“Derivative” is not always a negative description of a game. It may be able to take familiar elements and perfect their uses, as opposed to the games where they originated. There are also titles that successfully use facets made famous by longstanding franchises, such as the famous Metroidvania levels or looting for more powerful guns.
The developers of Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas must have been fans of The Legend of Zelda, specifically The Wind Waker. Originally developed and released for the iOS, players take control of a nameless kid, who awakes one morning on Hermit Island to take on a quest to defeat the mysterious Oceanhorn, which is a malevolent machine set to destroy our adventurer’s world. Right from the start, players immediately begin their adventure to destroy the titular monster, as they’ll cut down enemies of varying power and design in an experience that takes part in a multi-leveled world supported by rich lore and a beautiful score.
What came as a surprise to me was that the narrative through-line and general world building is quite good, inviting players to delve deeper into the fractured world of Arcadia, which is made up of several islands. Players will control the unnamed destined kid to travel to the various islands in search of ancient emblems to help him defeat the Oceanhorn. From the depths of Gillfork’s Drop to the fiery Old Fortress, players will weave in and out of fascinatingly detailed dungeons filled with puzzles. When you guide the character into Gilfork’s Drop, there are several clever instances where you have to raise and lower the water levels, which affect the whole area. Despite an obvious puzzle mechanic, it’s a nice and clever touch to the puzzle..
Yet the puzzles are easy, and even one with moderate gaming experience will find the battles and traversal devoid of substantial challenge. As players find and earn a wide arsenal of tools, weapons, and spells throughout the game, the intuitive and responsive nature of the controls means combat is a straightforward affair. Puzzles in the beginning are just the same as well, as players will be able to quickly reach the end of the dungeons, and even the more challenging portions toward the end of the game won’t last much longer than 15-20 minutes. This doesn’t hurt the game at all, however, as the overall presentation and aesthetic of the game allows for a more lighthearted affair.
Despite how the majority of video games nowadays are made for adults between the ages of 18-35, Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas makes for a great entry point to children well younger than that age bracket. Even as I worked my way to 100% completion, I only clocked in close to 14 hours of play. This is a short game that is tight, while it also contains an appropriate amount of surprises to add in extra content that does not feel like needless fluff.
What does feel unnecessary are the ancillary relationships from characters that the boy comes across throughout the course of his journey. Take Nehiti, for example. After you help her set off the firework show on Tikrael, she becomes seemingly entranced by the young boy, and immediately wants him to take her all over the world. It’s very weird, since there are very few interactions between her expressing her interest in the boy, and her admiration for him. Neither Nehiti nor some of the other characters in the game strike as much of an emotional chord as others.
The Father, which is the kid’s dad, is surrounded with an incredible amount of mystery that is carefully unraveled throughout the narrative. I was emotionally affected when the kid returned to his home island, and was impressed how the writers were able to tie in the Father without seeming cliché. The Hermit’s cranky but charming dialogue seems very lovable at times, and Princess Fin is the noble representative of the rich lore behind the distressed Gillfolk. Accompanied by these characters is some great and distinct voice acting, including Ray Chase, the voice of the Father and will be seen as Noctis in the highly anticipated Final Fantasy XV, and Kevan Brighting, who may also be heard as the lone voice of The Stanley Parable.
Oceanhorn’s strongest quality is its music. The soundtrack is vast, filled with tracks that are clearly distinctive between each other. Some capture the wonder of adventure, as you’re traversing through Arcadia. As your character steps into the dungeon, the track changes into a more ominous tune. Gillfolk Drop’s smooth sounds and lack of staccato beats admit the feeling of a clear ocean. The Old Fortress is bombastic, literally, as the young adventurer battles goblins to the pounding of drums and exciting chords. Oceanhorn’s complex soundtrack greatly makes up for the various bugs you’ll encounter, as the music helps you soothe into the adventures of the young kid.
While it may not be one of the bigger releases of the year, Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas contains interesting lore and all around high presentation values. The world of Arcadia may seem big, but the unnamed kid’s adventure remains focused enough that you’ll have no trouble following this fun tale from beginning to end.
+ Incredible music and voice acting
+ Fun world
+ Very interesting lore
– Bugs at very inconvenient times
– “Easy” difficulty may be off-putting to some