Bereft of hope in his homeland, Lord Faraday sets sail for greener pastures with his clansmen. An icon of poor fate, a leviathan whale overturns his vessel as they’re thrown overboard, plunging into the briny deep only to awaken in the mysterious land of Terraphage. What follows is a six-hour seafarer’s tale that marries its vivid fantasy story with formulaic yet sturdy gameplay to create another unexpectedly solid Devolver published classic.
Although it’s a straight forward and by the numbers ‘good versus evil’ plot, Olija’s plot wouldn’t feel out of place in a Guillermo del Toro film, full of dread and darkness with a haunting atmosphere to boot. I really welcomed the simplicity of the game’s story, it thrusts you into a strange world, rich with some nice lore if you’re interested enough to read into it. From the harpoon of legend that sees Faraday through his quest to the trio of hunters tasked with putting an end to the harpoon bearer’s coup, there’s an air of obscurity that keeps it interesting throughout.
As an action-platformer, Olija doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary, although it remains resolutely confident in what it does do. Unlike its contemporaries, it refuses to compromise its experience with overbearing difficulty or tacky gimmick. Although Faraday will enjoy the spoils of exploration in the form of a musket rifle and a trusty cutlass, Olija offers two weapons that directly tie into the game’s sense of exploration and its puzzle-solving. The legendary harpoon is deadly at range, although it also stands out as the single most interesting part of the game’s core loop. After it’s sent careening across a gap, Faraday can teleport to its position. This isn’t without condition, however, as it’ll only work when the harpoon is driven into an enemy’s chest cavity or if it’s speared into one of the many yellow orbs placed throughout the levels.
When off the beaten path, Olija offered fleeting challenges with its platforming which felt reminiscent of Celeste in a way with screens that demand more precise and near-perfect movement. With the game not being too troubling overall, these brief moments of peril come out of nowhere and I do wish the game found a better balance with how it challenged players.
There’s a simple booty-driven economy that exists at the heart of Olija. Once your settlement is up and running, merchants you free from captivity in the world set up shop. There isn’t a wide range of wares on offer, in fact, the only shop of note if a hatter who sells tricorns imbued with magic that’ll aid Faraday in combat. There are more than a handful, but the one I gravitated to granted immunity to acid. It’s a small feature that adds a small amount of depth to the game’s pretty simple overall package. Further to fleshing out the experience, Olija has some collectibles that make searching high and low an unexpected pleasure, from the impossible bottles to the music boxes that speak to the sense of romance behind the game’s love story subplot.
Given the game’s beautifully animated promotional material, I had hoped Olija would introduce its small, focused story with something similar. Instead, the game’s design is a stripped back pixel art approach that plays it with a straight bat, not laying on hyper-stylised flourishes. It’s modest but there’s no denying that Olija’s strength rests with its art direction and design, it’s creepy and alien, lending credence to the notion that Faraday’s a stranger in a strange land.
Olija continues the trend of Devolver titles having great sound design and soundtracks. The lo-fi soundscape uses elements of flamenco to create a docile and relaxing backdrop to the game’s brand of action. Terraphage, despite being a fictitious land, has real East Asian character and this rings true with the game’s original score which has a real Japanese flavour. I also particularly enjoyed the minimal voice acting, especially the game’s spectral villain that threatens Faraday’s crusade throughout Olija.
Like others in Devolver’s catalogue, Olija is primarily the work of a one-man team and, as such, it isn’t terribly long at just six hours. It’s still pretty respectable for an action-platformer without a whole lot of tricks, it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome and winds up on a nice note.
THE PC VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
The product of a one man team, Olija is a tight and entertaining seafarer’s voyage that manages to be memorable despite not bringing anything particularly revolutionary to the table. Instead, it’s in the atmosphere and tone that Olija excels, proving that the deep blue sea isn’t full of just terrors.