Sometimes a video game forces you to love it in spite of its flaws, and sometimes a game makes you hate it in spite of its virtues. I’m still trying to figure out what Otogi: Myth of Demons is doing to me. I find most 3D, third-person action games to be pleasantly dull: a little mindless button-mashing never hurt anyone. But Otogi causes no end of frustration by being simultaneously far better and far worse than your average hack-n-slash brawler.

The game is flat-out gorgeous. Maps and character portraits are done in the style of Japanese decorative paintings to fit in with the theme of the story, which is loosely rooted in Japanese mythology. Levels are wide, inviting, and strike a nice balance between the naturalistic and surreal. Just to add to the fun, nearly all of the lush scenery can be destroyed: trees, rocks, walls, and floors all shatter with a good hit, and the debris can hurt both enemies and the player. The lighting in Otogi is excellently handled: night and day look as different as, well, night and day, and the reflections off of water and crystalline structures are wonderful.

Of similarly high quality is the game’s music. Unlike the hard-rockin’ soundtrack you would expect to accompany a game that involves swinging your big sword around (cf. Dynasty Warriors), the music in Otogi is understated, again drawing from more old-fashioned Japanese arts by using thin, faintly dissonant melodies played on shamisen and taiko. The spare music, lush visuals, and short levels create a dreamy, surreal atmosphere that you can happily get lost in, contentedly drifting along and “purifying demons” (i.e., beating the crap out of them) as you go.

That dream-like feeling is broken somewhat in between levels, where you can go into a “shop” menu to repair weapons and buy new gear, which seems like kind of a silly way for an undead warrior to be spending his time while fighting his way through the netherworld. Having monsters drop gold so that you can buy new magic spells breaks suspension of disbelief and is an unnecessary distraction, but the alternate weapons add a little depth to the game, and it doesn’t really detract too much from the atmosphere.

What does distract from the game is the floatiness of the controls. When Raikoh jumps into the air, it can take a long time for him to come back down. This can be very cool on occasion, as you can pull off some fancy wire-fu effects while hanging in the air, but more often it results in a desperate flailing about as you try to reconnect with the ground while being juggled by a crowd of demons. For those who’ve played Super Smash Bros: Melee, it’s as if they gave Mewtwo a game of his own.

The controls aren’t nearly as bad as the camera, though. It almost seems as if developers From Software were trying to design a camera that would always point exactly where you don’t want it to. You can maneuver the camera to a more reasonable angle with the right analog stick, which in most games is sort of a copout: the developers saying, “we don’t know where we’re going either. You take care of it.” In Otogi, though, controlling the camera is a game of its own, as you continually force the view into a position where you can see the enemies, only to have the engine slowly spin it away again. Combining an awful camera with awkward controls means that at any given point in the game, you can count on taking tons of cheap hits and falling off of a few unseen ledges while you’re at it. These are two of the deadly sins of video games, in my book, and are usually grounds for a quick trip to the dustbin.

Otogi is only saved from this fate by its truly wonderful presentation and by the fact that you can replay passed levels, which means that you can go back and enjoy levels where the camera didn’t do you as much harm, while only playing through hellish gauntlets of pain a single time. It’s not an ideal situation, only being able to play half a game to avoid frustration, but with a game that pushes you away despite your best efforts to like it, you have to take what you can get.