that looks older than life itself will soon greet you and aggressively demand your assistance. This moment will go down as one of the most memorable for me as I started to actually get what Operencia was trying to achieve. Operencia is at its best when you find yourself lost or confused, scouring the map for that missing key. Take a second to look around and soak it all in. Operencia is simply beautiful.
A Journey in Storytelling
Operencia is a story of epic proportions. This game has no reservations and spins a yarn so long it’s sometimes hard to believe. Three-headed dragons? Gods that live on magical islands in the sky? I could keep going as the rest would be just as far-fetched. This is what makes Operencia so great. This is a journey you’re not going to get anywhere else. It’s so far out there you have no choice but to just roll with it and see where it leads you. In Operencia the Sun King, Napkiraly has gone missing. The quest has fallen at the feet of your party to do what is required to bring the light back to the lands of Operencia. For if you do not, the world will perish and fall into darkness forever. No pressure. If such a task sounds like madness, then sign me up for all the madness in the world. You’ll make the journey through keeps, forests, trees, magic portals, ghost castles, forests made of copper, and come face to face with characters like Hadur, the War God, or Atilla. Each state of progression in this story is magnificent with many highs and lows for all of your party members. It’s not all about saving the world. You’ll soon find out that each of your party members has their own story to discover. Or even share if one of them happened to be lying. Hypothetically of course.
I consider much of this section icing on the cake. Operencia has a magical story which is told between the levels themselves but it takes it even further by adding some impromptu storytelling elements. Part of Operencia’s story is not only told by the party members conversing with themselves but also through a narrator. Narration is an age-old storytelling instrument and is seamlessly integrated into Operencia. At key points throughout the Operencia journey, a narrator will pleasantly drop in and advance the story, giving it just that little extra. I wish other games used this tactic more as it made me really feel like I was a key part of this grand story that I was unfolding with my party members. It’s almost like you’re playing a high-end visual novel.
An RPG would not be complete without some good old-fashioned campfire stories. Operencia has fairly large story pieces that occur when you visit the campfires scattered throughout the world. These storytelling sessions are triggered randomly so you’re not bombarded with a story cut scenes every time you want to save your game. Some of these are triggered by new party members, spreading their knowledge with the other members. Other events are triggered by world events or traps. You will even find some of these to be humorous as there’s a large amount of sarcasm built into the Joska’s character. After you obtain the merchant, even she will offer her wisdom to the party if stop to listen. You have the option to skip these scenes but I advise against it. This comes on top of the existing story being told with each further defining the world and people. This makes Operencia feel even more like an epic tale. We are, after all, the only people able to bring the sun back to the land of Operencia.
Friends and Enemies
When starting Operencia you have the choice to create a warrior, hunter, and mage. As you level up there’s a variety of active and passive skills to choose from. Some of the passive skills complement active skills perfectly. You can change both of these at any time if you want to try something new. Each party member has three different schools of magic to choose from. There are some decisions to be made in the beginning as you have to pick from all available skills but by the end of the game, you’ll have nearly all of them unlocked so don’t worry too much about missing out.
The number of talent points earned depends on how thorough you are and how you approach the world. Enemies don’t respawn so there’s a set allotment of experience available. Experience is also awarded for discovering entire maps and secrets. You better get used to bumping against walls like a kid playing Doom in 1993 if you want to find them all.
Operencia has 7 additional party members for you to choose from. You don’t get all of them right away. Operencia slowly trickles out these additional party members as needed to follow in line with the story. You might be a little disappointed if you’re an RPG player that likes to survey the entire party for strengths and weakness right off the bat. Have no fear. Experience earned for your active party members is the same for the ones that are inactive.
You’ll also gain new heroes at similar levels to your own, so there’s never a large level discrepancy. Also, each hero you gain in Operencia has its own distinct personality, skills, voice acting, and appearance. There are no cookie cutter templates here. Each of them is especially unique and interesting. You also won’t miss out on any story pieces that may require benched party members. They will always speak up and add their two cents when needed. This really makes them feel like they are traveling with you and not sitting in some far away tavern letting their skills languish.
History & Lore
Operencia’s history and lore are woven into the lifeblood of the game. By leaning heavily on Central European childhood cartoons, historical records, and folklore Operencia brings a never before seen story and world to all willing participants. The word Operencia translates to “far far away” and it couldn’t be truer. Operencia is a world full of magic, mystery, and awe. In Operencia you will find a Joska’s diary filled with all types of story and background. Every enemy and location have their own entry which fills the world not only with prey scenes and intimidating enemies but some real background and purpose. There’s more there than I have mentioned but exploring and finding them out for yourself is the best part about Operencia.
Operencia Fights Back
Operencia comes with a complete turn-based combat system where initiative rules supreme and the slow people are the first dead. While reminiscent of old-school turn-based RPG’s, Operencia keeps it fresh with stunning spells, a wide variety of physical attacks, plenty of buffs, dots, and charms. Combat begins after running into enemies found throughout the levels where you can either be ambushed or the ambusher based on the direction the enemy was approached from. Ambushing an enemy is possible if you approach from the rear.
