Last year's Otogi: Myth of Demons distinguished itself from other Xbox action games on account of its beautifully surreal setting of a medieval Japan overcome by demonic infestation, as well as for the immense measures of destruction possible within that setting. That the game looked and sounded fantastic didn't hurt, either. Developer From Software has since delivered a follow-up to Otogi, which has finally made it to these shores courtesy of Sega. Fortunately, the game is a worthy successor to the original, and it delivers a similar experience but with a number of interesting, new playable characters, new challenges, and new levels. It's enough to make Otogi 2 easily recommendable to fans of the original, as just like its predecessor, this is a great action game in its own right.
Raikoh returns in Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors, and this time, his fight is joined by several powerful allies.
Otogi 2 takes place sometime after the original game, and it weaves a similar story. Demons and evil spirits have besieged Japan, and only an undead swordsman named Raikoh apparently has the power to stop them. Raikoh, the silent and immensely powerful warrior who was the sole playable character in the original Otogi, will not fight alone in this chapter. He is resurrected by the priestess Seimei and her four generals: Tsuna, a feral warrior who's lightning fast; Kintoki, a massive axe fighter who can effortlessly pick up and throw enemies twice his size; Sadamitsu, a scythe-wielding girl with the power to freeze her foes; and Suetake, a sorcerer that resembles a living tree trunk. These generals sacrifice themselves at the beginning of the game so that Raikoh may stand and fight once more. In their afterlives, these generals' powers rival that of Raikoh's, and you'll get to play as all six of these different characters during the course of this single-player adventure. The game is broken up into a diverse series of levels, several of which are unlocked at a time.
For the most part, you may choose to take any of the characters into any of the levels, but this will prevent you from being able to select that character in the next level you play. In practice, this means you'll get to spend a good amount of time playing as each character, especially since their particular skills make them better suited to some levels more than others--and you're given a sense of this prior to taking on any of the missions. Otogi 2's story unravels before and after each mission in brief but often memorable cutscenes using the game's 3D engine. The cutscene may change depending on which character you choose, which is a nice touch. As in the previous Otogi, creative character designs and excellent dialogue make both the protagonists and their enigmatic foes captivating to watch, provided, of course, that the ancient Eastern subject matter of the game appeals to you.
The actual gameplay of Otogi 2 is much like that of the original. This is primarily a third-person-perspective hack-and-slash game in which your characters can cause massive destruction to all they touch. Literally just about everything in the environments, no matter how big or how solid-looking, can be smashed to smithereens using your stronger attacks, and this effect is both incredibly well-done and satisfying. The controls are basically easy to pick up. By using the face buttons on the controller, you can make the characters jump, execute light and heavy attacks, and cast their equipped magic spell. Also, when you press the right shoulder button they can quickly glide forward, either on the ground or in midair. It's possible to execute a few different attack strings using the slash buttons, and you may also perform alternate attacks while holding down the right shoulder button. Some of these let you climb higher and higher into the sky with every strike, and Otogi 2's floaty jumps and wide-open areas lend themselves to plenty of midair battles. In fact, some of the game's best, most dramatic stages take place almost entirely above ground.
The gameplay hasn't changed drastically since the original, but the new characters and missions make for a fresh experience nonetheless.
Also, the six different characters play noticeably differently and each is quite interesting in his or her own right. For example, Kintoki's unique ability to throw his enemies is offset by his lack of a high jump, while Suetake can keep jumping up and up and up indefinitely. But they're basically all similar, so it's easy to switch from one to the other. In the end, Otogi fans will probably prefer the well-balanced Raikoh most of all, but Seimei and the four generals result in a more diverse and interesting story this time around.
Otogi 2 unfortunately retains some of the gameplay issues of the original, though none of these are particularly serious. Your character's health gauge and dwindling magic meter (which essentially serves as a time limit for each mission) are rather difficult to read, especially at first. The camera angle remains centered on your character but won't rotate on its own; you can manually rotate the perspective using the right analog stick, but this is slow. The alternative is to press down on the left stick to quickly reset the camera behind your character, but this doesn't work reliably. The result is that you'll occasionally find yourself battling without really knowing what's going on. And the fact that enemies explode in showers of weird, blurry sparks adds to Otogi 2's occasionally disorienting feel. However, in the game's defense, this disorientation tends to occur in the best possible way--as you're ferociously cutting down several strange demons at a time, shattering stone and splintering wood as you go. Sometimes you can't help but sit back and bask in all the carnage that ensues.