WCO #232: Olympus Overdrive

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I think Homestuck is seeping into the most treasured crevasses of my brain. I had a generally busy October, which prevented me from updating this site too much. And while I can be a typical LiveJournal parody about how real life got in the way, and how I’m totally going to update and blah blah blah blah blah, but I won’t. I’m a bigger man than that.

I’m going to blame Homestuck.

Darius3 made a humorous comment that clearly Homestuck was the reason for lack of updates, and honesty… it’s not that far off. Not the way that you think, though. For one, typically I can catch up on webcomics by, say, pulling up my iPad or iPhone and reading on my free time. Homestuck is so heavily reliant on Flash that I pretty much have to wait until I get home… and honestly, that’s where I have the least amount of free time. Second, it’s very much a time investment. Someone mentioned it’s longer than the Bible, which I will not doubt for a second. However, reading Homestuck means not reading other webcomics, which, in turn has caused this here webcomic review site to lie barren and fallow.

As a result, I have resolved to take a short break from Homestuck and browse around the other fine webcomics available for perusal. Time for something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! One that caught my eye on a purely aesthetic level was submitted for my “Shilled” drive and still has a link on the right sidebar. It’s a little thing called Olympus Overdrive. Created by Oskar Vega, it stars a guy … with the horns … and discolored skin….

Oh, boy.

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Look, maybe I’m being unfair with my comparisons here. Clearly Homestuck is unfairly coloring my impartial opinion here. Sure, there’s a guy with horns… but he’s supposed to be Hades! You know, Lord of the Underworld! Of course he’s supposed to be sprouting some big ramhorn crests out of his forehead.

And… they’re all in a game of sorts. I mean, that could be anything. The Greeks were into games, right? They invented the Olympics! Just like they invented Zodiac symbols. I mean, sheesh, who do you think made those up… trolls? Olympus was here first, you fools! And, also, there are chatlogs… and circus themes

… and Flash sequences that look like homages to video game dialogue sequences scenes….

OK, that thing I said about a webcomic that’s nothing like Homestuck? Obviously a lie. It would be naive to think that Homestuck would become one of the biggest webcomics ever without influencing the genre to some degree. I mean, we had a whole decade of Penny Arcade lookalikes. Video game webcomics were the go-to jokes to highlight the creative nadir of internet humor. When you think about it that way, it only makes sense that people would become huge fans of Homestuck and be inspired by it’s unique quirks and creative techniques … and then run those tropes straight into the motherlovin’ ground.

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So here’s the story. The ancient Greek gods are playing a game. This game is subject to some of the most convoluted rules in existence. First of all, the gods are reincarnated on Earth into the most insufferable forms imaginable (i.e., kawaii boys and sexy anime girls). Second, the immortals are tied, via invisible chain to a human. This is achieved via online survey. Our first character, a 19-year-old cap-wearing boy (whose name I can’t remember… let’s call him “Hatboy”), doesn’t know what he’s getting in to. He treats the survey as a joke, and as a result, he gets Hades, who — thanks to the survey results — is reborn as a scantily clad pre-teen boy who blushes a lot.

He also has to eat pizza rolls. (Someone’s been watching the Plinkett reviews.) Because that’s what was filled out in the survey.

That’s the joke. And, oh yeah, there an entire Flash sequence devoted to Hades crying over not wanting to eat pizza rolls.

SIIIIGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH…..

If there is something that separates Olympus Overdrive greatly from Homestuck, and it’s the anime-influenced art. It’s as if a lightbulb went on in Mr. Vega’s head after seeing a Homestuck JRPG scene. My God, what if the entire webcomic were like this? may have been the line of thinking. And there are some legitimately Some legitimately interesting designs, like decorating Persephone’s face in Day of the Dead face make-up. Eris’ outfit, which is centered around eyeballs, is pretty great as well. She looks like … well, she’s basically Risky from that Shantae game. (IGN gives it a 9 out of 10!) But still! Quite a striking design.

It’s clear that Mr. Vega as a strong passion for anime. It even feels a little incongruent at times. Hatboy’s mom acts like one of those super-pleasant preternaturally angelic moms that you see in anime all the time. The prevalence of the theme is even called out fairly unashamedly. Now, admittedly it’s a bit of an awkward fit, especially for characters that seem to be rooted in Western culture. However, I wish that Mr. Vega would have run with this… mainly because anime is what he knows, and he could make snide insider observations.

With the other themes, it feels less like passion and more like “Olympus Overdrive is doing it because Homestuck did it first.”

Wait a minute… Ronnie is in this? Why?!??!?!

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Here’s what I mean: Olympus Overdrive pretty much grinds to a halt whenever we get to the Flash-based portions that resemble a retro video game. Now, even in Homestuck the video game parts can get tedious at times. However, there’s a bunch of advantages to Hussie’s format. First, there’s the limited interactivity (where your character walks around on the screen). Second, there’s Hussie’s cheeky sense of humor. And third, there’s a reward, namely the fact that you see the characters depicted in a cool anime style that you don’t see normally.

