Review: Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas
Launched originally on mobile platform back in 2013, followed by a PC port, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas finally lands on consoles, at least current-generation machines including the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. In the world of mobile gaming, Oceanhorn was a blockbuster that brought “a Legend of Zelda adventure game” on iOS devices (and lately on Android), a gap which obviously isn’t filled by Nintendo yet, but in the world of PC and console gaming, is this game worth it considering other Miyamoto influenced titles?
When you start playing Oceanhorn, something feels obvious, and that is worth discussing from the start. The influence of the Legend of Zelda series on the game system is more than clear and sometimes disturbing. First on the gameplay itself: armed with a sword, a shield, bow and bombs, you have to explore dungeons to advance throughout a story, each containing many puzzles and riddles to solve. Your health is divided into a heart gauge which you can expand by collecting heart fragments (it takes four to create a new heart container), and obviously more hit points. Your character can also easily pick up items, including jars, and toss them either on enemies or simply to break and check if it contained hearts, ammunition or coins (no Rupees here). As for the combat system, the game use simple shield mechanics with the RT button, X for the sword attack, and Oceanhorn has even incorporated Link’s famous circular attack! I mean, it’s so influenced, almost cloned to the fact that the storyline approach is also very similar to the Legend of Zelda (and most precisely Wind Waker): you travel the sea from island to island, village to village, passing through dungeons to collect artifacts based on life’s elements (fire, water, wind, etc.) which will forge your simple young man into a hero character before facing the ultimate threat known as the Oceanhorn monster (the character’s father disappeared in an attempt of finding it).
Fortunately, the Finnish studio Cornfox & Brothers did bring some new features not found in the Legend of Zelda series. For example, while shops exist and allow you to buy some items, you won’t find upgrades to your equipment with them, as this happens via character level system. Each combat or sidequest (which are more like tick-box small objectives you can mostly finish anytime in the story), will eventually give you loads of experience crystals, to climb up in the hierarchy of the guild of explorers. Each time you advance a level, you win a new upgrade or gain extended capacity to your gear like the amount of bombs you can carry. This simple system gives a broader angle on the game with an RPG element and push you to fight every battle to progress as fast as possible (farming!). The ability to use magic spells is a significant novelty that also helps bring variety in the combat and puzzles, as well as a endurance bar that limits the use of sprinting and swimming in rough sea waves. I should also note that combat animation is a bit nicer as well when it comes to drawing the bow, in comparison to other non-3D Legend of Zelda titles (like the 3DS title The Minish Cap).
But it would be unfair to call Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas a simple “clone” of the Nintendo green hat hero, as our own protagonist has its own personality and backstory. Tom’s tale is one of finding his father, a fellow explorer after he disapeared in his quest to find the monster Oceanhorn. Classical story, but the whole adventure is remarkably staged. The graphics, completely redesigned in comparison the the mobile version, are rich in details now and the “cubic” environments recieved a fresh coat of texture paint brush, and the dialogues during the cutscenes, are voiced in English, which is always a plus to give life to the characters (they are also subtitled in the language of your choice). Finally, I should give a big praise to the music which is composed in part by Kalle Ylitalo, as well some tracks done by Kenji Ito and Nobuo Uematsu, who needs no introduction after working for so many years on the Final Fantasy series, and help enriching this adventure with subtle, gentle and adventurous tunes.
As mentioned briefly above, the adventure takes place in a world full of water, where you will have to explore different islands using your boat which will remind a lot of you Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker. These islands won’t all be accessible from the beginning of the game since you must first find information about them, either by talking to different characters in the other areas of the game or finding messages in bottles with clues. Each of the islands generally contains three sidequests you can accomplish, some obviously being optional, and which kind of carry to other islands (like performing 10 successful attack combos). Your progress will be slowed by closed doors, broken bridges or cliffs to climb, as your hero – like Link – cannot jump. You will then have to find a way around these obstacles solving puzzles mostly quite classics that should not cause you many problems, like lighting up torches, push boxes in the right place or detonate a cracked wall. On top of that, there will also be many monsters, critters and of course what’s a dungeon with a boss at the end. If the latter are very well done and original, the verdict is less flattering for the basic monsters, as they are just too little of them, and they barely need any different strategy to kill, but the only interest will remain the experiences crystals that you will reap with each elimination.
Finally, to reach the end of the main adventure should not be too laborious: the quests are quite easy to finish, and you never feel lost in your progress. It will take approximately 6 hours to go around, a little more if you want to find all collectibles and complete all the side quests, including one requiring you to fish every kind of fish in the game’s world, but also all that was made available in the free update of the IOS game like the Crystal Skulls hunt and more.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas clearly takes a lot from the Legend of Zelda series, but it also brings its own original touch and transform itself into a real game with its own soul. While you’ll still notice that the core of this game is a mobile game, the game has enough to offer in terms of depth and fun to disregard the simplicity of its graphics and textures.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas was reviewed using an Xbox One downloadable code provided by Cornfox & Bros and FDG Entertainment.The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Android, iOS and PC in digital releases. A sequel of this game has been announced recently called Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm and you can read more about it on the developer’s official blog. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Solid gameplay
• Beautiful and immersive
• Sublime Soundtrack
• Interesting boss fights
• Inspired by The Legend of Zelda series
• Exploration at the center of the game
• Beautiful and immersive
• Simple puzzles
• Secondary characters are not very developed
• Short lifespan for some veteran of the genre
• Not a fan of the fishing mechanics
• The jumping option is a bit clunky