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    Operencia: The Stolen Sun

    Game » consists of 2 releases. Released Mar 29, 2019

    A first-person dungeon-crawling RPG from Zen Studios. The story, locations and characters are inspired by Central European folklore.

    Operencia's Trolls and Tribulations

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    Mento

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    Edited By Mento  Moderator
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    For the past week, I've been enjoying Operencia: The Stolen Sun, a first-person retro dungeon-crawler RPG with turn-based combat encounters (think Might & Magic X Legacy, if anyone remembered that coming out). I say "enjoying," but there's times when the game will throw a curveball at you, producing a standard foe or boss who proves to be a particularly challenging roadblock because of their stats or special attacks or, more commonly, because they're straight up cheap sons of bitches.

    The following list of thirteen (!) encounters - some recurring, some one-offs - are those where there's some manner of horseshit involved and you either need to respec your entire party to counteract it (fortunately, that's free and can be done as many times as you want) or use every resource at your disposal to muddle through to the horrors yet to come.

    This blog is of almost zero educational/entertainment value, I'll warn you all now. Just non-stop kvetching. Sometimes I post these things only to get stuff off my chest.

    (NB: May have some minor story spoilers. Also heavy game mechanic/enemy spoilers, if that's something that bothers you. I reviewed the game here for anyone looking for more non-spoilery info.)

    Skull Sentries (Tomb of Reka)

    The first few dungeons ease you into the game with opponents that, while presenting a challenge, don't pull any tricks you might not anticipate. That also includes the boss fights. Upon entering the Tomb of Reka, however, any semblance of fair play flies out of the window; the honeymoon period is now over, and the gloves are coming off to show the sharp talons underneath.

    The Skull Sentries (floating skulls that just hover around looking ominous, and my experience with Demiliches in Baldur's Gate 2 should've tipped me off that these things would be trouble) are the first, though certainly not the last, to blast your party with two of the bigger ways the game will smack you down for daring to underestimate it: elemental attacks and status effects. The former requires a stat - Wisdom - that you'd normally ignore for the sake of damage-dealing stats (Strength, Agility, or Intelligence) or physical defense and HP (Vigor). All Wisdom does in comparison is pump up your elemental resistances, which most of the time aren't even applicable. Turns out if you don't boost Wisdom, or equip armor with resistances, elemental damage hits real fuckin' hard. Then you have the status effect introduced in this fight - Fear, which halves your attack strength - and suddenly the game isn't quite as gentle as it first seemed.

    Prepare to be laughed at by the extended family of Murray the Demonic Talking Skull as your health and patience tick down to zero.

    Queen Reka (Tomb of Reka)

    If the Skull Sentries were a wake-up call, the Queen Reka fight is a bucket full of ice cold water to the face. The fight against this spectral queen has three main stages:

    1. Queen Reka puts up an energy shield which reduces all incoming damage to single digits.
    2. Queen Reka summons two guards, each of which have high defense and will use taunt to funnel all single-target actions to them specifically and away from the boss.
    3. Queen Reka, now safe behind two layers of security, will hit you with devastating ranged attacks you'll be too busy trying to heal to deal much in the way of retaliation damage to her (and that's only once you're past the guards and the shield).

    If the shield goes down, Reka puts it back up a round or two later. If the guards go down, Reka brings them back a round or two later. Most of the time the shield and the guard revival don't line up perfectly, so she'll probably have one or the other active at all times. You also don't have a dedicated healer yet - this isn't strictly related to the fight, but is pertinent information all the same.

    According to my trophy list, 60% of players completed the first dungeon and yet only 37% completed Tomb of Reka (the third). I don't believe in coincidences, but I do believe this fight can go piss up a rope.

    Earth Golem (Tomb of Reka)

    Reka's not even the biggest troll down here, though you do need to come back later in the game with a special treasure in order to reach this hidden boss. The Tomb of Reka, as well as the skulls mentioned above, is also packed with mushroom enemies. They come in a few varieties - one can taunt and guard, one can zap you with electricity, and the other sits in the back and heals its friends - but they're generally much easier to deal with than the skulls.

