Once upon a time, there was a land of Urralia. Watched over by a bird tribe and populated by dogs and cats, Pygarian empire wants to unite the land and its tribes - with force if necessary. The neighboring Rodentia fights back with all its critter and bear allies. The ensuing skirmish escalates out of hands, and the only one who could calm the rising tempers, Godless-Priestess Vera, is found murdered. Voden, the embodiment of darkness, creeps in and the world is coming to an end. At this desperate hour, Harbinger comes, like she did years before. A warrior figure of pure energy in a suit of armor and wielding a sword, she has this final day to solve the murder and find the priestess's immortal soul, thus saving the world. Doesn’t sound like much time but Harbinger can relive the day over and again, gaining new insight at each go. Think Groundhog Day but as a dark fairy tale.
The developers Spearhead Games have learned their lesson and named their latest game better than its spiritual predecessor Stories: The Path of Destinies. Short and mysterious title Omensight sounds so much better than something in the lines of “Destinies: Fates of the Final Day” would have. Joke aside, Omensight is set in the same fantasy universe as Stories, and there’s nothing to laugh about it. The stakes are high for the world populated by anthropomorphic animals, and it takes an extraordinary genre hybrid of a third-person hack and slash action adventure murder mystery with light RPG elements to tackle the challenge. Sounds like a lot to handle but Spearhead Games has molded it all into a cohesive experience that is easy to get into but hard to let go.
The final day is replayed as many times as it takes with four different companions in turns, each being a murder suspect or at least withholding crucial information. Knowledgeable and upstanding, Draga is a Pygarian empire general, a position usually unheard of for a feline female. Spunky Ratika has fought her way to lead the Rodentian rebellion, an unlikely role for a tiny mouse. Dull but tenacious Ludomir from the bear tribe hates the empire and is ready to take matters into his own hands. Then there’s the emperor himself, seemingly unshakable Indrik, who all the fingers point at for murdering Vera. After all, he would gain the most out of it. But if everything was that simple, there wouldn’t even be a murder mystery, to begin with! Indeed, as the day is relived and new knowledge of the events gained, nothing really is as it first appeared.
The last day is divided into morning, afternoon and evening, and each time of day takes place across four locations; Crimson Forest, Yarborg’s Temple, Imperial Prison and City of Ekka. The fifth place, Fyobor’s tavern, has only few narrative scenes to follow. Calm and chilly mornings bode ill and by every evening the world is in flames with corruption emerging from the cracks. Harbinger starts every last day at the Tree of Life, acting as the base of operations. There she has to decide which character to follow for each relived day. At the tree also dwells a witch who called for Harbinger in the first place and who pokes the investigation roughly into the right direction. The Investigation Orb, where all the obtained information is gathered to, also helps to deduce the course of next action. At the more taxing True Detective difficulty, all such help is disabled, and it's time to pick up pen and paper to jot down the clues by yourself.
Cinematically scaled and framed third-person action adventure takes Harbinger and her companions through thick and thin, often ensuing in drawing swords against the parties not willing to see reason. Hack, slash and dodge are the holy trinity of Harbinger’s fast and frantic swordplay. Companions also join the fight with their own abilities. Experience gained from slain enemies turn into special abilities which are upgraded by gift ambers collected from various containers and chests. With different combinations of light and heavy attacks and special abilities, such as dashing through enemies and freezing time within a set radius for a few seconds, you can carve out your own playstyle. As her skills progress, Harbinger becomes a lean and mean killing machine, but that doesn’t make the game a breeze. You have to be on your toes on more busy encounters and boss fights to come up victorious.
The branching narrative has something new to show at every take by the choices you’ve made before. Each day companions lead Harbinger to new secrets and revelations that only get deeper when she starts gaining titular omensights. These are glimpses of certain events that took place, but they’re not always in the right context. Omensights can be given to the companions to alter their attitudes. The changed allegiances shape the events within the final day and expose new sides to the characters and their motives, eventually leading to new clues in the investigation. Sometimes, you have to turn against once a companion, resulting in a boss fight. They come in different times and places, depending on the paths taken. Some of them can be avoided by granting omensight to the agitated character.
Parts of crucial scenes are locked away behind sealed doors, and Harbinger must gain companion’s trust to obtain means to open them. Bear in mind that during every relived day the characters see Harbinger always for the first time, but your knowledge is constantly cumulating. Never perplexing, the narrative takes into account in whichever order and how the events are played out. The untangling mystery doesn’t lose its red thread but feels constantly natural at every turn. It’s as if you’re reading an exciting mystery novel, the plot thickening page by page. The final day is short, taking fifteen-to-thirty minutes each time, so it’s not a drag going through it time and again. Often you need to relive the certain events when you have gained better insight to them, and in these cases it’s possible to skip much of the day straight to the crux of the said happening.
Omensight is the most beautiful game you’re likely to see this year. Highly stylized visuals remind of graphic poster art with clear-cut shapes and plain surfaces painted boldly in complementary colors. This kind of artistic flair makes the characters and events more expressive than often desperate pursuit for hyper-realism could ever hope for. It never gets old to see the same sets and environments, basking in different lights and colors depending on time of the day. Harbinger’s long blue ponytail fluttering by her actions is a neat visual detail. A rich, cinematic score completes the thick atmosphere and fully voiced dialogue gives depth to already well-developed characters. They might be archetypes, with each having a certain standing in this fairy tale realm, but they come off someone you learn to care for. The only one remaining silent is Harbinger herself, cloaked in an air of mystery.
Too many games these day stretch their gameplay and narrative elements until all the good intentions turn sour. Omensight avoids this shortfall so common for indie titles and triple-A games alike. Despite mixing action, platforming and light RPG into the narrative, all is measured reasonably and work together to blend into a cohesive whole. In the contrast to the theme of repetition, the gameplay doesn’t drag on but keeps things fresh, gluing you to your seat to witness increasingly intriguing events. A perfect game, then? Well, I have a couple of minor gripes. Controls seem a bit loose until you get a hang of them, and I noticed some framerate dips but nothing too severe to detract from the experience. Also, there are exactly two big battle scenes I wish I could have been able to move the camera in.
As branching as the narrative gets, it eventually leads to the last and exciting stand where the fate of the world is played out. Repercussions of Harbinger’s actions show up in the post-game recap. It’s possible to finish the game without every detail filled in the Investigation Orb, so there’s replay value to see all twists in the tale, and furthermore alter them. After eight intense hours or so (counting in 14 relived in-game days), Harbinger’s mission was over, but as I wasn’t entirely happy with some of the post-game occurrences, I’m sure to return to the end of the world and replay the final day to the fullest. Removed from the reality with its fantasy settings and stylized visuals, the game has no burden of contemporary issues clouding its ageless tale of power and responsibility. As such, Omensight is perfect escapism despite its dark tones.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.