A mystical, dreamlike world of sorcery and danger awaits in Otogi: Myth of Demons, a third-person action game set in feudal Japan in which you play as a resurrected swordsman ordered to cleanse the land of evil. Developed by From Software, which has a long track record of quirky games, Otogi is easily the company's most aesthetically pleasing game to date, and also one of its best. Superbly crafted production values (catered exclusively to the Xbox's hardware) and great gameplay that's tough but not impossible make for a game that's not just beautiful to look at, but entertaining and challenging as well. Otogi, whose premise is inspired by Japanese mythology, obviously isn't a game that everyone is going to gravitate to. But any Xbox owner looking for one of the best and most genuinely stylish action games so far this year should absolutely check it out.
As the undead swordsman Raikoh, your task is to purify Japan of its sins and evils, one demon at a time.
Throughout Otogi, you play as Raikoh, a slender, silent man whose face never betrays any emotion--or any sign of life. Raikoh has been restored to the land of the living by an enigmatic princess whose goal, it seems, is to rid Japan of a demonic infestation. She is powerful enough to grant Raikoh immense strength--but that's all, and so you must guide this mighty swordsman through more than two dozen different levels, exorcising any demons that stand in his way all the while. Yet there's more to Otogi than just your typical battle of good versus evil. As Raikoh leaves pure destruction in his wake--he is so powerful that he can obliterate everything from massive tree trunks to entire houses--and as some of his demonic foes express regret and bitterness as they die by his hand, you'll see that Otogi has a very different tone to it than the typical hack-and-slash action game. Indeed, for a game that's filled with plenty of over-the-top action, Otogi has something remarkably subtle about it--almost a Zen-like quality, through the juxtaposition of the intense combat and the contemplative, philosophical speeches of the princess and some of Raikoh's enemies. Raikoh himself never says a word.
The gameplay borrows from a number of previous such games but somehow comes through with its own, unique feel. Raikoh can execute fast and heavy slashes and string together a few different types of combinations. He can also fire off different types of elemental magic once he acquires them. He can double jump in the air and can also glide forward short distances, almost exactly like in Sega's recent Shinobi game for the PlayStation 2. However, Raikoh can remain airborne almost indefinitely--while slashing in midair, he falls like a feather, and some of his flying strikes can be used to propel himself upward. This leads to some breathtaking midair confrontations later in the game, in which you and your foe will be dueling high up in the sky. Raikoh can even use his blade to reflect some enemy projectiles back at his foes.
Otogi has a few other twists. As mentioned, there is very little that Raikoh cannot destroy, and the game actually rewards you based on how much destruction you cause. Though some of Raikoh's midair strikes are designed to keep him aloft, others will send him crashing straight down with his weapons, obliterating whatever lies beneath. It's thrilling to run through the game's beautiful environments and lay waste to them in this fashion, especially since destroyed objects may leave behind for you various power-ups, weapons, magic, and more. You also need to be on the lookout for special talismanlike creatures that, when defeated, release power-ups that permanently increase Raikoh's health (beginning with the next level). Many of the stages have a number of secrets to find, and while most levels are only about five minutes long, they'll usually take you a number of tries to finish, and you can go back and replay them as much as you like in an effort to uncover all their hidden treasures.
Raikoh's strength is such that he can smash his foes clear through solid objects.
As Raikoh wins battles, he'll gain experience levels and be rewarded with gold, with which he can purchase new weapons, magic, and accessories. He may equip one of each before going into a new level, and in particular, there's a great variety of weapons available. In addition to standard-length swords, he can wield massive two-handed swords, warhammers, magical staves, halberds, twin blades, and more. Raikoh's weapon won't just affect his attacks, but may also give him certain special abilities and may affect his movement speed and the height of his jumps. Sometimes there's a weapon that's best suited for a job, but you'll probably enjoy experimenting with them all.
The powers granted to Raikoh are not limitless--a slowly dissipating magic meter essentially imposes a time limit on each level, since once Raikoh's magic runs out, he'll lose many of his abilities and will quickly lose his remaining health. So he'll need to work quickly in each level, though by slaying foes and absorbing their souls, and by being conservative with his special abilities, he can keep from running out of magic before reaching his objective.