Okay, I realize the year is still young and that this is my first game of 2021, but I fully believe Olija deserves my first Editor’s Choice of the year. In fact, I’m going to keep it in my back pocket as a Game of the Year contender. That may seem presumptuous, but stick with me here; I think I can make you all see my point.
Olija is a 2D dungeon-crawling platformer that centers around Faraday, a man on a journey to rescue castaways and return home after a major shipwreck has left him stranded in the strange country of Terraphage. Home to a number of dark and dingy mazes and fearsome foes, Faraday must navigate through Terraphage to save the people trapped within and find Shadow Keys that will help him escape and get back home.
Along the way, Faraday discovers more about the strange new place he’s in and about Olija, the mysterious woman that Faraday is fatefully connected to.
Most of the gameplay centers around finding your way through maze-like dungeons and fighting enemies. You’ll start out fighting with nothing but your fists until you run across a rapier, which helps you out a little until you discover the most important weapon: the Harpoon of Legend. From there, the harpoon will be your main weapon, but a number of secondary weapons are scattered throughout to uncover and put to good use, like bows and swords.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to try out weapons and figure out what works best for you, especially since combat can be pretty challenging. There are times when you’ll be surrounded by enemies and it feels overwhelming, and you’ll probably end up having to replay the area (perhaps many times). However, these repeats give you more practice using weapons and strategizing.
Dungeons require a lot of backtracking. It’s common to have to go find a level on one floor to open up a path on a different floor. There’s also times when a platform on a certain floor will launch you onto another platform you couldn’t reach before, which can open up new paths or help you reach chests and items. Items can range from money and jewelry to bones and feathers.
All of these can be used to do one of the greatest things in the game: crafting magic hats! These hats can give you special abilities that help you when you’re in the dungeons, like magical attacks or extra health. They also look fabulous!
The music of Olija is stunning. It has Spanish and Japanese influence, with lots of strings and bells, and it’s surprisingly low energy for an action game. This makes the soundtrack nice to listen to, but also adds layers to the feeling and plot of the game. It’s a little ominous, but also strangely hopeful. It fits well with the visuals, which are delightfully pixelated and do a wonderful job of making the dungeon environments feel eerie and almost oppressive. They also add a certain beauty to the other environments, such as the forests and seafaring cutscenes.
Olija is a great example of how all the elements of a video game can come together to make something truly amazing. It has a fantastic plot with excellent pacing, the gameplay is challenging and exciting, the music and graphics are exceptional, and it manages to inject humor into an otherwise serious story (such as using fancy hats as enhancements). In every way that matters, Olija manages to impress, in both gameplay and presentation, and deserves to be on everyone’s must-play lists this year.