It’s been a while since I’ve played a game with this much effort put into worldbuilding. Opus: Echo of Starsong is positively oozing with lore, backstory and exposition. It skirts the line of being overwhelming at times, but never crosses that threshold. Instead becoming one of the most fully realised worlds I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with in a long time.
Explore Some More
Usually when I write a review I start with the story. I look at the setting, who our protagonist is, and their motivations. However, with Opus: Echo of Starsong I think that a different approach is necessary. So let’s start with the main component of gameplay in this title. Exploration. You’ll be spending the majority of your time in this game on your ship. You travel from location to location, analysing it before stationing the ship there in order to explore for resources, or interact with the people and areas that move the plot forward.
Getting from one point to the other, of course, requires fuel. Along with armour plating and exploration kits, fuel is a valuable resource that often gets replenished while exploring locations. It makes for a very effective loop and straightforward management of resources. You can also pick up items to sell, or items that an NPC may have requested. Exploring is vital in order to save money on fuel, it also enables you to find the materials needed to upgrade your ship.
Every single location in Opus sports some exposition in the form of a memory belonging to our main protagonist Jun. As you arrive, a bit of text explains the history of the place, or its relevance to the plot or to a character. Whether it’s an abandoned space station destroyed in the United Mining War, an outlaw city, or a shrine dedicated to one of the gods. Many locations also have people to interact with or areas to explore that add flavour to the world. With the places steeped in history, and people either requesting your assistance, or looking to take credits off your hands. Every interaction holds weight, and even when you fail you get something out of it. Such as intel aptly named “tale of failure” that can be sold to merchants.
The sheer scale of the system Opus is set in is really quite impressive. It’s huge, with places to explore littered across the map, and it’s all at your fingertips. You can and probably will progress through the map naturally along with the plot. However, much of it is available to see whenever you’d like. I haven’t felt a sense of satisfaction in exploring a galaxy like this since my first time playing Mass Effect or No Man’s Sky (after its redemption arc).
Meet Our Heroes
Your introduction to Opus’ setting and storyline is through a foreign noble, Jun. It’s actually the perfect entry point, as the star system this game takes place in, Thousand Peaks, is as unfamiliar to him as it is to you. For the most part.
Jun along with his loyal guardian Kai, from the East Ocean system, are on a quest to restore his honour and the glory of their clan. So he sets out on a journey to discover lumen caves. These caves are the source of lumen, a somewhat mystical energy coveted throughout the galaxy. Lumen is the commonality of most plot points, conflicts, histories and motivations. And it’s exactly what brings our main characters together.
During a particularly disastrous search for lumen caves Jun and Kai cross paths with Remi and Eda, the crew of the Red Chamber ship. After saving each other’s skin in quick succession they join forces, the crew grows, and off they go. I was a fan of the group dynamic, Jun and Eda are drawn to one another, with love on the horizon. Remi and Jun are constantly arguing with one another, while Remi and Eda have their own sadly sweet backstory. I also loved that the story became just as much Eda’s as it was Jun’s.
Now That’s How You Build a World
From this point things really take off, there is a lot of story to digest here. Not just what happens in each main plot point but through the backstory of each character and the history of the star system itself. However, I must give credit to the handling of lore and exposition. It’s segmented into easily digestible bits. Certain locations and moments in the story trigger flashbacks that reveal more about the Red Chamber crew. And the history of Thousand Peaks and its people are told through the exploration of the system.
That being said though, prepare to do a lot of reading. There are no voice lines here so every location description, interaction, flashback and event will need to be read. And I’ll admit that it is a bit much. However, its saving grace is the fact that the writing is really excellent. Most lines of text are a pleasure to read and really do add to the world or character depth.
Exploration and story are deeply intertwined in Opus, you rarely have one without the other. Even to get to each main location, you need to make pit stops. You can’t just travel vast distances without analysing the exact coordinates of your destination. I imagine exiting hyperspeed straight into an asteroid field would be unpleasant. So you end up analysing nearby signals and using those as jumping points in order to get to each key destination. In this way, the world and it’s stories open up naturally as you make your way across the system.
Between these jumping points you’ll find yourself in a wide range of situations. From finessing your way past a military blockade performing inspections; to journalists looking to interview your crew whose reputation is steadily growing. These all just add to that feeling of adventure and exploration with every jump and pitstop.
While exploration is the majority of gameplay, it’s not the only aspect. During the main story lumen cave exploration Jun travels on foot. In these caves you record and perform starsongs to open doors which might uncover whether the caves hold enough untapped lumen. These sections, while good for plot and cutscenes, are quite disappointing in their gameplay. The doors are opened by finding the starsong, using it to guide lumen down pipes to the door. At this point you match up lines, extend or shorten as necessary and voilà the door is open. Not the most riveting gameplay.
Gameplay then mostly amounts to walking in a direction and opening some more doors to then walk further. Maybe a climbable ladder or rock wall gets thrown in to spice things up but that’s not really enough. These moments serve to break up the exploration on the ship and progress the story. However, I always just wanted to get back to the Red Chamber as soon as I could. At least it was pretty.
My, Is It Beautiful
The visuals and music of Opus are fantastic. The vast beauty of space is represented wonderfully, and is contrasted quite often with human-made construction and destruction. Bright Nebulae and planets set behind streams of debris from the long gone war that shook the Thousand Peaks, make for some striking sights.
These visuals are accompanied by very often somber piano, and sparingly with some exciting and cinematic music for the tense and more action packed moments. Overall though, you’ll be hearing a lot of ambient sounds and music in your downtime exploring. One thing that I appreciated was the use of your ears when identifying a lumen cave’s starsong or opening doors. As you match the lines of the door or triangulate a starsong, the music intensifies letting you know you’re on the right track.
Opus: Echo of Starsong is more of an experience to me than a traditional game. If you’re looking for a wild ride and some fun gameplay, you may walk away disappointed. However, if a rich and detailed world, or more accurately, star system to explore is something you’re interested in, then you’re for a treat.