Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm (NSW) Review

Let's begin SuperPhillip Central's month of reviews with the sequel to a Zelda-like that I was surprised with how much I enjoyed it. The original Oceanhorn delighted me in ways I did not expect (as you can see with my 2017 Switch review), so you can bet that I was eager to try out its sequel, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm (while being equally disappointed it was a timed Apple Arcade exclusive. That said, Oceanhorn 2 is now on the Nintendo Switch as of last week, and here is the SPC review.

A 3D Zelda without all of the polish

The original Oceanhorn, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, did not do much to hide its clear influences from Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series. That was okay, though, as the quality of the game was quite good. Now, the developer of the original Oceanhorn is back with a brand-new sequel, initially an Apple Arcade exclusive, now available on the Nintendo Switch. Whereas Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas played as an isometric Zelda-inspired adventure, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm has greatly expanded both in size and scope, offering an impressively ambitious, fully 3D adventure. Not just that, but one that is overall a pleasure to play in many regards.

Oceanhorn 2 deals with many familiar tropes of its genre and influence (that influence once again being the obvious Legend of Zelda series). Our hero is a silent protagonist, who after training to become a knight, embarks on a land, sea, and air adventure through the world of Gaia to stop an evil force from destroying the world. In order to overcome this challenge, our hero and his party (yep, this time around you're joined by a party of heroes who help out in both battle and game progression) must return three medallions back to their beacons. Of course, this task isn't as simple as it seems with plenty of twists and turns occurring. 

Unlike the original Oceanhorn, you're not alone in your adventure to save the world!

Knights of the Lost Realm finds itself straddling the line between 3D Zelda and RPG. The latter sees our hero gaining experience from fallen foes and for completing 80 in-game challenges, ranging from tasks like defeating a number of a specific enemy, to fully exploring areas of the game. Completionists will have plenty to do in a game that's already lengthy as is. As you gain experience, your character rank levels up, granting the ability to hold more ammo, have more stamina for things like dashing and swimming, among other bonuses. 

Most enemies can be given a sneak attack from behind to deal more damage. That's the plan here, at least!

Stamina was slightly annoying in a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and in Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm, it's borderline insufferable at times. The walking speed is a bit slow, especially with how expansive and open many of the areas of the game are, making it so running is all but a necessity to make quick progress. The problem here is that your stamina runs out far too quickly, even when fully leveled up. It results in running for maybe four seconds, being forced to walk as your stamina gauge refills, rinse and repeat. Swimming is also slow, and there's no way to speed that process up, unfortunately. It's particularly obnoxious when you don't have the item needed to swim without the fear of drowning due to the stamina gauge fully depleting.

Combat is by far the least impressive part of Oceanhorn 2, but it's still serviceable. The biggest issue is that unlike Oceanhorn 2's biggest inspiration, 3D Zelda games, there is no targeting system to lock onto and focus on a specific enemy in battle when on offense. The only lock-on that occurs is when you hold out your shield, and you're unable to perform any other action when playing defense. If you use the proper timing to draw out your shield just as an enemy attacks, you'll counter by pushing them back, making them temporarily vulnerable to your own offensive assault. 

Three on one? I gotta like these odds.

Other than your shield, you also have an evasive roll to use to dodge attacks for defense. Additionally, you do get a degree of options in combat to utilize and unleash on your foes in battle, such as a caster gun that can fire bullets of various elemental varieties (you just need to scrounge around and collect ammo) and a grappling hook to either bring yourself closer to enemies or bring them closer to you. 

The weakness of combat stretches into the boss battles, which are just uninspired at best. When bosses do have clever ideas to them, the execution is pretty sloppy, offering many encounters that go on for far too long and end up being tedious. One specific boss occurs during a lagoon area of the game is fought three times in a row, with some exploration and puzzle-solving between each encounter, offering little, if any, change between each battle. It was agonizing fighting it once, but three times? Check, please. Fortunately, while bosses are a low point to Oceanhorn 2's adventure, they happen so rarely and are limited that they don't bring down the entire experience too terribly much.

With rather lackluster combat comes even worse boss battles overall.

Otherwise, Oceanhorn 2 is an exceptionally entertaining game. My favorite part of it was exploring the vast world, discovering hidden, out-of-the-way places and genuinely having my curiosity rewarded with treasure like a Heart Container or item that gets instantly sold for gold. There is plenty of side content to be found with Oceanhorn 2 along the beaten path and away from the otherwise linear adventure. You can search for daggers on the world map that unlocks new goodies, you can find and destroy all 50+ Bloodstones scattered about the world, you can enter the Grand Core to search for a shield upgrade that deflects lasers, you can hunt down escaped monsters from White City's prison, and even acquire a Master Sword-like blade by exploring an optional, puzzle-filled dungeon, though I didn't really find much of a difference in attack power with my new weapon...

Puzzles of all types rest inside the dungeons and areas of Oceanhorn 2.

While my hero's new blade didn't astonish me too much, I can't say the same thing about the level of impressive ambition the developer took with Oceanhorn's sequel. As stated, the original game featured crude blocky environments with an isometric perspective. Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is showcased by an absolutely jaw-dropping visual style in full 3D. I was especially bewildered by just how large some of the areas in the game are, particularly the main capital of Arcadia, the White City. Now, all this ambition, size and scope does come with a price. The game's frame-rate can stutter quite often, and this is certainly the case in larger, more complex areas, especially when the game auto-saves (a common occurrence). Thus, for those sensitive to occasional frame-rates, Oceanhorn 2's might be too much for you, despite the rest of the presentation being top-notch. 

A lot of areas in Oceanhorn 2 are as equally impressive as they are expansive.

Despite its frame-rate issues and problems with combat and bosses, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm delivers an enchanting adventure filled with clever puzzles, enjoyable exploration, and an astounding level of ambition when compared to its predecessor. This 15-20 hour Zelda-like was one that ultimately gave me more moments of joy and wonder than moments of anger and disappointment, making it a game that I would recommend with the caveat of knowing that it's a $30 game that isn't as polished as a $60 3D Zelda.

[SPC Says: B-]

A Nintendo Switch code was provided to SPC by the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

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