    The Earth Golem already presents a challenge with its high defense and an irritating buff he keeps casting on himself where his defense is boosted higher and raw damage is reflected back to the attacker, usually resulting in a higher amount of reflected damage than incurred damage. He supplements this defensive tactic by summoning three or four mushroom mobs at a time as a distraction, and replenishing them as they fall.

    Let me just interrupt here to tell you how almost every healing spell in the game works. None of them heal a set amount; rather, they each heal a certain percentage of the target's total HP. Weaker healing spells tend to "only" be around 30-40%, while the stronger ones can heal up to full.

    You're probably seeing where I'm going with this.

    The number of times I've slowly dragged this big rock down to critical health only for it to spawn two healer mushrooms which then replenish his entire HP bar in a single round is probably around the same (give or take) as the number of fist indentations in my wall. See above re: coincidences.

    Burned Walkers & Spawns (Deva Fortress)

    All right, so you've seen status effects and extreme boss turtling. Surely the game's run out of ways to screw you over? Enter the Burned Walkers, the roasted zombies of Deva Fortress, the dungeon that immediately follows the Tomb of Reka. Not particularly durable, being undead does mean they're immune to poison (one of your four compulsory party members at this time has a whole skill tree dedicated to poison attacks, and it's better that you learn sooner rather than later that most enemies are invulnerable to it) and status effects like sleep or fear. They usually show up in packs of four or five.

    What each Burned Walker can do, and will do, is summon a Spawn enemy as soon as there's a gap. Spawns are more or less identical to Burned Walkers, and that includes the ability to summon more Spawns. You ever see a video in science class about the way single-celled organisms asexually reproduce? It's a little process called exponential growth, where one becomes two becomes four and then so on.

    This area sucks.

    A single pack of Dragonkin Elite (Atop the World Tree)

    Skipping ahead a bit here, one of the neater dungeons in the game is a big tree that you climb horizontally at first - everything's on its side as you ascend, which means horizontal waterfalls and rain - before you eventually reach the canopy at the top. Almost every fight in these two World Tree levels are Dragonkin: lizardmen enemies that come in defensive (taunt and blocks, a firm favorite tactic of this game), offensive (high-damaging "berserkers"), and magical (shaman, who breathe fire a lot for a high-damage party-wide elemental AoE) forms.

    When you get to the top of the World Tree, the game starts tossing in Dragonkin Elite, which are - no joke - end-game enemies. They're basically the same as the three types above but are tougher and have a bonus special attack that's a lot more devastating. They'll occasionally replace one of the three to five normal Dragonkin you'll face in most encounters up here just to keep you on your toes.

    Except for one encounter.

    This one has five Elite Dragonkin. With no warning and for no apparent reason, other than I guess the game wanted you to get a taste of what the end-game has in store (the World Tree is, I'd say, approximately 60% the way through the story).

    Operencia would like to take this opportunity to remind you to save before every battle, no matter how innocuous that particular band of lizardmen might appear from a distance.

    Copper Soldiers (Copper Forest)

    The Copper Forest, the first destination you reach after finishing the World Tree, was the bane of my existence for a while. Or, to be more specific, the freshest in a series of existence banes that I'd encountered thus far. It has two main enemy types, the second of which I'll get into in just a moment but for now I'm going to focus on these Wizard of Oz assholes.

    Copper Soldiers, woodcutting automatons that look like props from a highschool play (in a mostly endearing way), just stand there and swing their axes at you. These axes usually miss, and even when they hit they're nothing special. Since they come in packs of five, it's tempting to just wear them down with regular attacks and save your energy for bigger fish. If you're in a hurry you might even be so bold as to use AoEs and damage them all at an equal rate.

    When the first one reaches half health, that's when all hell breaks loose.

