There’s a sweet spot where high-fantasy, fairy tales, and folklore meet, where mysterious and strange lands begin to take on a dreamlike quality. Where characters feel real, outcomes carry weight, and moments shift between imminent danger you can sense and the realisation you’re witnessing a simple story being told. Operencia: The Stolen Sun
lives and breathes in this space as it presents a rich fantasy world full of magic and wonder that draws inspiration from Hungarian folklore.
The Stolen Sun of the title is literal in that darkness has taken over the land of Operencia with the sun removed from its perch in the sky. Each new environment or multi-layered dungeon you visit features its own story to tell, themes to impart, relationships to develop, characters to meet, and a world in which to add more colour. At its core a dungeon crawler reminiscent of some of the earliest grid-based entries in the genre, like Wizardry
, Operencia’s focus on storytelling and world-building elevate what is a tried and true formula into a memorable experience.
With grid-based exploration this means tank-like controls with all turns carried out on a single square block – the mini-map showcasing the outlines that make up each seamlessly connected tile. Exploration happens in real-time with the grid seemingly chosen to create a very specific atmosphere, one akin to pen and paper role-playing and boardgames that feature thick leather-bound rule books. The ability to strafe adds a touch of the modern videogame, one that gels nicely with the somewhat traditional turn-based combat.
"Operencia: The Stolen Sun lives and breathes in this space as it presents a rich fantasy world full of magic and wonder that draws inspiration from Hungarian folklore."
With inventories, classes, items and skills and abilities to equip, managing your party in battle is straight-forward and explained in the short yet surprisingly dull introduction sequence. Dull in the sense that after a big dragon encounter the story and journey begins proper in a dungeon located within a lake. A stunning and evocative setting where you can see the moisture dripping down the walls and a surface layer of water visible on the ceiling. Visually, Operencia’s various environments are almost always wonderful to look at, thanks to the blend of high-quality tech and imaginative art that very often defies the physics of the real world.
There’s also a storybook quality that never fails to lose its edge or menace. No doubt something that can be attributed to the European origins of the narrative.
With the focus on story, banter between characters happens throughout and is tied to discovering items, strange objects, and hurdles to overcome. As a dungeon crawler battles and puzzles are given equal footing, with solutions to the latter tied closely to the story, lore, and history of the world. This means that even when you’re flipping switches to line-up symbols it’s still thoroughly engaging to discover their meaning and the contraption’s intent. Conversation between characters will often feature hints, as will comments after successful and unsuccessful actions taken. Campfires used to save progress and recover precious action points lean into the party-based nature of the role-playing too, making the entirety of Operencia’s narrative all the richer.
That said, the traditional nature of battles leads to several encounters that settle into a particularly predictable groove as the game progresses. Easy board clears using action-point heavy abilities or giant defensive creatures that you simply need to chip away at whilst keeping an eye on your party’s health. For experienced role-players the blend of melee, ranged, elemental magic, buffs, and de-buffs won’t feature much in the way of surprise across Operencia’s lengthy campaign – save for a few stand-out boss encounters.
"As a dungeon crawler battles and puzzles are given equal footing, with solutions to the latter tied closely to the story, lore, and history of the world."
During the latter half of the game you wouldn’t me amiss spamming your way through most battles whilst playing closer attention to the story, dialogue, and engaging world. In the end, the approachable combat gives the fantasy dungeon-crawling of Operencia a wider appeal than say a new Wizardry might. Fans of party-based RPGs in the vein of Baldur’s Gate or Dragon Age will find a lot to love here too, thanks to the combination of great writing and wonderful presentation. And hey, any fantasy world that features a relic called the magical Amulet of Zotmund is one worth visiting.