"If there's one thing that the average Japanese person fears more than the strange faced foreigners they sometimes see wandering their streets, it would have to be their demons. These faces of evil are so deeply entwined in local mythology and superstition that there would seem to be a demon for every occasion. From the mountain dwelling Tengu that torments lost travelers, to the Kappa water demons that drown hapless swimmers, there's a single universal constant that binds... a total and utter ha..."
If there's one thing that the average Japanese person fears more than the strange faced foreigners they sometimes see wandering their streets, it would have to be their demons. These faces of evil are so deeply entwined in local mythology and superstition that there would seem to be a demon for every occasion. From the mountain dwelling Tengu that torments lost travelers, to the Kappa water demons that drown hapless swimmers, there's a single universal constant that binds... a total and utter hatred for all mankind. Sometimes content to simply shear the flesh from our bones and consume our children, these bogey men of old would ultimately like nothing more than to commit our souls to an eternity of suffering and torment. From Software have wisely acknowledged this lurking darkness and as such have once again enlisted the awesome demon exorcising powers of Raikou Minamoto. A fairy by name only, Raikou is back stronger than ever with all the unchained fury of a bat out of hell. This is one fairy that's going to leave his wand at home...
Drawing on the wealth of Japanese mythology for its inspiration, Otogi: Hyakki Toubatsu Emaki merges fact and fiction to create one seamless occult laden package. Set during Japan's Heian period, Otogi2 begins with a fairly overused plot device. The barrier separating Earth from the demon realm has weakened yet again and mankind has found itself staring extinction in the face. Awoken from an age long slumber by the legendary priest Abeno Seimei, Raikou is called back into existence so that he may help defend the Earth realm from the growing forces of darkness. With the help of the four ancient elemental guardians, Sadamitsu (Air), Tsuna (Gold), Kimitoki (Fire), and Suetake (Wood), he must now restore balance to the world and defeat the infamous Nine Tailed Demon Fox, Kyubi no Kitsune. Though heavily based in legend, From Software have taken certain liberties with the characters and situations thus giving them a much needed dose of modern dramatic appeal. While 99% of Otogi: Hyakki Toubatsu Emaki's audience won't be aware of these differences, players familiar with the original historical figures can rest easy in the knowledge that these cultural icons have been handled with the respect and honor that they deserve.
At first glance, Otogi2 would appear to be yet another, albeit spectacular, third person action adventure. And who could fault such first impressions? After all, the larger than life combo attacks and devastating spell usage make combat a stylishly beautiful experience. With the help of some fully destructable environments, the graceful sweeps of Raikou's sword flow together to create some of the most devastating attacks yet witnessed. As simple as a well timed press of the button, players can smash enemies full force through virtually any background object. Skulls are cleaved and demons are vanquished while the combo meter rockets skyward to the accompaniment of some dazzling pyrotechnics. With so much carnage being delivered on screen at any given time, it's a miracle that the lock on system manages to keep up as well as it does! It must be said though that since performing my first 1500+ hit combo, my friends have been in complete awe of my apparent uber gaming skills. It may not seem like a big deal to non believers, but I can assure you that the sense of accomplishment at the time was hugely satisfying none the less.
Such ludicrous feats of bravado are only possible when the player feels comfortable with the controls. Tight and intuitive at all times, Raikou & co are a joy to command even during the hairiest of situations. Monsters and demons attack from every angle and yet at no time does it ever seem even the slightest bit over whelming. You have the power. The smooth as silk dash function compliments the action perfectly by allowing almost instantaneous movement across large distances. Whether it's a quick strafe, a dashing charge or a hasty retreat, players are mere seconds away from being exactly where they need to be. And that counts for a lot in a game that literally throws you into the very bowels of hell itself! Though it may not be the most original of concepts, it's a proven gameplay mechanic that fits in well with the many exaggerated action sequences.
All that well controlled offensive power will be for naught though if players fail to sufficiently level up their characters. It is between each stage that the RPG elements make themselves known, giving players a chance to customize such things as their strength, health and endurance. New spells and a wide range of talismans can be purchased and equipped here, each of which is extremely valuable in the right situation. When a particular stage seems all too hard, chances are that the solution can be found by carefully studying the abilities and attributes of each character. The Tsuchigumo Ground Spider levels serve as a perfect example of how a little thought can go a long way in Otogi2. True to their supernatural nature, some of the Tsuchigumo spiders will inexplicably explode when attacked thus seriously damaging anyone and everything nearby. While some players may like to use a speed dash or their character's endurance to get the job done, the best solution lies with Kimitoki the fire guardian. Strong enough to pick up and throw even the biggest of adversary, Kimitoki can toss these beasts at one another thereby setting off some spectacular chain reactions. The best solution is not always the most obvious!
