Developer: Cornfox & Bros.
Publishers: Cornfox & Bros.
Rating: Action, Adventure, Indie, RPG
We’ve all been there, standing in line at the grocery store and glancing casually at the impulse buys that line the end caps. Half the time stores will display the latest movie releases on DVD and Blu-Ray and the other half of the time stores will display titles that kind of look and sound like the latest blockbusters but are more or less cheap knock offs trying to earn a buck. That’s kind of my impression of Oceanhorn—Monster of the Uncharted Seas. I went into the game with an open mind but I more or less found myself playing the off-brand of every Zelda game ever released.
I don’t want to be too hard on an indie game producer, but as an aspiring writer I always sneer at material that’s far too similar to something larger and more successful. There is a lot of missed potential in this title. Perhaps it’s just not my cup of tea, perhaps it appeals to a different audience. As with everything, it really depends on where you come from when starting a story. For me, a great story rests on the shoulders of a memorable character, it breathes through the world that character exists within, and it grows through an emotionally charged plot. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
While vague, there is a loosely woven religion spoken of by the locals. Centering around three deities representing different aspects of the elements and virtues, the ultimate power to unify Arcadia, must be united. The three gods have poured out their divinity in the form of three emblems: the emblem of sun, the emblem of earth, and the emblem of the ocean. When the three emblems are brought together they ultimately form the emblem of creation.
The other side of the coin is a vague belief in dark arts. These arts aren’t really touched on aside from a single evil character and the final exposition of the game. It more or less concerns the union of magic, machines, and blood as a forbidden art.
While there is no shortage of swords or swordplay, there’s really nothing to get concerned about as far as violence or gore. Enemies get smacked about, tip over, and vanish. It’s pretty tame. If I have to split hairs, the visual of a reanimated corpse halfway through the game is a little disturbing.
There is none to speak of.
There is none to speak of… minus a single shot of fish-tushie.
There is none to speak of.
Oceanhorn overall seems to be pushing the theme of hope. The main character is essentially left alone in his home, waking up to an empty home with only his father’s journal to guide him. Why his father left him, what became of him, and the hero’s role in all of it is largely unknown. There’s no telling what happened to his father, but the hero pushes on in hopes of reuniting himself with his father. He doesn’t seem to know that he has a larger role in the chaos of the world than anyone lets on. Through the course of the game, the hero encounters a few other individuals who are teetering on the verge of falling into despair but through his actions is able to restore their hope in their own situations. A character who believes himself to be the last of his kind discovers others, a race fearing they’ve lost their royal line has their ruler restored to them, and a colony separated from the rest of the world is returned to it.
Oceanhorn opens with a narration by the hero’s father. Essentially, the man is being hunted by a beast from the depths of the great sea known only as Oceanhorn and believes the only way to stop the creature is to confront it directly…and leave his journal to his sleeping son so he can confront it later. The journal is meant to guide the hero on a quest to obtain the strength and knowledge that he needs in order to prepare himself for his own fated confrontation with Oceanhorn. From this point on, the hero must travel from island to island, gaining information about surrounding islands from clues found on the beach, engage in discussions with the residents of the island, and record findings in the aforementioned journal.
He must also conquer dungeons found on a variety of islands as he searches for relics that can aid him in his quest. Among these relics are three essences of the gods which, upon obtaining all three, will combine into one grand relic, a legendary shield, and a legendary sword.
Oceanhorn is pretty much every Zelda game ever with all the charm, personality, originality, and excitement sucked right out of it.
I know that there’s honestly a lot of stories and games that follow the same formula and I know that the idea of finding elemental relics, magical weapons, and exploring a vast world is nothing new. None of that would be so bad if there was even one character that I, as a player, could relate to and invest in or a game that was at least a little fun to play.
I’m going to call the hero Lenk; he has literally no personality. He’s a silent protagonist, yes, but he doesn’t seem at all effected by the events around him. In LoZ and other games with a silent protagonist, their personality is shaped by how they react to the events taking place around them, how they interact with other characters, how characters speak of them, so on and so forth. Lenk has one expression (I call it “mildly dead inside”), and other than maybe three characters, no one seems to give him any depth.
Lenk shows no confusion, no fear, no grief, hesitation, resolve, or even love. He just stands there and things kind of happen to him. For example, romance kind of happens. He helps a girl for a half an hour of gameplay and she shares a night watching fireworks with him. The way she talks, one would think that they were star-crossed lovers. It was so strained, so forced, and so lifeless that I had to avoid physically slapping my forehead.
