Okage: Shadow King - An Interview with Shawn Torrin Rettig of Sony Computer Entertainment America


The producer of Okage: Shadow King speaks...

We had the opportunity to ask some questions of Shawn Torrin Rettig, assistant producer of SCEA's title, Okage: Shadow King. Read on for the scoop.
PSi: First of all, please tell us who you are and what you do? What sort of things are you handling on OKAGE: Shadow King?
TORRIN: My name is Shawn Torin Rettig, and I am an assistant producer at SCEA. On OKAGE: Shadow King, I handled a number of the localization details for the game and worked on about half of the text editing.
PSi: Just how long has Okage been in development? How long has it been being worked on by the U.S. team?
Okage: Shadow King TORRIN: The production team at SCEA has been working on OKAGE since March 2001.
PSi: Okage's style can definitely be considered . . . unique, to say the least. Has it caused problems in the translation, or are the game's oddities fairly easy to make fit for an American audience?
TORRIN: Translation from Japanese to English always has unique challenges involved. There are a number of aspects of Japanese culture that are reflected in the language. So, you not only have linguistic challenges, but cultural challenges as well. There are some expressions and concepts that have a Japanese feel to them and cannot be accurately translated into English context smoothly. OKAGE did not present too many problems in this area, which is surprising, considering that the characters as well as their dialogue can be quite odd, even in Japanese. This was done intentionally to give the OKAGE world a very unique feel, which it certainly has. There are a lot of quirky-looking characters with quirky personalities and this is very much reflected when they speak. The OKAGE world is fun, weird, colorful and more than a bit off the wall and I think players will appreciate that. OKAGE's wackiness is one of the biggest keys to its appeal.
PSi: What group of people is Okage attempting to appeal to? Obviously the hardcore RPG crowd, but other than that, does it have a slant that it's aimed towards?
Okage: Shadow KingTORRIN: Well certainly, as you've mentioned, it will appeal to the hardcore role-playing game (RPG) fans and I think they will enjoy the ways in which OKAGE develops the genre. Outside of that I think the art style, plot, characters and sheer craziness of the game will help it branch out and grab the attention of gamers who may not have considered an RPG before. That is certainly my hope.
PSi: What sort of innovations does the game offer to the jaded role-player that's seen it all before?
TORRIN: As far as the battle system is concerned, OKAGE is doing a couple of things that have not been done before. The one that will stand out the most is melee-style battle progression. Like a traditional RPG, the battle members in OKAGE - friends and foes, all have a meter that builds up. When it is full, they can attack. However, when a character decides to attack, they attack, regardless of whether or not another character is attacking. So, as you might imagine, it is possible, and quite often happens, that all characters, friends and enemies, will attack and be attacked all at the same time. It really gets pretty exciting when there's that much taking place on-screen at one time.

In addition to this, all characters (friends and enemies) have the potential to combine attacks with other characters on their side and attack a single character. So, the player can, and often should, combine two or all three of their characters' attacks to do a massive damage attack on one enemy. The combined attacks have the advantage of being stronger than if each character attacked the same enemy individually. This can be really useful when fighting bosses and other strong enemies. However, this strategy works both ways. Enemies can also gang up on a single one of the player's characters and put in the serious hurt. When you consider that there can be up to 10 enemies on-screen at once, this can be a really challenging situation for the player. Of course, enemies can only combine attacks in groups of three or four at the most, so it isn't quite as scary a situation as it may seem…but it's still pretty scary.

Also unique is the way in which encounters with enemies occur. In most RPGs, the player walks around in the environment for a certain amount of time, then BAM! they're in a fight with an enemy. OKAGE does not work this way. The enemies in OKAGE, although they take many recognizable forms, are ghosts and other evil spirits. As Ari and his party walk around in the fields between towns and in dungeons, these ghosts and spirits actually appear and attempt to chase the party down. This adds a whole new dimension to encounters and exploration of environments. The player is actually able to avoid encounters as long as he or she can avoid the ghosts. The more the you practice dodging the ghosts, the better you can get at it, to the point where an experienced player can avoid a majority of encounters if they so choose. Of course, like any RPG or any game for that matter, no pain no gain, and if you want your character to get stronger, you will have to face the music eventually.

PSi: Just how long is the game, roughly? How much 'extra stuff' does it have--side quests, hidden goals, and the like?
Okage: Shadow King TORRIN: The game will probably take the average RPG gamer 25-35 hours to complete. There are five distinct side quests that the player can pursue. However, one of the side quests has multiple paths each with a different goal at the end.
PSi: What inspired the bizarre tale of Okage? Random whim, some bit of folklore, what?
TORRIN: Although I can't say for sure, it's pretty certain that details of the world and characters have a Japanese historical or cultural influence. This is no different than U.S. fantasy games and RPGs that draw on fairy tales and legends for their inspiration. From an RPG standpoint, though, OKAGE's plot - an evil demon possessing a boy's shadow to subjugate other evil demons and characters – is undeniably original.
PSi: How different will the US and the Japanese versions be, if at all [aside from the translation]?
Okage: Shadow KingTORRIN: The biggest difference that will be noticeable between the two is in the difficulty. US RPG players generally like their games more challenging than Japanese players. The difficulty has been ramped up considerably, but also modified in a way that should work to the players' advantage. The monsters that the player fights in battles are certainly much stronger than they are in the Japanese version. They have more Health Power and do more damage. However, the appearance rate of the ghosts in the fields and dungeons has been reduced. So, since the ghosts appear more infrequently, the player will be more able to dodge them and avoid unwanted battles. However, if they do want to get into a battle, players will have a more exciting and challenging one. In accordance with the increase in strength of the monsters, so has Experience Point acquisition been increased. In this way, there is a definite reward if the player decides to engage stronger enemies.
PSi: Anything coming down the pipeline from the same group that we'd be interested in (and that you can admit to)?
TORRIN: Nothing I can admit to. :)
PSi: And, finally, if you had to sum Okage up in five words or less, what would they be?
Okage: Shadow KingTORRIN: Seriously wacky, fun, colorful madness.
Interview by Sunfall to-Ennien
(AKA Phil Bordelon )