The combat system is largely what you would expect with a turn-based RPG. Everyone takes turns beating each other up with a variety of ranged, melee, and spell based attacks. Not everything is a cake walk through. Total party kills are a way of life for anyone that has ever touched paper RPGs, Operencia included. Each party member has enough skill slots to keep the fights interesting and provide you with hard decisions when it comes time to decide between a charm or a lightning spell. The field is divided up into three different ranges. I found them only useful during the first half of the game. My range attacks were highly likely to hit the back row nearly every time, as they should. But near the second half of the game, the ranges started to not matter and my big brute melee attackers could hit anyone just as easily as my ranged attackers. The combat focuses heavily on spell based attacks. Without a mage, the fights quickly turned into slogs. A bit more on this later. There are also party based skills which you progressively unlock as you advance. These are often spells which have wide-sweeping consequences for your entire party or all enemies on the field.
The Sounds of Operencia
I don’t want to continue to brag here but Operencia boasts an epic score. Just take a look at the trailer above and you can feel it in your entire body. This doesn’t mean the sound effects are junk. They are just as good. The sound you hear during battles fit really well and felt fitting for the situation at hand. The game looks beautiful so it’s only right that it sounds beautiful as well. Operencia does not disappoint in this area. As stated in a Zen Studios developer diary the music itself changes as you progress through the story. There’s a certain element of magic and wonder that’s woven into Operencia’s core, the music and sound effects are no exception. The forests actually sound and feel like forests. The echo and reverberations bouncing off castle walls are perfect. I doubt anyone will find much to complain about here.
Puzzling your Puzzler
Zen Studios said in one of their Operencia developer diaries. The easy puzzles were often times the hardest ones to solve. I definitely had a few “a-ha” moments figuring out some of Operencia’s puzzles. The solution was often times easier than originally thought but there’s more than enough difficult puzzles in the game as well. Operencia has a wide variety of unique puzzles that I have never seen in other games before. All of the puzzles I encountered were solvable with a little thought. There is nothing better than solving a hard puzzle and being able to move on to the next task with some character dialog thrown in for fun. Operencia also helps in this regard. If you’re stuck on a puzzle too long your party members will start to offer hints. Sometimes these hints made it really simple to solve and sometimes they were shrouded in temporary mystery as you continue to struggle. Overall I really enjoyed this aspect of the game. They fit seamlessly into the world and Zen Studios struck a perfect balance between combat, exploration, and puzzles.
To use potions in Operencia, you must first obtain a variety of recipes. These recipes can be found throughout the world or sold at the merchant for a fee. There’s a catch. In Operencia potions don’t automatically brew themselves. You must be smart enough to decipher the recipe to brew it. I didn’t know this till later, but these recipes are actually called Einstein puzzles. The recipe provides you with a series of statements where you must use your best deduction skills to solve the puzzle. After solving the puzzle recipe, you can then assign the potion to a party member. Each party member can only have one type of potion equipped at once. I used potions heavily throughout my playthrough and they were a blessing as I often found myself low on health or energy far away from a campfire.
Operencia is not flawless. I experienced more than a few moderate and maybe a few more major frame rate drops while playing Operencia on my Xbox One X. This was especially bad when encountering areas with a lot of lighting effects. Player movement would slow down and it would feel like I was moving tiles in slow-mo. Thankfully, none of these slowdowns affected any of the timing puzzles where I needed to traverse areas with skill. Nonetheless, it was still present and was quite annoying when it happened.
Another issue I had during the early game is that I always felt like my party was not set up correctly. I was encountering fights that turned into prolonged slogs. This game focuses heavily on using your skills to burst down enemies and the enemies were always keen to target my healers and mages leaving me with nothing but a tank to finish the battle. I often won these battles but they were not fun to endure as they turned into 10 or 15 rounds of slapping each other until one side perished.
In addition; the range system that seemed nice at the beginning of the game turned into a system of nothing during the later stages. Nothing was stopping my AOE spells from hitting, the ranges didn’t matter, everything was going to die. The range system Operencia has designed seems like an unnecessary addon in all stages beyond the first few.
In The End
While this may be the end of this review I hope this is not the end for the world that is Operencia. Zen Studios has a special and unique world that I would like to experience again. This is me hoping or a sequel. There are a few issues with Operencia but I didn’t feel like it made the game any less fun. There was no game breaking bugs and the only times I became frustrated was because the game was kicking my ass or decided a fight needed to be 5x as long. I immensely enjoyed Operencia all the way through. None of the issues I have mentioned here or that I forgot about since then were enough to take away this magical trip to a far, far away land. Zen Studios took a well-worn formula and gave it a fresh coat of paint that can stand the test of gaming in 2019. I came for the turn-based combat but stayed to listen to the story and continue the adventure with my party members.