    You see, all enemies in the Copper Forest have special conditions when they drop to half health, and for the Copper Soldier that means turning super saiyan and doubling their attack damage. Before they start swinging with even greater ferocity, however, they "ignite": this powering-up process does strong lightning elemental damage to the entire party, but it also saps their energy. A lot of energy. The same energy you need to cast spells, use special abilities, or... oh, I dunno, heal maybe? Like after a big enemy AoE? And if you're dumb enough like I was to get three of these Copper Soldiers in their mid-state at the same time, well, the rest of the fight suddenly becomes that much more interesting.

    Lightning Bugs (Copper Forest)

    These creepy-crawly fu... OK, so like the Copper Soldiers, these bugs - which resemble beetle-shaped bolts of lightning - also have a mid-health trick up their sleeve. However, that doesn't involve energy loss; no, no, they'll zap energy with every single attack, no half-health state necessary. What they will do instead after a few hits is explode violently for a huge amount of physical and elemental damage, much like the bombs of Final Fantasy. It takes a few turns to charge this up though, so if you can finish a surging bug off before it goes up then you're safe.

    Except if one goes, they all go. And they usually show up in packs of five.

    If a single exploding lightning bug does approximately 35% damage to the whole party, and there are three or more bugs remaining... well, it doesn't matter if you're not that quick at math, because you've got a bit of time before the game can reload your last save.

    Cursed Copper Soldiers (Deep in the Copper Forest)

    Oh, did you think the Copper Soldiers were bad? Did you? How naïve you are, the game decides. What if we had them already powered up at the start, and then gave them a new attack that randomly hits the party let's say... hmm... about ten times? No guarantees they won't hit your archer or healer all ten times either. Oh, and since every one of them has this skill, they'll all start the battle with it. All five of them, in most cases.

    Sometimes when a fight has just started you're never quite sure how well it's going to go. If half your party's gone after the first round of enemy attacks, the answer's probably "not great."

    Boldizsar (Gate to the Underworld)

    I kinda like this dude. He's an antagonist for most of the game, at least until you get to the true boss, and like other "Garaboncias" wizards (It's a Hungarian thing) he'll just stand there reading his book while insouciantly throwing spells your way. You actually fight him several times, but he'll usually bail at half-health and sic something else on you. It's only when you reach the Gate to the Underworld that he'll decide to fight you for real, mano-a-mano.

    I'm no Spanish expert though, so I'm not sure if "mano-a-mano" roughly means "one vs. one" or "one vs. as many wizards as the bad guy can summon, and then for as many minions as they can summon, until the screen is full of enemies attacking in unison every turn while the one guy who started it all still throws powerful spells your way while you're distracted". This is the adds boss to end all adds bosses, and even if you focus on him he'll eventually split into three equally deadly shadow clones and continue pelting you with ice balls for huge damage.

    It was all I could do to not lose him in the crowd. It was like fighting Where's Waldo?.

    Wraiths (Tomb of Attila)

    The Tomb of Attila leads right to the final dungeon of the game, so you can expect to face some strong resistance down here. The most prevalent of which, more so than the glowing skeletons even, are the Wraiths. Fortunately, the game doesn't have any level-draining enemies (I honestly wouldn't have put it past the developers) but what Wraiths can do is drain your health, smacking you with powerful magic to refill their own vitality. What's more fun is that they can hit you with an improved version of the Skull Sentry's "wave of fear," except now it also causes insanity to any number of party members for four rounds. Insanity works much the same way as confusion in Final Fantasy and other JRPGs, for those asking, with party members picking random targets including each other.

    So let's review what it looks like when three or all four of your party members are hit with this status for four whole turns. For one, they're likely to direct their own attacks at themselves, including the high-energy/high-damage specials you were saving up. Your healer? Well, if she somehow survives her own allies stomping her into an early dirt nap after the first round she's inclined to go right ahead and heal those new friends of hers, the Wraiths. You have four turns of this before they all start listening to you again, and can mercifully regain control of the battle.

    Based on empirical evidence, I believe the insanity wave has a cooldown of four turns.

    Rad.

