Everyone in Japan knows the tale of Momotaro, of the boy born from a giant peach (hence his name, which literally translates as ‘Peach Boy’), who journeyed to recover his village’s treasure that had been stolen by ogres. It’s a story as ubiquitous in Japan as Jack and the Beanstalk is in the UK.
As the tale goes:
There was once an old man and an old woman who lived in a village in the mountains. One day, the woman found a giant peach floating down river by their house. She took it home to her husband, but when they tried to eat it, a boy came out. The man said “He came out of a peach, so let’s call him Momotaro (Peach Boy).
Momotaro grew big and strong, but he was a kind and gentle boy. One day, ogres came to the village and stole the village treasure. Momotaro vowed to get the treasure back, so he set off to Onigashima (Demon island), where the ogres were hiding. He stocked on kibidango (a type of dumpling) and set off.
Along the way, he met a dog. “Woof, woof”, said the dog. “Please give me one kibidango.”
Momotaro gave the dog his first kibidango and the dog became his friend.
Then he met a monkey. “Eek, eek”, said the monkey. “Please give me one kibidango.”
Momotaro gave the monkey his second kibidango and the monkey became his friend.
Then Momotaro met a pheasant. “Squawk, squawk”, said the pheasant. “Please give me one kibidango.”
Momotaro gave the pheasant his last kibidango and the pheasant became his friend.
Momotaro arrived at the island with his friends and confronted the ogres. “Woof, woof! Eek, eek! Squawk, squawk! Give it back!!” they shouted.
The noise was so loud that the it hurt the ogres’ heads. They said “we’re sorry”, and gave the treasure back. They promised not to be naughty again.
However, just as with Grimm’s tales, there are darker version where Momotaro travels the land and kills the ogres. Ogre Tale takes this more violent interpretation of this story and flips it on its head. Then vomits Japan all over it.
Momotaro has become the bad guy. His desire to kill has become insatiable, and he is no longer the kind and gentle boy who fell out of a peach. He has all but wiped ogres out of existence, and your clan — the Onigashimas — is all that’s left. Your mission is to kill Momotaro.
This reversal of the famous Japanese tale is what drew me to the game, but it leans very heavily into Japanese tropes and stereotypes. It’s like if Jack and the Beanstalk was set in 1800s London, riffed off every stereotype of Brits you could think of, and then padded it out until a quarter of the four-hour game is pure try-hard, fourth wall-breaking dialogue.
On the surface, Ogre Tale is a side-scrolling, button mashing beat ‘em up. You play as one of the last three descendants of the Onigashima clan — the sisters Hana, Ran and Yume — whipping, slashing or clubbing your way through Japan. You visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Miyajima and Mt Fuji — all places with extreme historical and cultural significance.
But there is a second layer of Japanese-ness that has been thrown into the mix, like every Saturday morning anime you know has been blended together and slathered over the deep and rich history of Japan.
Much like the real-life country, there is a peculiar mix of old and new. However, that’s not to put the country and game in the same league — the game only works because of how dichotomous the country is. Unlike Japan, which has a seamless beauty in the way that tradition and modernity come together, Ogre Tale is an incongruous mishmash of stale tropes and standalone references.
The story itself is fine, but it’s so snarky and text heavy that the game calls itself out for its poor writing multiple times. The characters know they’re in a game, they know the scripting and pacing are off, and they know they’re so verbose they risk the player getting bored. Think Deadpool if they turned it up to 11.
Mechanically, the game gets there, though if you start playing with a keyboard, “press any key” actually just refers to the letters B and J. I was sitting there tapping every key just trying to get into the damn game. Once you get past that, and plug in a controller, it plays much better. Not perfectly, but better.
Ogre Tale has the usual combat mechanics you’d expect in a beat ’em up, with close attacks and ranged attacks, and attack styles changing between characters. You can pick up and upgrade weapons, and level up your characters separately. If you prefer to play online, there’s an option to do so. So far, so good.
However, the difficulty leaves a little to be desired — the easiest difficulty (Normal) still sees you swarmed by enemies that spam-lock you until you die in the corner. Fortunately, dying simply resets you to the nearest checkpoint (minus any ammo you’ve used), which means you can simply brute force your way through the game. The difficulty throughout story mode is pretty linear, right up until you fight Momotaro. You then have to go and grind half a dozen levels on side missions — which exist primarily so you can get cash — until you can squash the last boss like an overly ripe peach.
Cash, which seems to be included mostly so they could jam in a reference to stripping, is pretty much useless. I wound up with over a million yen, unable to buy a better weapon than one I found halfway through the game.
One of the best things about the Ogre Tale, I’d wager, is actually the soundtrack. It’s nothing that will stick in your head, but the shamisen twanging away in the background as you fight your way west is utterly perfect for the game. This is hardly a stunning endorsement though, is it?