Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a dungeon crawler by Zen Studios, a developer principally known for pinball games. Originally a 2019 Xbox exclusive, it recently released on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam and GOG.
Popularized by classic franchises like Wizardry and Might & Magic, grid-based dungeon crawlers have slipped out of the limelight in recent years. Many of the subgenre’s modern additions merely regurgitate the fundamentals without bringing anything innovative to the table. If poorly executed, dungeon crawlers can be insufferable.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun is guilty of many of the same criticisms leveled at the subgenre’s bottom-of-the-barrel offerings. The combat, locations, and weapons would not look out of place in Dungeon Master. And the seven playable characters snugly fit into the conventional fantasy roles of knight, thief, archer, and sorcerer. From the very first second of the game, Operencia: The Stolen Sun feels familiar. Yet, the game is more than the sum of its parts.
The subgenre’s tropes appear faithfully in Operencia: The Stolen Sun. But Hungarian developer Zen Studios injects a touch of personality by adopting its own cultural background as inspiration. Hungarian folklore is prevalent throughout the narrative. It offers a refreshing change of pace from the typical subjects explored by the majority of Western RPGs.
That is not to say Operencia weaves an especially bizarre tale. By and large, the straightforward story relies on a tried-and-tested narrative formula. A farmer is summoned by the gods to venture on a quest in search of a missing MacGuffin. Throughout his/her journey, the custom-created protagonist meets six other traveling strangers. Each for one reason or another resolves to lend a helping hand. As tends to be the case, this adventure involves slaying dragons, a couple of vengeful spirits, and a great deal of campfire banter.
There is the occasional cut-scene. But Operencia: The Stolen Sun mostly tells its tale through an omniscient narrator, stunning interludes presented like a picture book, and static images of the characters chatting away about everything and nothing. The narrator and interludes perform an admirable job fostering a sense of wonder and mystique typically associated with fairy tales. Unfortunately, static images suffer from inconsistent voice acting. Quite a few performances lack the charm to convincingly deliver the more tongue-in-cheek passages of dialogue.
A dungeon crawler is nothing without memorable locations. So, Zen Studios deserves props for crafting detailed and diverse areas congruent with the established world. Whether traversing a dark forest or a fairy castle, Operencia’s 13 maps are nothing short of gorgeous. A comparable level of care has been extended to the designs of the enemies, especially the myriad exciting bosses.
Following a short tutorial, players access a reasonably robust character creator. You can select between a knight, thief, or magical user. The seven playable characters gain points to upgrade three distinct skill trees, learning spells and powerful attacks along the way. You can also gain XP to improve stats and equip better weapons.
Depending on the chosen route, a warrior winds up completely different. For example, Jóska may develop into an assassin with a fondness for poison or a ranged combatant with access to average healing spells. New armor pieces and weapons drop constantly, so the party’s equipment tends to be swapped frequently. Operencia contains a substantial quantity of loot. But few actively impact combat in any noticeable way besides a trivial stat boost. So it becomes a matter of picking the strongest item and moving on. In contrast, the potion crafting system is a delight.
Those accustomed to first-person dungeon crawlers should feel comfortable with Operencia’s controls, especially once you finish the more open and consequently less precise introductory area. Combat is broken up with dungeon puzzles. Generally, you can figure out solutions for these brain teasers by reading a recently discovered journal entry or observing the environment. Periodically, you can obtain special items that aid in completing riddles and unbarring closed passages. Once the World Map becomes available, you can revisit previously explored dungeons to discover new loot. Operencia’s puzzles are the most rewarding part of the adventure.
Operencia’s combat is serviceable. Unlike the story or puzzles, Zen Studios seems content to primarily stick with a standard albeit polished turn-based system. Four characters are active at any given moment, although those left on the bench also gain XP. Considering it is only possible to swap fighters while stationed at a campfire, XP sharing is definitely welcome.
Enemies land across three rows, with those further behind being more susceptible to range than melee attacks. The AI does demonstrate a basic understanding of tactics, even if this mainly translates to defensive enemies using “Taunt” to draw all attacks toward them. Mob types arrive in various roles; a group of skeletons may feature a swordsman who tanks attacks, two archers equipped with elemental arrows, and a sorcerer to heal the wounded or summon fresh units.
While normal attacks are always accessible, any unique spells or elemental skills consume energy. And some require a considerable chunk to activate. Characters recover energy by skipping a turn. So, battles are just as much about resource management as targeting the opponent’s weak spot. Operencia keeps things interesting by adding team attacks, summons, buff spells, and passive skills.
Operencia’s difficulty settings focus on punishing poor planning rather than altering the battles themselves. So, combat can be a bit too easy. Permitting you execute a degree of strategy, battles will more likely test the player’s patience than skill. Due to the somewhat slow attack animations, encounters against fodder enemies tend to last a touch too long.
With 13 dungeons lasting a couple of hours each, Operencia does not overstay its welcome. Exploration is fun and rewarding, especially when it comes to some of the endgame puzzles. Although fatigue ultimately sets in, the adequate combat system possesses enough depth to support a 30-hour campaign. With Operencia: The Stolen Sun, Zen Studios has produced a modern dungeon crawler ideal for old-school RPG fans.