The lack of depth to the characters is one problem that could be overlooked if the gameplay was interesting. Sadly…it isn’t. It is pretty generic, but the biggest problem that the game has is the lack of consistency. In order to progress, the character has to gain information and tips on where he needs to go next. If he reads a note or overhears someone talking about an island, for example, that island is unlocked and he can sail to it.
Well, at one point I walked around an island and talked to every character, read every bottle, etc. I couldn’t progress. I cheated, googled it, and I came to find that SOME NPC’s have to be talked to multiple times to get the right info. Generally, NPC’s have one thing to say and that’s it. Given that every NPC up to this point has said one thing every time I talked to them and none of them look “important,” this is something that I had to google to solve. This wasn’t the first time, either. There are places that need to be bombed in order to clear obstacles. Ok, that should be expected. However, sometimes a clot of dirt can be bombed and sometimes an identical clot of dirt somewhere else cannot be. Sometimes walls can be bombed and sometimes not. There are no cracks in the wall, discoloration, symbols, or alerts to let you know which things can be bombed and which ones cannot be bombed. This game all but requires a guide to get through and they are not easy to come by. It’s maddening to bomb every single wall hoping to find the solution to a problem, run out of bombs, have to go collect more, and come back to keep guessing.
The puzzle solving unfortunately matches the overall pacing of the game. Everything is so slow, so boring, and so aggravating that every single dungeon and level feels like a grind. The bosses aren’t interesting, unique, or challenging at all. Only Oceanhorn, which was extremely buggy, proved difficult for me. Any elements of interest felt like drive by showcasing to show that some effort went into world building, but they come and go as quickly as billboards out the car window.
Oh! A nearly extinct race has hope of continuing on—oh I guess that’s not important.
Oh! This girl has a romantic interest in Lenk—Oh okay moving on.
Oh sweet! The not-Zoras have this amazing legend about an old hero that—ohh squirrel!
Perhaps the worst part of all was the ending. There was a decent premise behind Lenk, his father, the reason behind Oceanhorn’s behavior, and the villain but it isn’t discovered through the course of the story. Instead, it’s revealed in the literal last scene by having a character just outright explain it. SHOW! DON’T TELL!
I might have really enjoyed this game if the story of Oceanhorn and Lenk’s lineage and role actually played a part in the game aside from the introduction and the conclusion. It’s like eating a sandwich that’s made of bread and another slice of bread. There is no meat, no substance, and just getting through it felt like a chore. There is a story there with potential, but there is no effort put into weaving it into the actual gameplay.
If I can say anything positive about the game, it’s that the backgrounds are beautiful and fluid and that the music is wonderful. The legendary composer of the Final Fantasy series, Nobuo Uematsu, offered his talents for some of the compositions. If anything, the soundtrack is worth a listen. It’s fantastic, even without the context of the game. The environments are a combination of a cleaned up Minecraft world and The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker’s great sea. I’m really not a fan of the blocky design of the islands and dungeons, partly because of the consistency problem I mentioned and the difficulty navigating the islands themselves, but I can tell that a lot of work went into making them look nice. The water effects are great, and the time spent on the open sea allows you to see just how vast the world is.
Overall, there may be some fans of the game. It’s out on the iOS and it can be a killer of time, but in my opinion there are just better games out there that can do just that and leave an impression. Oceanhorn to me is trying too hard to be something it isn’t rather than trying to be the best that it can be. It has original material that could have brought something unique and memorable to the world of gaming. The mechanics need some work, and the hero could have been given a personality and it would have fixed much. I can’t recommend this game. If you want to play a game that involves swords and sorcery on the high seas, there are a dozen other options out there that are vastly more enjoyable.
Review product provided by Maverick PR
The Bottom Line
For an iOS game, Oceanhorn may not be horrible to kill the time. For a sit down and get immersed in a fantasy sword and sorcery game on a console, it falls flat. The puzzles are only challenging because there's no consistency to them, the story is hardly interesting enough to keep anyone invested for too long, and the characters are about as interesting as wheat toast on a bran cracker. The visuals of the world are fantastic, as is the score, but the character models are distracting and awkward. It's clear that the creators wanted to try their hand at creating something wonderful, but because of borrowed stories and a lack of character development, their final result is lackluster.