It takes a rare sort of game to make you step back and really live in the world it creates, even when Cthulian monsters are threatening you from all sides. And that’s the beauty of Olija.
Olija follows the tale of explorer Faraday and his journey home after being shipwrecked in a strange land. It’s structured like a typical adventure: keys to collect, special upgrades to find, dungeons to explore with unique treasures, lethal puzzles and strange creatures to fight.
Along the way, you’ll meet a serene (and mostly silent) cast of characters, conquer dungeons, and expand Faraday’s hearty combat abilities. This combat is incredibly fluid, and has a sleek animation style I’d liken to Carrion, a Devolver hit from last year. It’s smooth, varied and great fun — even when the dungeon you’re in floods with leaping and hopping enemies.
The game’s dungeons are fairly simple on the surface, but I found myself doubling back as more of the game opened up.
Once you nab the legendary harpoon (after an epic battle with a dungeon beast), you gain the ability to teleport to nearby surfaces, and this is really where the game comes alive. With the harpoon by your side, you can reach the further depths of the island caverns, encounter fiercer enemies and traverse epic puzzles along the way.
Beyond the simple gameplay and smooth combat, Olija really shines in its quieter moments.
Faraday’s tale is often lonely, and the game world reflects his strange and unfamiliar surroundings. Speech is a rarity, but when it does pop up, it lends a great deal of brevity and intrigue to the game’s story. You’ll find fallen warriors to rescue, who then join the crew at your home base. They share stories, gather around fires and help find power-ups as you travel. The silence in these moments is warm, and a great contrast to the aggressive, cold silence you find exploring the caverns.
Olija‘s beauty extends beyond the pastel hues of the world and its traditional, flute-based soundtrack. Each pixel reveals a magical-realist story that, at its heart, is about humanity and the connections we all share. As a mostly non-verbal game, the environments sing with their own strange, blocky beauty.
Whether it’s travelling through a mountainous peak, stopping by a quiet waterfall or fighting your way through dank, weed-filled dungeons, Olija thrives in the silence.
What’s most impressive is the whole game was developed solely by Thomas Olsson, inspired by media like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Count of Monte Cristo, Moby Dick and Another World. In an interview with Kotaku Australia, he described the game as a labour of love, born from his interest and passion for game development.
“The hardest part of Olija was not the workload,” he said over email. “Not being able to elaborate on concepts or solve issues through dialog with teammates, especially when it comes to game design, is really tough. Vocalising thoughts forces you to elaborate on them. Communication is a great problem-solving process.”
Combat and puzzling are a major part, but it’s the meaning between those moments that makes Olija stick. Faraday cuts a lonely figure carving through jungles and rivers, but his crew and the people he saves are never far away.
Sometimes the most epic journeys are the quietest ones.