STAFF REVIEW of Oceanhorn 2 - Knights of the Lost Realm (Xbox One)

Tuesday, August 15, 2023.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Oceanhorn 2 - Knights of the Lost Realm Box art A decade may have passed, but the Oceanhorn series is back on Xbox. We’re speaking of Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm, which was just recently added to the Xbox Series lineup, alongside ports for the PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch. Finally, those of us who only game on consoles are able to continue this saga, which began promisingly back in 2013.

While the original game was more of dungeon crawler mixed with 2D Zelda, featuring a top-down perspective and contained maps, its sequel – which originally debuted on Apple Arcade approximately three years ago – takes a less focused approach. What results is a title that is more like a 3D Zelda game than a 2D one with 3D flourishes, allowing for more player freedom and the ability to traverse open maps while looking for secrets, special locations and more. Its locations are less contained, and feel like something you’d find in a game like Ocarina of Time or one of the more recent 3D Zeldas, not counting Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, which are much more sandbox-style and exponentially more open ended.

Things mostly begin with Mesmeroth (an eventual baddie) bestowing a newborn baby unto a hermit residing in a quaint village. Recognizing that Master Mayfair is a much more qualified father than himself, Mesmeroth unknowingly gives his eventual adversary away. Simply put, that baby is you, and you’re given the advantage of growing up with a knight and his sentient robot friend, Gen, who train you in the ways of knighthood.

After proving yourself worthy, the proverbial shit hits the fan when strange soldiers and flying machines attack your island. This is the first hint of Mesmeroth’s plan, which he’ll stop at nothing to complete. A plan that involves attempting to save the world of Gaia, so that he can fashion it in his own way. In his path is an old man named Archimedes, who wishes to transcend the natural plane of existence using old magic and cryptic images to guide his way.

Unlike your traditional Zelda game, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm gives you a party right from the start, although the other two characters can only be ordered to follow, attack or stand on pressure plates. Otherwise, they act on their own and have mostly okay artificial intelligence. There were a couple of times, though, where they got caught fighting enemies I’d run by, or got stuck somewhere, and didn’t come when called. That said, they were beside or behind me most of the time.

The general idea here is that you move from location to location, either by way of limited sailing and (later) flying, or by using other means of transportation found within the environment, be it a hoverbike (leading to a basic, dodge-based driving scene and a chase scene later on) or a train that must be powered up. You can even sail to the odd additional island to complete side quest(s), including one in which your unnamed hero is asked to locate a missing man. Other side quests involve searching for named prisoners who’ve escaped, then besting them, as well as scoping a company’s shipping and receiving warehouse for questionable deliveries in the middle of the night. These are all optional and add a bit to the story, but you can complete the game without bothering with any of them. I never did find any of the prisoners, though I kept an eye out and tried to explore almost everywhere I could.

In addition to the above, Oceanhorn 2 also features a card-based minigame, where players take turns placing different cards on a grid and do battle through them. You’ll find many different cards, and card packs, featuring both friends and foes, as you complete the game. Enemies will drop them and they’ll occasionally be found laying within boss battle arenas. I discovered a lot of them, but also never knew where to go to play it, and didn’t find anyone to play with before the credits rolled. I’m basing this description off of a YouTube video as a result. Then again, I’m never a fan of the additional card and strategy games found within titles like The Witcher III or Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, as none of it is for me. I like to play traditional card games like poker, but that’s about it. I respect those who do enjoy these add-ons, though, as I know Gwent is pretty popular. To each their own.

At its core, though, Oceanhorn 2 is a somewhat dated feeling 3D role-playing game, which borrows heavily from The Legend of Zelda. You traverse different regions of the game world, have sword battles with enemies and use collected items (like bombs, a grappling hook, a diving helmet and a gun that can shoot elemental bullets or traditional ones) to both solve puzzles and progress. Sometimes you’ll need to use an electric bullet to provide electricity to something by way of connecting a line of electricity from one pole to another, and other times you’ll need to either burn something with a fire bullet or use an ice bullet to create a floating platform in dangerous waters. It’s not until late in the game when our unnamed knight learns how to swim using the diving helmet. Until then, he’s quick to drown.

The combat is very basic, and though it’s like what you’d find in an older Zelda game, it doesn’t have the same polish. Mechanically, it’s based around hitting enemies with your sword and then rolling away or using your shield to avoid damage. Humanoid soldier enemies take quite a bit of damage before they go down, and can dole out a lot, so they’re sometimes best to avoid. Battling them isn’t fun anyway because it’s so damned basic.