With 27 stages and 18 bonus challenges to complete, Otogi2 presents a formidable challenge for even the most battle hardened of players. Make no mistake about it, this is a game with meat on its bones! By assuming control of either Raikou or one of the 4 guardians available, players are required to complete level specific objectives before being allowed to continue to the next stage. Via the clever use of smoke and mirrors, players are effectively fooled into believing that each objective is sufficiently different from the last though in actuality they remain quite similar. Whereby one stage might force the player to defend a single location from attacking longboats, the next may introduce an element of exploration as nests of Tsuchigumo eggs must be sought out and destroyed. Regardless of the objective, the end result is usually the same. Kill everything and let Kami-sama sought them out. You see, one level is French vanilla while the other has chocolate chips. That's not to say that things are dull, far from it! Otogi2 just demonstrates that sometimes it's best to stick with a winning formula.
If you still find yourself unsatisfied then wait until you get a look at some of Otogi2's monstrous boss battles. Among the most entertaining seen in a long while, these encounters are sure to test the player's reflexes as much as their strategic battle skills. Big, brutal and all so intense, these bosses are intimidating in their size and frightening in their speed. Real life historical figure and arch nemesis of our #1 fairy Raikou, Taira no Masakado, makes an early appearance in a surprise boss encounter that can only be described as epic. Taking place on the rain soaked grounds of a Japanese castle, the living corpse of Masakado san calls down lightning bolts and summons dead horsemen from high a top nearby watch towers. Bridges collapse and buildings shatter as mortal combat takes place to the accompaniment of the soft pitter patter of the rain. And by this is barely a third of the way into the game! As progress is made, the boss encounters become more and more dramatic eventually culminating in a climatic battle with one of the stand out figures of Japanese mythology, the Nine Tailed Demon Fox. Breathless and physically exhausted was how I felt at the conclusion of this battle. For a brief few moments though, I was a God...
Following in its illustrious predecessors footsteps, Otogi2 stands as one of the most visually impressive games available on any system, period. The washed out graphics induce a unique dream like quality that is suitably apt considering the fairy tale nature of the story. Beautifully rendered crystal caverns make way for some picturesque outdoor locales and imposing Japanese castles as variety is shown to be the name of the game. As large as they are interactive, these levels are so wonderfully authentic that one can literally feel the love permeating from each and every texture. Equally as impressive are the character designs that literally scream their demonic heritage to the world. Dripping in style and fearsome in fashion, they are sure to be remembered long after Otogi2 has been returned to the shelf. From Raikou's quiet cool to Sadamitsu's deadly beauty, the return of these 5 anti-heroes is fully expected if not desired in the inevitable sequel.
Believe it or not, Otogi2's soundtrack actually manages to live up to the lofty standards set by the rest of its presentation. By utilizing a wide range of traditional Japanese musical instruments, From Software have amplified the look and feel of fuedal Japan ten fold. The Taiko drums are suitably dominant through out as the gracefully plucked Koto strings reverberate with a fierce emotional intensity rarely seen in a video game. Only the most stoic of players will find themselves untouched by some of Otogi2's more intoxicating melodies. Combined with the excellent sound effects and voice acting, Otogi2 is one polished audio experience. By this stage, the fact that it also supports Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound is simply icing on the cake. Surely you must be feeling hungry by now!
Considering that the original Otogi: Myth of Demons flew under the radar of many a gamer, it's a feat unto itself that From Software put as much effort into its sequel as they did. Otogi: Hyakki Toubatsu Emaki is a text book example of how to make the perfect follow up. Take everything that was popular in the first then power up the graphics, level up the characters and open up the shops so that they stock a larger range of items and spells. Bigger, better, and hell of a lot sweeter... some important key words to live by. It's a proven recipe for success and one that From Software have done well to follow. Whether it's the hyper energized action sequences or the surreal dream like qualities of the environments, Otogi: Hyakki Toubatsu Emaki is guaranteed to impress even the most jaded of gamers. Polished until it bleeds, this is an A grade title in every sense of the term. Second chances like this don't come along very often, but when they do it's usually for a very good reason. And this is one such example. Otogi: Hyakki Toubatsu Emaki is perhaps one of the most exciting action adventure experiences available. Go on, pick up that sword and challenge the darkness. You won't be sorry...
* There's a fantastic story to be enjoyed that borrows from legend and entertains in full
* Raikou & co control perfectly making the impossible seem possible
* Combat is trendy mix of high counting combos and spectacular magical effects
* The RPG elements mesh so well with the main action set pieces that the 2 are virtually symbiotic in nature
* Otogi2 presents a satisfying challenge for even the most hardcore of gamer
* Each of the 27 stages is fully interactive allowing players to smash, bash and destroy at will
* Lavish graphics with a sense of style and originality
* The traditional Japanese soundtrack compliments the action perfectly
* Otogi3 is getting that much closer with each passing day
* The lock on system could use further refinement as it can get tricky at times
Community review by midwinter (August 27, 2004)
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