If I hadn’t been randomly assigned to review a few licensed pinball tables, I’d probably have no idea who Zen Studios are. I also subsequently assumed that pinball was all the small Hungarian developer did. As such, I was more than a little surprised to discover they’ve spent the last two years on a passion project of their own – an excellent dungeon-crawler, Operencia: The Stolen Sun.
From the get-go, it’s clear Zen Studios were heavily inspired by the classics, such as Might & Magic and The Bard’s Tale, but also by more modern games in the genre, such as Legend of Grimrock and Vaporum. Your lightly-customisable adventurer, either male or female and fully-voiced, is guided to an ancient castle after a prophetic dream, swiftly discovering and befriending several companions, all of whom are directly (or indirectly) working to save the captured Sun King, Napkirály, and save the "Middle World" from invasion by a dragon of "The Underworld".
Operencia: The Stolen Sun is at its best when it most closely emulates the classic dungeon-crawlers that inspired it.
The plot is full of common fairy tale tropes and quirky companions you’ve seen before in many incarnations, however, it’s well-told by way of mission cutscenes, entertaining party banter, and snarky journal entries by your companion Jóska. Although many locations you explore are under the influence of curses - often as a result of dark or tragic circumstances - your protagonist and companions are consistently upbeat and, I’m loathe to use the word, delightful. I remember, at most, two or three conversations in which characters chastised one another for their actions but, not long after, everyone was back to being friends, shouting words of encouragement and sharing bad jokes. Just don’t consider that a criticism - I’m thoroughly sick of the grimdark tone that permeates most other major releases and found Operencia: The Stolen Sun a refreshing change.
As recent dungeon-crawler games have all been indie titles with limited reach, I’d not be surprised if many modern gamers have never experienced the genre.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun is never as dense as its peers and makes several concessions – such as highlighting small objects once you get close enough and relying on far fewer switches hidden in wall textures.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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PC, Xbox One
29 March 2019
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