There are certain games where, after a few hours with them, you can pin down what seems to be the element of a game a developer might be showing off. With Olija, I almost thought it would be looking to see exactly how much ambiance and detail could be conveyed with its retro style. After going through a bit of its world, I’ve come to understand that it seems Skeleton Crew is all about the combat.
Olija begins with people in a desolate, simple, and surprisingly powerless situation. Lord Faraday is traveling for the sake of his country, but after a shipwreck is alone in the treacherous Terraphage. It seems there’s no escape. His crew is missing. The small town of Oaktide, where he’s trying to get by, is filled by those down on their luck, in need of investments in (potentially beneficial businesses), and in need of a savior.
Now, as I mentioned, Faraday doesn’t begin as some glorified hero. But that doesn’t mean he’s weak. Even unarmed, as he is for part of the initial dungeon, you get the sense that he’s capable. Fists fly when he comes across Terraphage’s hostile and otherworldly foes. But while this is a retro-inspired game, it isn’t something that ever devolved into button mashing in my earliest hours.
Rather, my experience revealed something that, while fast, could feel more thoughtful. You can button mash for a combo, but prioritizing your timing and directional inputs can influence attacks too. It almost feels like the initial, unarmed combat prepares you for this, so when you acquire additional weapons you can consider things like range and patterns for attacks. And, since there’s a visual indicator above his head showing the combos you’re racking up, it
For example, before too long in Olija, I had acquired a basic sword, a crossbow, and the very important Harpoon of Legend. Each one functions quite differently, as you might imagine. It’s not just about the sorts of combos and attacks either. Once you have the sword, you can progress through areas by cutting through ropes for some obstacles. The crossbow is good for hitting out of reach areas, though you must take care to grab additional bolts while you can. As for the harpoon itself, its mystical tendencies make it the most useful of all.
See, the Harpoon a mystical item. When Faraday finds and acquires it, there is a Moment. You then have this weapon that’s intrinsically connected to him. He can tossed it and recall it with a press of a button. You can alter its direction. Yes, it could be used as an ordinary melee weapon, with the typical combos that flow together and decimate foes. You could also use it repeatedly as a ranged attack, hitting enemies first as it is thrown, then when it returns. Faraday can use it to zip around environments, perhaps even in the midst of combos, but hitting targets and calling it. (I liked to think of it as being similar to Noctis’ warp-strike.) It was still early days in my experience, as you might imagine, but I found myself wondering how I could use those properties to defeat enemies and best utilize the space around me. Especially since there’s always the promise and sense of getting stronger.
Even in its early hours, when someone might only be finding out what works for them in Olija, the game feels like one where combat is constantly the main focus. It is about taking advantage of the weapons you have, being willing to switch as necessary, and creating combos that allow you to cut through enemies and control the space around you.
Olija will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on January 28, 2021.