A young lad named Ayden rises from somnolent farmhand to artifact-collecting, Dark Lord-slaying world savior after an errand leads him to a chance encounter with the woman of his dreams — no, seriously, she’s been communicating with him subconsciously during his many naps. Sacred Odyssey (Out Now, Freemium, $6.99 full purchase) spins a yarn chock-full of every medieval fantasy trope one could think of, but thankfully, well scripted and superbly delivered dialogue save it from becoming the yawn fest it threatens at every turn. Filled with plenty of humor that gets surprisingly bawdy at times, Sacred Odyssey effectively straddles the line between a trope-laden fantasy played straight and full-on parody.
Far more entertaining than the Orcs, Fairies, talking trees and damsels-in-distress who populate the Kingdom of Lasgalen is the sheer absorbing quality of the game world’s medieval countryside. That a ton of work has gone into developing Sacred Odyssey‘s environment and history is just as evident in its gigantic monuments as in the number of crazy proper nouns being bandied about in dialogue. While suggesting that graphics can help make up for story is an uncomfortable proposition at best, there’s little question that taking in the game’s world over Ayden’s shoulder as he gallops over one hilltop after another is a big part of what keeps the player consistently engaged in the goings-on.
Speaking of galloping, Sacred Odyssey‘s greatest strength lies in its breadth of gameplay — if not necessarily its depth. Ayden will be executing the same combos with a limited range of weaponry time and again, but the option of cutting down enemy formations on horseback never gets old, and will immediately remind longtime Action RPG fans of days spent joyriding across Hyrule. Equipment management is streamlined and story-dependent to a fault, but the role various weapons play in solving puzzles helps offset whatever disappointment that might spell for micromanagement-savvy players. Likewise, the player is liable to spend more time searching in-game menus for story background than sifting through item and ability lists.
In other respects Sacred Odyssey should be an easy transition for fans of the myriad 2D offerings packed into the iOS Action RPG library. Like many before him Ayden occupies himself with linear storyline quests and optional sidequests, relying on a handy minimap and punctuation marks floating above NPCs for guidance. Getting lost in Sacred Odyssey‘s wide world is a rare occurrence thanks to convenient map arrows that help usher the player from one quest to the next, and navigating its impressive girth is more fun than tedious thanks to Ayden’s horse and the fact that he quickly befriends a perpetually drunk airship captain.
You wouldn’t know it from Ayden’s early Orc-slaying campaigns, but the real meat of Sacred Odyssey lies in completing dungeon puzzles that reach truly massive scale. Level designs are satisfyingly intricate, with fortresses that seem to fold in on themselves and markedly evolve as the player shapes Ayden’s environment with his or her wit, and often with good old-fashioned explosives too. Dungeons sometimes culminate in truly head-scratching riddles and few if any walkthroughs are currently available, so fair warning to players who dislike the puzzle-heavy variety of Action RPGs. Surmounting these challenges treats the player to equally cerebral battles against giant bosses, which provide welcome breaks from the slash-and-dodge formula of regular combat. It’s truly a shame that these aspects of the game aren’t even hinted at in the freemium version; Ayden steps into his first dungeon only after a few hours’ worth of setup work.
Sacred Odyssey‘s control scheme includes very reliable, context-sensitive virtual buttons for actions and on-the-fly equipment switching, and sometimes makes use of direct taps on the touchscreen when the player must interact with distant objects. Attacking, diving away from aggressive foes, and pushing giant blocks all work without a hitch. The virtual joystick used for movement has its quirks, as usual for the genre; its radius feels a tad small and its sensitivity concentrated enough toward the center that the slightest thumb slippage will send Ayden in the exact opposite direction from what the player intends. Familiarity reduces this problem over time. All controls may be moved around onscreen to the player’s liking via an in-game pause menu, which is an excellent touch.