Occasionally, you play a game where its atmosphere and setting really grab a hold of you. So much that your initial impression is: “I wish I really lived there”. And it doesn’t matter much if it’s a fantasy setting or not. The last time I felt that way was while (re)playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Comfy Mediterranean coastline wherever you look, vineyards, and plenty of towers to climb on for an even better scenery to look at. So who cares if you might get mauled by a bear every once in a while or Athenians may ransack your village? It’s a small price to pay. And why this opening talk for some Assassin’s Creed game in my Olija review? What is it that they both have in common? The atmosphere, of course. Something that Olija presents quite well.
Once again, we are introduced to a cozy Mediterranean setting. While it doesn’t have dangerous bears or Athenians this time, things are far from good. Each year, the sea offered less and less fish. Our protagonist Faraday, a penniless young lord, could not endure that anymore so he gathered a crew and set sail for a desperate hunt. After weeks of sailing, the brave men spotted a dark and enormous whale that could very well be the answer to their food troubles. But the hunt for the whale didn’t go exactly as planned, so Faraday is now shipwrecked in an unfamiliar place. The mysterious country of Terraphage is home to many traps and enemies so it won’t be easy to escape it and return to your homeland.
After a short tutorial section, the game will take us to meet our new “friend” – a legendary cursed harpoon that will make our stay in Terraphage a bit easier. Armed with your new weapon and quick combos, you’re now free to explore the new land as you see fit. Aside from fluid combos, the harpoon also possesses the ability to teleport, which you can also chain with said combos for a stronger final attack. As you progress through the game, you can find new upgrades for your harpoon and secondary weapons. One neat gimmick regarding combat and exploration is how the throwable feature of your harpoon is implemented. You can throw it to higher areas and teleport to where your harpoon is, reaching locations that you couldn’t get to otherwise. You can also toss it to where the enemy is, shorting the distance and even damage the enemies once you recall the harpoon to your hand (if they’re on its path). Another selling point of Olija is the exploration. Find secrets and gather material in order to craft hats. Yes, I said hats. Being malnourished in this game is no excuse to not look stylish. On top of making you look badass, wearing certain hats will give you various combat perks. Your home base of Oaktide in the land of Terraphage serves as a central hub for crafting new hats ad meeting characters that you found and liberated through exploring.
If there is another game reminiscing of Olija, I’d single out one title that shares a similar ambience when it comes to visuals and that is, without doubt, Another World. However, while the minimalistic pixel art graphics there managed to only emphasize the ambience, in this game it feels like it took a bite that’s a bit hard to chew. While the environments in Olija are occasionally brimming with details, often I’d find myself staring at the scenery trying to distinguish is that a bush, a chest hiding behind something, or an enemy. Certain enemies look like Picassoesque blobs that seem unfinished or created with the principle of “less is more”. Well, in this case, less is merely less and it doesn’t look good. Sometimes, when evoking the pixelated retro style it is good knowing when to stop and Olija clearly struggles with where that limit should be.
On the store page of Olija, I was greeted with the clarification that the soundtrack is “inspired by Flamenco, lo-fi and traditional Japanese music”. If that description has made you expecting some mellow tones (especially when focusing on a lo-fi part), well you couldn’t be more wrong then. Having mistaken expectations is a good thing in this case. Overall, the soundtrack is tense, energetic, and adrenaline-fueled whether it is during exploration or while stabbing multiple enemies. Some Japanese inspired tunes reminded me of the Tenchu series and this choice of music in a meticulously curated soundtrack is there to emphasize the atmosphere. In any case, coupled with fluid combat and distinct art style, the soundtrack only serves as another selling point for Olija.
If there is one game that will deserve having an epithet of an acquired taste, it’s definitely Olija. Let’s make this clear – it’s not a game for everyone. It’s not trying to appeal to a broader audience and it won’t hold your hand as you play through it. What you get here is a product of a unique atmosphere, a carefully crafted soundtrack, and an art style that definitely separates the game from the rest. It’s just a question of whether it is your cup of tea or not. If you allow yourself to be drawn into the world of Terraphage and its outlandish setting, you’ll end playing it for way more than you might expect.
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