The Wii has opened gaming up to a whole new audience, or so people say. There was a time when 'casuals' might own a PS2 for FIFA or PES, but it seems this new breed of casual gamer actually buys a broader range of games. Hopeful that RPG-type games might be on the wanted lists of these 'casuals' but aware that they might not actually know what an RPG is, KOEI created Opoona, a kind of RPG for beginners. Does it fit the bill?
As in many RPGs, but exaggerated here, the story is rather twee. You play as Opoona, a rotund boy who is on holiday in space with his parents and siblings. After wandering about the spaceship for a while something goes wrong and you're hurriedly packed into escape pods. You land unharmed and are taken in by the residents, but you're separated from your sisters and parents. What follows is a rather bizarre almost life simulation before you head out into the big bad world for more traditional RPG gameplay.
Being more or less an introduction to the RPG genre the controls are remarkably simple and let you use just the Nunchuck if you like. All movement is handled with the Nunchuck's analogue stick, characters are interacted with by pressing C and your in-game menu is accessed by pressing Z. The Z menu allows you to access various items, view your inventory and move items into your pockets - the only place they can be accessed during battles. It's incredibly simple and the in-game characters introduce the various menus to you early on in the game.
Combat takes you from the adventure view to an enclosed battle arena as is the case in more or less every Japanese RPG. Opoona uses a ball on the top of his head for attacks, charging it up when you move the analogue stick back and firing when you flick it forwards. The longer you hold the charge the more damage your shot will inflict. Targeting enemies is a simple case of holding C and pressing a direction on the analogue stick and enemies can be cycled through by pressing Z if you've already started charging an attack.
Early on you'll be doing far more menial tasks than actual fighting, with Opoona taking on rather mundane jobs in the city in order to obtain licences (used to travel to other colonies), open up new parts of the city and make friends. Opoona might be aimed at RPG novices, but the genre's weak line-up on Wii is likely to draw in hardcore gamers too. Sadly this early section of the game is pretty uninspired and will test the patience of anyone who has already spent days playing hardcore Square Enix RPGs and the like.
Things pick up considerably when you start adventuring in the world, with the expected dungeons, random battles, parties and side quests being far more entertaining than hoovering and playing an instrument. Still, the combat is often painfully simple and will bore experienced RPG fans quite quickly. For novices the general ease will allow them to get to grips with things, but the challenge doesn't really increase as we'd like it to.
Visually Opoona doesn't dazzle, with simple 3D models and fairly crude environments, but somehow it still manages to look a step above the majority of third-party titles on the Wii. Developer ArtePiazza has used a simple cel-shaded style and it works well with the game's simplistic feel. Something that doesn't work so well is the soundtrack, a standard orchestral RPG fare which we found to be rather out of place at points. We have nothing against the quality of the music - it's a decent soundtrack, and would likely fit well in a more action packed RPG - but here it often clashes with the twee visuals.
Opoona is stuck in a rather unfortunate position. The problem is that hardcore RPG fans looking for Wii RPGs will grow bored quite quickly and newcomers to the genre might not even want to play an RPG in the first place. Opoona is a decent attempt at making an RPG for everyone, but it's a little too sedate to offer any gaming thrills.