    Succubi (Glass Palace)

    I can forgive this one a little because the succubus enemies are the last to be introduced, at least of the normal enemy types, so you'd also expect them to be the hardest to fight. You do actually encounter them a few times previously, but in greatly depowered summoned forms; in their native realm of the Underworld, where the Glass Palace is located, they're at full strength.

    The thing with the succubi is that their Agility is through the roof. Most enemies go big on Strength (melee) or Intelligence (magic) and the few Agility-based foes you meet tend to be archers that go down quick if they don't have any taunting guards with them. Succubi are pure front-row damage dealers, except their enhanced Agility means they evade every other attack, including specials. They'll also sap energy (I certainly missed enemies that could do that), charm party members (like insanity, only replace "sometimes attacks allies" with "always attacks allies"), and perform this big jumping attack that does heavy physical and heavy fire elemental damage to the whole party; one even managed to crit my archer for over a hundred damage (her maximum was 150 at this point). I did not care for these red devil ladies much at all.

    Bob (Lake of Anna)

    This one's just funny so I didn't mind it too much, but obviously still a huge troll so on the list it goes.

    Bob's the game's superboss. That might sound like a Sisyphean prospect in a game already this difficult, but when you meet Bob he's just a regular frog soldier - the first enemy type in the game - and his stats are about the same too with one exception: he has more health than any other enemy in the game. A lot more. To put things in perspective, the final boss - who you don't even technically fight at full strength - has less than 2000 HP. Bob has 12000 HP. This is, if nothing else, an endurance battle.

    Then again, Bob misses almost every attack. You spend several dozen rounds hitting him at full damage while watching that giant health bar tick down, wondering when the other shoe will drop. Will he suddenly power up at half-health like the Copper Soldiers? Nope, 6000 HP comes and goes, and he's still taking damage like a champ and giving nothing back. Easy street, if a little protracted and dull.

    It's about then when the pipes in the arena start pumping in water. And they're not stopping.

    You ever fight Emerald Weapon in Final Fantasy VII? Not the remake (though I'm excited to see how they handle it) but the original. He's underwater and you can't breathe without depriving your party of a valuable Materia slot to compensate, so the battle has a strict time limit. You can usually just about beat Emerald in that time with a high enough level party and the best Materia available, but hit that limit and it's an instant game over.

    Bob has way too much health for the time limit to be anything less than the true boss of this fight. He's a frog, so he'll be just fine when everything's submerged, but your party is slowly drowning. Spells and special attacks apparently all have a verbal component, so now you can't use them. That means regular attacks only, at about 50-100 damage a pop if you're lucky and manage to crit, against a foe with several thousand HP remaining while you're losing around 5-10% of your total health every round from taking in lungfulls of dirty frog water, and no healing spells to bring it back up.

    The Bob fight only has one solution that I know about, therefore solving this puzzle of a fight is a true test of the player's resourcefulness. Even with healing potions, which miraculously still work underwater but are extremely finite, there's simply no way you can get the DPS high enough without someone wielding a certain pair of weapons with a special set bonus. That means you need to remember you have them and then find someone who has the stats to wield both of them simultaneously to win in time.

    I thought it was a cool idea for a fight, but obviously one you're not going to beat the first time you try it. And you won't know that until after ten minutes of whacking a poor frog around. In that respect, it's still a big middle finger to the player (and possibly the true Frog Fractions 2?).

    The Final Battle (Glass Palace)

    I don't want to spoil the particulars of this fight too much for obvious story reasons, except to say it's made transparent the whole game that you'll be fighting a dragon eventually. However, the actual fight itself is a bit more involved:

    1. Part One has you fighting the dragon's human form, who has high defense and powerful elemental skills. He's so supercilious towards you that he'll waste rounds doing nothing, however. At around half the boss's health, you move onto...
    2. Part Two, which has him change into a dragon and roasting the party almost immediately. However, this is just a bait and switch for...
    3. Part Three, in which you have a non-hostile target in the background that you have to destroy as quickly as possible. During this time, enemies continually spawn in from nearby portals, including the aforementioned succubi, wraiths, and taunting Dragonkin Elite. If the latter taunts you, you can no longer ignore them for the sake of the target at the back. Do enough damage to this target, and the dragon shows up again for a few rounds of breath attacks before skulking off again. Actually destroy the background object before the respawning mobs overwhelm you, and...
    4. Part Four has you fighting the dragon again, only now it has way less health for one story-related reason or another. Its defense is incredible, and his breath attacks haven't become any more survivable, but it's a relatively small health pool to chip away at. After that...
    5. Part Five has you fighting the human form with his remaining half health. Way less troublesome than any previous stage, but if your party's somehow still in any kind of fighting form you might want to bless the baby angel in charge of RNG that day. Survive his attacks long enough and he'll go down, and the battle (and game) will be complete.

    Calling this fight a slog would be insulting to slogs, which can be relatively pleasant diversions. This fight is an ordeal. It's the kind of thing that unites people in their shared trauma, like being stuck together in an elevator after an earthquake, except it's just you and whatever remains of your resolve to see this game through after all of the above.

    A fitting end to an exhausting game, in so many words.

    Try Operencia: The Stolen Sun for yourselves. This isn't a recommendation by the way; I'm actually daring you. I need others to feel the pain I feel. Are you chicken, McFly?

    (And if that developer shows up in my comments again... uh, no hard feelings? Through grit and grace I got to the very end, so that's gotta mean something.)

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    brian_

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    #2  Edited By brian_

    I think I put Operencia on my GOTY list last year. Either that, or it might have just missed the cut. I don't remember for sure. But I remember enjoying it, and thinking it was a really solid one of those games. Especially considering it came for Zen Studios, who've basically just been making pinball for the last decade.

    I enjoy the slog that is this genre of game. I typically play at least one a year. Maybe two or three at most. I thought it felt on par with most other games I've played in the genre in terms of difficulty and just waring you out by the end. I love that "It's finally over" feeling when I hit the credits.

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    ArbitraryWater

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    Try Operencia: The Stolen Sun for yourselves. This isn't a recommendation by the way; I'm actually daring you. I need others to feel the pain I feel. Are you chicken, McFly?

    So what I'm hearing you say is that Operencia is an RPG of Dubious nature, Mento? (I'm currently sticking to my "no indies" rule while vetting for season 2, but I'd be willing to bend it. Also, if you have any suggestions for a Season 2, I'd love to hear them. Definitely have taken some... inspiration from some of the pain you've experienced over the years)

    Given that it's on Game Pass, I'll give it a look regardless.

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    Mento

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    #4 Mento  Moderator

    @arbitrarywater: Dubious might be pushing it for Operencia, but certainly a little mean-spirited in spots. I guess that's just being truer to the spirit of old Wizardry and Might & Magic than a lot of these throwbacks. There's other reasons to play besides the combat too, but I'd perhaps caution against playing on the harder settings all the same.

    I'm not sure I can help with other dubious RPGs, at least on PC. The only one I've bounced from in the past few years is Arcanum, and many regard that as a classic. There's this one called Legrand Legacy that may or may not be too dull to be dubious; I'm almost curious enough to pick it up on Switch since it's heavily discounted on the eShop right now.

    Say... have you heard of a little game called Descent to Undermountain?

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    sparky_buzzsaw

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    Are there any difficulty options? This sounds great but my days of seeing stuff like Vagrant Story to near completion are long gone.

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    Mento

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    #7 Mento  Moderator

    @sparky_buzzsaw: Yep! I played on hard mode like an idiot. I don't think enemy tactics change all that much on normal mode, but their stats do.

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    @mento: No hard feelings at all... But I seem to recall you saying you played on Hard, correct? I wouldn't have advised that, and most people seem to find Normal just right -- though it does get pretty tough at the final battle. (Felicia Day made it that far, but I don't think she ever quite finished. She's got all her streams on YouTube, which are fun to watch.)

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