Pretty much every animated portion of Olympus Overdrive is the exact same thing. There are no branching options. There are no changes in art style. So what do you get? A forward arrow to scroll through the dialogue, and a backward arrow if you missed something. You will never use the backward arrow. There is very little variance in the way the characters change expressions. Maybe a character will be flapping their lips to indicate that hey, they’re talking over here! Maybe they’ll look ticked off or smug. These are most awkward when there are supposed to be action scenes.  We’re told in the dialogue box that the characters are moving around (trying to stab someone with a knife, hiding behind someone else, etc.), but they’re shown in the same static poses with the blandest expressions plastered on their faces.  Bottom line: these characters would be way more dynamic if they were drawn in traditional comic fashion and not as a video game homage.

In fact, the longer you start scrolling through these Flash sequences, the less it feels like a treat and more like a lazy way to get as much dialogue out of the way as possible.

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Unfortunately, this is the absolute wrong approach. Chatlogs and video game sequences work to extend the dialogue, when this is a webcomic that would benefit immensely from using as little dialogue as possible. Here a sample from Olympus Overdrive‘s version of netspeak:

Hades: I am tiny and purple.
Zeus: Hahahaha! That can’t be so bad there are MANY things that are tiny, purple and wonderful!
Zeus: Like uhm
Zeus: GRAPES! Grapes are great, you’re my grape bro
Hades: I an your relative yes, and that is unfortunate, but I am no grape.
Zeus: C’mon! Lighten up bumpy grumpy! Gr8ps are gr8
Hades: I am not sure what language that is and I am not about to try and figure it out, please go away.
Zeus: It’s netspeak, it’s what all the cool mortals do nowadays

At this point I sorta want to murder Andrew Hussie for ever making this a thing.

I should point out that the clunky dialogue doesn’t end there. This comic includes the following line of stellar exposition: “I’m here! I’m queer! Please tell me I’m not late!” Well-constructed lines can do wonders. They can flesh out characters, forward the plot, and delve in lovely wordplay. Most of the dialogue does none of this. When characters talk (or chat), it’s supposed to be cute or funny. It isn’t. It falls flat, succeeding in only making the the speakers as insufferable as possible.

Olympus Overdrive is about a game the gods are playing. Hades is nominally the main character. Well, him and Hatboy. But both the gods and the mortals end up being super unlikable. Hades is a whiny baby, and Hatboy is an irascible grump. As a result, there are zero stakes. I want them both to lose, and to lose badly. It also turns out that the other competitors are pretty horrible themselves. So I’m rooting for every single one of these jerks to lose. And since it turns out that losing is more or less consequence free, what’s the harm in that?

Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)

About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on October 31, 2013, in 2 Stars, adventure webcomic, comedy webcomic, fantasy webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hi! I really appreciate you taking the time to write such a detailed article about the comic, but most of all I just mostly wanted to say that I really appreciate the critique! Olympus Overdrive is my very first comic and so naturally I appreciate all this stuff so that I can see where it is that I’m falling flat and going wrong. I found many, many useful things in this review and I’ll be taking them all into account when continuing the series! Thank you so much for the review!

  2. I’m the co-writer and I agree with Oskar.

    IT IS suppose to be extremely anime though, comic readers are not our audience. Our audience is visual novel readers, and they’ve come out of the wood work to read the comic. I would easily rate it a success from that stand point.

    We’ve rewritten the story several times and change the direction style since it started, and it’s a work in progress. We draw from japanese visual novels, not Homestuck. What we did draw from homestuck is that we can make it a multimedia project, as well as parts of the site layout and presentation type. But that’s medium elements not story. Fate/Stay Night and Persona is what we aim to parody when possible and is a core inspiration for this.

    At the end of the day Olympus Overdrive is a giant test project me and Oskar are working on and will keep working on to get us ready for the next project. Which won’t be for awhile but will require the both us to of gotten over most of the beginner hurtles of making a story and presenting it.

    I thank you for your critical view of the story so far and we’ll take it into account.

    • Oooh! May I have this opportunity to ask: Why not make a visual novel-game out of this? Japanese games like that are all the rage nowadays especially in the Indie-scene, I believe this format would much better work in a game format like that :)

      • Because we aren’t ready yet. I could produce one but it would be a flawed product in the general market. We’re at least a couple years from the end of Olympus and we aren’t sure yet to reconfigure it into a VN for release or just start with the next project

    • Thanks for the considerate replies!

      I will say that the visuals in the comic can be quite striking. I thought the image of the characters in clown make-up was quite lovely, which is why I included it as one of the sample images in my review. (I’ve actually been keeping a mental shortlist on what artists I might want to commission if I ever needed some promo art done for my clown business, and Oskar is on it. :) )

    • As a big fan of visual novels, I can attest to this. I immediately found those flash scenes familiar and fun. I still can get the surface similarities to Homestuck though, my friend and I both thought so at first glance.

      I also /entirely/ disagree with this review when it mentions that characters are supposed to be funny or cute when they talk, but aren’t. The writing in this thing is really hilarious, and keeps be laughing regularly. I wouldn’t call it the cutest thing ever but it’s surely got some of that too.

      Having read Homestuck up to Act 6 Act 2, I can say this thing is far more enjoyable for me.

      I look forward to seeing what you do once you feel you have the experience and means to make a full fledged visual novel or a more meticulous multimedia project!

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