Thursday, October 30, 2008

Okage: Shadow King's Humor

Okage: Shadow King is an absolutely delightful, very obscure RPG that looks and behaves something that Tim Burton might come up with while tripping on LSD. Despite having tortuously boring dungeons that focus almost exclusively on a mind-numbingly repetitive battle system, it has an unique sense of fun that makes just about everyone who plays it love it.

What OSK is most known for is its bizarre and zany humor. It's silly through and through, filled with crazy hilarity that more or less stays consistent through to the end. To give you an idea of this, here's how the game opens up: Ari, the main character, finds himself having to leave his village to go on a journey to beat up creatures known as Evil Kings at the demand Lord Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV, a selfish and short-tempered spirit who has possessed Ari and is currently inhabiting Ari's shadow, who wants to gain their power for himself. Ari, who got into this mess after his family pressured him into selling his soul to Stan in order to save his sister from an embarrassing curse that caused her to only speak in Pig Latin, has to go along with this on the hope that raising Stan to the state of the legendary Great Evil King Gohma, who Stan makes completely unfounded claims of being a reincarnation of, will give Stan the means to create a body of his own, so he can leave poor Ari's shadow alone and stop harassing him.

The game goes on largely in this vein of amusing oddness, with incredibly silly situations, crazy characters, and funny dialog that guarantees enjoyment throughout the game's entirety. It's such a wacky, fun time that you almost don't realize as the game reaches its later stages that you're also experiencing a deep and thought-provoking plot.

This is what separates Okage: Shadow King from other Humor RPGs such as Super Mario RPG and Earthbound, among others, to me. The games of this sadly rare category are all marvelously fun RPGs that appeal to just about anyone who's not too self-important and anal to have a sense of humor, making them often universally loved, but I'd say that OSK is the only one I've encountered that's an all-out humor adventure that has true meaning to impart on the player. Not that it's surprising that such a thing would be a rarity--it's not often we see a product completely devoted to humor that also has something there to make us really think and consider it. I may absolutely love comedy movies like Space Balls and Ghostbusters, and comedy TV shows like Freakazoid and Mystery Science Theater 3000, but when I watch such things that are built around tickling the audience's funny bone, I don't expect to see anything that really gets me thinking.

(Not to say that Comedies shouldn't be held to any standards; they still need creativity and intelligent writing, just focused in a different way. Crude, unimaginative shit like Superbad or the Scary Movies that just cycle through 5 low-brow punchlines over and over like a month of 8-Bit Theater strips condensed into 2 hours aren't excused).

This is probably because actually getting some kind of deeper meaning into a comedy product is more than a little difficult. While the occasional or even frequent joke is a nice way to break up tension without distracting the audience from the important plot stuff in your average movie, game, show, or whatever, it's hard to keep an audience's thoughts and emotions captivated with your creation's depth when 80% of your dialog and situations are trying to get them to laugh.

Okage: Shadow King, however, seamlessly blends the serious with the comic--in fact, rather than competing, the comic and serious tones work together in this game. The comedy keeps you immediately interested and entertained, while softening the drama of the plot and allowing you to experience and appreciate the serious events and themes without becoming mired in them. You'll be chuckling at the silliness even while seeing themes of individuality, independence, and Man Vs. God explored in as interesting and worthwhile a way as any other RPG--in fact, OSK does it a sight better than quite a few of its peers. I can only hope that more humor RPGs will take a cue from this one and experiment with mixing in some deeper meanings to their joke-laced stories, because it can really result in something nifty.

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