Olija opens with the protagonist, Lord Faraday, looking down on his small, poor town. Lost wars have emptied his coffers, the local fish population is dwindling, and something must be done. He and his men set out to sea to find salvation only to have their boat smashed by a whale and anyone who survived taken down into the depths. Lord Faraday has one mission: save the survivors and return home.
Developer: Skeleton Crew Studio
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PS4
This game may surprise you with how well the gameplay melds with the story. Faraday’s quest brings him to the Terraphage, which at first seems like just a small series of islands but reveals itself to be much more. The Terraphage has its own legends and lore, which Faraday exploits to save his own people. But this story isn’t just that, it’s also a love story. Most importantly is how concisely the story is told. What’s told to Faraday upfront is exactly what he discovers. There is a harpoon of legend and the man who wields it will be hunted and killed. However, without the harpoon, Faraday will never be able to save his men.
Once he’s saved after a run-in with an otherworldly beast, Faraday begins rebuilding a small wharf that has been inhabited by the poor and the unlucky. As he goes out on his adventures, Faraday is able to retrieve other unlucky souls trapped in cages and left for dead or worse. Clearing levels or islands, however you want to look at it, brings new faces to his platform oasis. The alchemist grants him more hit points for gems, the chef allows him to heal before he embarks on another adventure, and the hat salesman sells hats that give Faraday new abilities to help him on his adventures.
Olija impressed me the second I got the harpoon and realized this 2D beat ‘em up was becoming a puzzle-platformer. The harpoon of legend is more than just an incredible weapon that gives Faraday range. He can throw the harpoon into items and enemies, and, if he so chooses, can grapple and lunge towards them. This is the source of many puzzle elements. Simply finding ways to open doors or make it across pits by using the harpoon’s power. Likewise, this is the primary way Faraday will find collectibles on his journey.
The game’s namesake isn’t this harpoon or some end-game boss either. Olija is the name of the heiress to the kingdom hosting Lord Faraday. Winning Lady Olija’s favor may be one of the keys Lord Faraday needs to escape the Terraphage and get his people back home. For now, though, he must keep exploring. As you complete levels you’ll find maps of the Teraphage, which allows you to unlock new islands to find the three blue keys. These keys unlock the door that blocks Lord Faraday from returning home.
Lord Faraday’s tale is compelling but matching it with the visceral combat and fun puzzles makes Olija an incredibly unique experience. Artistically, Olija resembles older PC adventure titles, similar to games like Out of this World with a crude animation style that draws you into the world. I’m incredibly impressed by how Olija looks. In spite of its limiting art style, it manages to create a color palette that seems both foreign and familiar at the same time. With otherworldly evils to fight as well as humanoid enemies, Olija manages to create an atmosphere through art, animation, and sound that brings you into the world. When the wind picks up, leaves brush across the screen. Is a storm brewing? Expect lightning and thunder, expect the sound to create a feeling of actually being in the Terraphage.
The only disappointing thing about Olija is that there is so much promise and potential in what has been created already. People often say a short game respects their time but I left Olija wanting more. Perhaps the short and concise story is a contributor to what makes Olija so great but after only 5 hours I was incredibly impressed but sad it was over. It would be an absolute disservice to yourself to miss out on this game. A beautiful story told wonderfully and compact enough you could finish it in an evening. Thomas Olsson, the game’s developer, should be incredibly proud of what he has accomplished here. Do not sleep on Olija.
The Final Word
Olija is a mysterious adventure that won’t overstay it’s welcome but leave you wanting more immediately after playing it. I recommend this game to everyone. This deep take on the action/adventure genre that seems to be lost in time will stick with me for a while, and I will be on the lookout for Thomas Olsson’s next project.
MonsterVine Rating: 4.5 out of 5 – Great