In fact, combat is a lesser light of Oceanhorn 2. Even the boss battles are pretty basic, although they’re fine in the context of this game. You often have to hit tumours that appear on them in order to weaken them, and sometimes this involves grappling on top or stunning them first in order to reveal their weak points. The final two bosses left me wanting more, too, and were both really underwhelming, not to mention kind of annoying.

This is such a Zelda clone that Cornfox & Bros. who originally developed this game for Apple Arcade, did little to hide it. In fact, they brazenly embraced it and didn’t care who noticed, or so it seems. Not only is the combat and core gameplay similar, but you also use bombs, get a grappling hook and learn how to swim later in the game, making previously inaccessible areas accessible, not to mention opening the way for new secrets to be found. Going even further, Oceanhorn 2 features collectible shards that look like rupees, a monetary system that allows you to buy hearts (or bullets, which are somewhat unique to it), and has a health system based on hearts. You must collect three heart pieces in order to earn a new heart container, though, which is different from the four that Zelda requires. There aren’t too many of those, either, as this is a shorter game and only apparently features twelve pieces. I found six, as most of the chests I opened had shards or things granting me extra money that I didn’t really need. I hardly ever bought anything, or needed to.

That said, while Oceanhorn 2 is a Zelda clone like its predecessor, it’s a pretty good one. I was especially impressed by it given the fact that it originated on Apple Arcade, which I’ve never had the pleasure of using. I didn’t know its games were so robust, although FDG Entertainment’s port features visual upgrades and other changes to suit a controller. Some elements are likely basic because of its origins, as I believe this is a pretty direct and true to form port in terms of gameplay.

It took a little bit of time for me to get into this game, which didn’t happen until near the end of my first session. Then, I didn’t play it for several days due to not feeling up to it. When I returned to it yesterday evening, I only meant to play for a couple of hours or so, but ended up playing for about six. Then, I finished it almost as soon as I woke up today. You could say it kind of hooked me, once I got used to and into it.

Still, this game isn’t without its faults. It’s full of collectibles to find, but the core gameplay is somewhat basic, and only those who are trying to get all of the achievements will likely bother finding all of the red crystals, collecting every heart piece (though I did my best), and finding the other types of collectibles. In fact, those who are after 1000/1000 gamerscore will have to 100% complete each in-game area in order to do so, and that could take some time. There’s a big city full of chests and buildings to enter, the village, a couple of themed areas based on jungle and water elements, and more.

Speaking of similarities to Zelda, I have one more. Those themed areas you go to feature a civilization of birds, and another that is similar to the water-loving Zora from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Hell, they even kind of look like them, and live in a cave with water you can explore.

Lastly, it’s important to note that one can earn experience from defeating enemies and completing the game. As you progress, you’ll receive notifications saying that your knight rank has gone up, and that can bestow you with a gift like 500 coins. You should find plenty, though, because there are lots of sparkling items on each map, which can be dug up and often end up being coins, hearts or ammo. Furthermore, there are lots of pots to break for such things when in a pinch or fighting a boss. You can even use a heart spell to heal, but it’s a pain in the ass because it only allows you to heal one heart at a time and then needs to regenerate for 20 or 30 seconds or so. The same is true of your bombs, your bullets and your elemental ammo, which gets annoying when you want to use two or more in a row.

Presentation-wise, Oceanhorn 2 surprised me. Knowing that this was originally an Apple Arcade title meant that I went into it with tempered expectations. I remembered loving the original and wanting to play this one when I saw commercials for Apple Arcade, but that was about it. What I expected was something that didn’t look as nice (and colourful) as this game does, despite its limitations, nor did I expect it to feature such a good soundtrack featuring orchestral music, good sound effects and even half decent voice acting for all of the major characters except ours. He’s the unnamed, quiet type.

I know that I complained about elements of Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm in this review, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good game. Sure, it’s held back from being great or even exceptional by these things, but it remains a very solid 3D RPG. If you’re looking for something to scratch your Zelda itch, and maybe don’t own a Nintendo Switch, this is something you could definitely check out. I personally enjoyed it more than my time with Tears of the Kingdom, despite adoring Breath of the Wild, but that’s because I hated the new physics puzzles and building mechanics they added in, and didn’t enjoy those elements at all.

**Oceanhorn 2 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series S**

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 7.4 / 10
Visuals: 7.8 / 10
Sound: 7.9 / 10


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