Shellshocked after a stint in the retail trenches – I’m scarred for life

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Opoona (2008)

I have walked the path of a million and one other college students who needed to make ends meet but who were too proud or too male to sell their bodies: I took a job in retail. Now I’ll not get all prudish on you – I would’ve had no problem joining the old paid sex circuit. I definitely would have seen myself as having the capacity to rise through the ranks from deeply unsettled newbie sex worker to deadened-eyes, ultra professional, 500 smackers a night starlet. Make a real name for myself, you know. But I remembered how to do a trusty SWOT analysis from my days as an entrepreneur, and that told the real story: since I couldn’t even give it away, let alone sell it for top dollar, I had a crippling strategical weakness to deal with right from the off. It was another dream dashed, and the only financial avenue left to me by that point was retail.

Now obviously I am like you in that I immediately believe myself to be superior to 90-99% of the general population. And you know what? We probably are, assuming you’re not some sort of mentally bewildered pondlife. Even so, I honestly went into retail battle with a healthy attitude. I hadn’t much worked with the public back then, so by that stage I had only a mild distrust of them rather than a venomous loathing.

Things looked pretty bad for me when it emerged that I wasn’t to be slotted into the relatively safe trenches of shelf-stacking. This was vastly disappointing, because I thought that even if shelf-stacking was mundane and didn’t do much for whatever on Earth talents I’m supposed to possess, it would at least shield me from aggressors. Stacking shelves and messing about with forklifts, I’d reckoned I would hear plenty of wild gunfire from enemy customers and see my fellow troops getting pinned down at the tills and becoming cannon fodder for all of the managers’ flak as well.

I’d loved to have had a cushty trench job like Blackadder and his boys, you know, where I could get away with it for a long while. Or maybe find myself in a position of strength, if not in the manager’s office then somewhere where I could have a direct effect on morale. And I really fancied myself as a Hugh Laurie; you know, dim-witted enough as to be a sinner but affluent and pleasantly hoity-toity enough to get away with it and be considered a jolly good sport by one and all. But no to all that noise – instead it turned out that I’d have to go over the top and work on the tills, directly in the line of consumer fire.

I naturally expected the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan to transpire on my first few days, but honestly, it was nothing. With the exception of a few isolated cases of bottom feedery, my biggest nemeses were actually the management, those of infinite wisdom and pernickitiness. Listen to this, if I pull a ridiculously contrived sickie (the Ireland football team were playing a meaningless friendly match, I could hardly not go), I shouldn’t have to argue my point by telling the inevitably ghastily overweight HR manager about my bowels and toilet habits, in particular how quickly and how frequently I had to visit the lav.

And, on my arrival back to work, I shouldn’t have to tell the whole heavily faecal story to her again, face-to-face, regarding one missed 4-hour shift. And it shouldn’t include enduring her rather obviously scanning my body language and facial expression for hints of lying, not that I’d ever be slow enough to let these show.

These are the kind of things I’m on about, but it was generally being treated like a subservient pawn of absolutely no value that grated the most. Yes, I know we are all expendable cogs and some get oiled far more than others and it doesn’t pay to think of yourself as a Special Snowflake. But you’ve got to get a little respect eventually, lest you burn down the establishment with everyone still inside, as I’m sure I came incredibly close to doing several times. 

By the end of it all, I felt like Yossarian – although I was certainly none too pleased with the assigned enemy trying to take me down, I was far too angry at the ridiculousness, spite, incompetency and hatefulness of my superiors to even care about all those members of the public out to get me.

Still, I seemed to enjoy far more job satisfaction at this guinea pig experiment of mine than our newest friend Opoona ever did with his endless trials to make money. Allow me to introduce the titular character himself: he’s about ten inches tall, has a completely round, bald head and is always accompanied with balls… quiet down the back, please.

While this probably points to some awful psychological disorder deep inside me, when I see something as obviously cute and squishy as Opoona’s little chestnut head, I want it dead immediately. It’s nothing personal against adorable creations like Opoona – they’re just weird. Unnatural. In my cynical, bleak world which I’ve carefully crafted in my mind’s eye over the past twenty-odd years, an always optimistic and zealous being like Opoona isn’t supposed to exist. My brain, swimming with images and videos and sounds of this imagined New World Order of mine, simply rejects this idea of cuteness and substitutes in police statism, brutalisation of criminals and far less socialism. It’s a real comfort thing for me.

Would that we had a bit more socialism in the futuristic, space-based RPG world of Opoona. Allow me to elaborate: a sort of hurriedly explained prologue shows us the curiously shaped Opoona and his equally modular family all having a gay old time on their spaceship until disaster of some sort strikes and everyone dies.

Well, they don’t die, but the upshot of this is that they’re in a pretty bad way and Opoona is right at the thick of it. When he wakes up, he finds himself railroaded into becoming a military ranger against all manner of nasty creatures attacking the vast star of Landroll, among other various locations. See where being a silent protagonist gets you?

What follows next is a fairly repetitive but still interesting game flow: to get money to find and help your parents to recover, you need to perform various jobs. To perform these jobs, you need licences. To get these licenses, you go… God knows where, because getting lost in this game is as easy as running your balls out of energy.

Yes, you heard me. And I’m not wrong on that either, because this game uses the revolutionary new Active Bon-Bon Battle System to make battling as orgasmic as possible. What, you’ve never heard of it? I’ll be brief: there are random battles, and these battles are far less menu-based and more action-oriented than your usual RPG. You don’t move about, but you launch your, ah, ball, at enemies with as much power as you choose to input. Meanwhile, as your ball recharges power, your adversaries lay blows on your cute little head and the whole battle becomes a real farrago.

It reminds me somewhat of a poundshop Secret of Mana, although I’m not going to put Opoona through the rigours of comparison with a magnetic piece of SNES finery like that. Outside of battle, the worlds, societies, NPC lives and quests that Koei have crafted really are impressive. A lot of love clearly went into the game, and that’s almost worth a pass on its own.

The translation is more than a little bit bogey, which is possibly the reason why I found myself doing all kinds of strange oddjobs as Opoona in lieu of actually progressing the story. Save the world? No thanks, I’d rather further Opoona’s career as a pop star and perfect his ukelele skills instead, but not before making friends with composers and collecting sightings of art.

This whimsical slice of Japanese insanity is probably less an RPG and more a saccharine look at some alternate universe out there somewhere, where you can actually step in and take full part. And if you’d rather become a fortune telling gypsy than repel evil monsters, then fill your boots. A stupendously atmospheric soundtrack plays all during your stay as well. What could be better?

The reason you may have never heard of it? Possibly because it debuted on Wii shelves on the same day in Japan as the heavily anticipated Super Mario Galaxy. “They’re two different genres,” some Koei suit no doubt squeaked through white knuckles, “so we didn’t think our sales would be cannibalised”. Good job, nameless suit – your colossal boob ensured that Opoona sold as badly in Japan as it possibly could have. And if a game as far-out as this can’t gain traction in Moonland, you can forget about it in any tentacle-free territories.

05 November 2015

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