Games to remember – Vol.02 : Over Zenith / OZ : The Sword of Etheria

Now that gaming has reached the height of its stupidity here in the west, I decided to look back at the old titles we brought over from Japan only to find this game, Over Zenith…made me remember a lot of things about it.

The gang

Over Zenith or OZ as it was mostly known in Japan, was released in the summer of 2005 and was brought to Europe in 2006. Saddly, it flopped in both countries and killed any chance it had for a sequel…except in 2009, in a famitsu poll, it placed in the Top 30 “Games the readers demand a sequel”(wonky translation, I’m sorry) making it…kind of a cult hit?

To be fair to the people though, it’s not like it got neglected because it didn’t deserve it. The game may have soul, in fact, way too much soul and care poured in by the combination of Castlevania and the-then-whole Suikoden staff. That’s some serious firepower in KONAMI right there. That’s like…putting a chocolate biscuit in a vanila-strawberry crepe and mixing it in the most brilliant of ways.

crepe

And despite that…the budget and lack of a proper game engine show here…and I’ve talked / theorized about why this happened in KONAMI back then. Unfortunately the graphics are mediocre to bad. Graphically the models are ok but the environments and at times the enemies are lifeless, drab, boring and kinda…rectangular at times from a fair bit of distance(and a bit of a chaos on screen) and on the game’s speed, it can keep the 30 FPS but there are drops here and there and the game feels limited because of it. Especially since this is an action game with a certain focus but more on that later. All this makes for bad graphics, not because it’s not pretty and shinny and all that but because the graphics engine limits the game’s visual style and hampers the combat mechanics. I have to be fair.

Now that all the negatives are out of the way, let’s see what the game is like and what it’s about :

OZ came out at the same time the great action titles of the PS2 came out, among them DMC3 which OZ tries to upstage at times, at least in ideas and innovation…keep in mind the time and context of it. The game is basically trying to be Sengoku BASARA 4 before Sengoku BASARA 4…hell, almost before Sengoku BASARA even, using DMC3’s ideas and innovations to create a new system out of old ideas. In this case, the old ideas in question are the Beat’Em Ups with many characters where the players could juggle enemies of walls or have the other player almost play enemy volleyball with the first player. The game does this by having the playable characters actually not only being able to juggle the enemy in any direction they want but also have the player be able to control wether or not the character that the enemy is coming towards will juggle it back to the player or just combo them to death. And that’s with the touch of a button…actually the triggers on the PS2 controller, one for each of the two other characters the player’s character always is.

Deathblow

While the fun of enemy volleyball is kinda limited and the player can just beat’em up normally but the volleyball aspect has a bit of an appeal compared to other games that force the player to have other NPCs tail him : Team Attacks. Actual team attacks that matter and actually deal some really good damage. And the best part? After some time in the game the players can recover that gauge by hitting as many enemies they can during those team attacks.


Taking this kind of approach is kinda ingenious, especially when most of the time the partner A.I. is braindead, here it’s a shining example of the opposite, like the partner A.I. of the later God Eater games. It’s refreshing to have them follow the player’s commands and actually be competent on their own. Makes the main character, Feel, feel like he’s in a team.

bad puns

The game has two glaring faults here though : I guess due to the game engine limitations the speed is neither up to par nor the reflexes of the players, especially those fresh off of games that require twitch reflexes, something that may make the game a chore to them…due to the game not being able to act that fast. Trully a shame. The system does have insane combo potential but all that is squandered by technical stuff.

And yet…despite all that, the game has excellent music, incredible story with some of the most stylistic visual represantations and stylistic retellings of an old story(Wizard of OZ if you didn’t get it from the title) and even including some very good extra scenarios, alternative modes to play and even genuine challenge at times.


I can’t stress this enough, the potential is huge in this one and it just flew by but fans have spoken, even as long ago as 2009 and demand a sequel. And I’m with them, this game needs a sequel or at least a remake to show what it is capable of and earn its place upon the pantheon of great action titles.

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