Developer: Skeleton Crew Studio, Thomas Olsson
Release Date: January 28, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Olija is an action-adventure sidescroller with clear Asian inspiration. Developed by Skeleton Crew Studio and Thomas Olsson, it wears its inspiration on its sleeve, providing the player a special tale of a shipwrecked captain trying to find his way back home.
Olija introduces Lord Faraday, who was the leader of a small fishing town. With the sea bounty declining consistently to the point it had a hard time sustaining itself, he decides to gather the men and set sail in search of some sort of salvation.
After weeks of sailing, the ship was destroyed by a whale, and he found himself wandering in the mysterious land of Terraphage. With his men missing and his only way out sealed, Faraday will have to dive into the myths and culture of this exotic land.
From the buildings to trees and costumes, the atmosphere of an unknown Asian land is tangible. Even the soundtrack does well to reinforce it with traditional Japanese music roots and a significant focus on ambiance, with its tracks being more commonly subdued. Though they’re great at setting the mood for the exploration, combat, and story scenes, they are largely forgettable.
Gameplay-wise, the player can control Faraday with platforming’s usual staples: moving, jumping, and attacking. But though these functions are familiar, the game is vibrant with features that make them feel fresh.
As Faraday, it’s possible to use various weapons, including a rapier, a greatsword, a crossbow, and more importantly: a legendary harpoon, to get through enemies. Each weapon has specific moves and different combos depending on the player input.
Just like how in a fighting game, pressing up while attacking will change the pattern, the same happens in Olija. It’s also important to understand the combos and be able to coordinate them with platforming movements.
However, the most important weapon is definitely the harpoon, which introduces the fundamental mechanic of teleportation. Whenever it hits an enemy or an object, it’s possible to jump to that place. This makes it the go-to tool to quickly react during boss fights or against multiple enemies on the screen and an excellent means of exploration to reach new heights.
Olija has strict progression but offers some freedom of choice when it comes to orders. In each part of the game, the player will have access to a new group of islands to explore. Those contain multiple caves, each of which contains keys that open the path to the boss. Beating the “big bad” will unlock a place where the map to the next area lies.
The bosses aren’t particularly hard, but they explore the player’s knowledge of how the gameplay works. Using the harpoon’s powers to move, picking the right sub-weapon, and analyzing their patterns to your advantage is really important to survival.
Defeated enemies drop materials that can make hats, which add passive skills and make encounters more unique. For instance, one hat creates feathers that attack the enemies when you dash. Another creates acid and allows the player to be immune to those dangerous concoctions. These can make a difference depending on the explored area.
These hats can be crafted in Oaktide, a hub town the player will always return to. Besides the hat maker, it also has an alchemist who can increase your max HP in exchange for the game’s currency of blue gems; an expedition boat which you can finance, so they bring some extra materials for you (making hats will be considerably easier); and a place to get food and restore your HP.
It’s impressive to see how Oaktide evolves. As the player advances through the areas, the initially poor and marginalized ghost town will eventually become a bustling place.
There’s also a boat for your own personal explorations. Players can use it to get to all the places on the map, including some hidden spots. It’s also possible to go back to previous areas whenever you want. Collectibles, including a music box and a ship inside a bottle, can be found, which act as incentives to go back in case the player is missing some by the end of the game.
Overall, Olija is a rather short adventure. Faraday’s journey takes around 5 to 6 hours to complete. It’s enough for what the game wants, though the tale could have been a little more developed. Some important events aren’t textual with a more artistic tone and leave subtleties up to the player to grasp.
Its pixel art isn’t actually about making the game feel old-school, but a way to enhance the narrative adventure. Important events are sometimes completely without text and there aren’t clear facial expressions. In a nutshell, those design choices enhance the feeling of the journey instead of approaching its depiction in a more realistic way.
Olija is a game that thrives in its Asian fantasy atmosphere and well-realized gameplay. The story and soundtrack are artistic and evoke special moods, while the combat and exploration are a neat and interesting package. The journey is short and sweet and only held back by a few stumbles in its narrative delivery.
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