Oninaki Review

Oninaki is the latest action-RPG from Tokyo RPG Factory published by Square Enix. I had a love-hate relationship with their past titles I am Setsuna and Lost Sphear. While they are not terrible games, they ultimately let me down with their color-by-number approach in overall presentation. So, I went into Oninaki with somewhat guarded optimism.

The game’s premise is intriguing; afterlife and reincarnation are real in the world of Oninaki, and not just some far-fetched religious concepts. In fact, the general populace has to strictly follow the Tenets of Reincarnation which forbids grievance over the dead, so that the departed could reincarnate. If a deceased person failed to reincarnate, he or she will become a lost soul or an undead monster called the Fallen. The world’s population will dwindle if too many fail to reincarnate.

The story follows Kagachi, a young man who lost both his parents during childhood and grew up to become one of the Watchers. They hold the Tenets of Reincarnation in utmost priority and enforces the cycle of life and death. They are even willing to end the life of an innocent person to help Lost Souls move on to their next life.

While the concept of Oninaki is fascinating and full of potential, the execution is only subpar at best. For a game with extremely somber subjects like death and suicide as its core, Oninaki never reaches the level of emotional heights I expected. The writing is uneven and clumsy, with a lot of touchy moments ending up heavy-handed. There is no subtlety in the characters and you can safely take everything you see at face value. Amazing story concepts botched by generic characters and middling execution is what plagued Tokyo RPG Factory’s past titles, too, and they have yet to overcome it. Truly a wasted potential.

Fortunately, the gameplay is a fantastic breath of fresh air. Tokyo RPG Factory has finally shifted from emulating Chrono Trigger’s combat system to a full-blown original action-RPG. During battles, Kagachi can manifest special Lost Souls called Daemons to gain their powers and abilities. Each Daemon is unique with their own special powers, weapons and move sets.

The combat feels clunky at the very beginning when you only have one Daemon in your arsenal but things smooth out quickly once several more join you after a few story quests. The methodical and deliberate combat becomes truly engaging at that point. You need to fully commit to your attacks as your actions cannot be canceled without appropriate skills. Mashing buttons without a strategy will get you killed pretty fast.

The Daemons not only grant you new special abilities but also change the basic playstyle entirely. The starter Daemon allows you to equip a sword, enables you to dash and grants access to several fast-hitting skills. The second Daemon makes you proficient with the lance and turns your dash ability into jump, effectively making you like a Dragoon from Final Fantasy.

Each Daemon can be equipped with up to four skills and Kagachi can manifest four Daemons at the same time. Swapping the Daemons mid-combat is crucial in many boss fights, especially on harder difficulty. By using a Daemon, once in a while you have a chance to get an upgrade stone for them. You can then boost your Daemon via their own skill tree by using these stones. The skill trees are fairly complex and robust, allowing you to make specialized builds. Each skill can be awakened to gain new minor effects that gives room for further customization.

As a Watcher, Kagachi can cross the veil between the world of the living and the dead, which contributes to the majority of gameplay as each area can be explored twice. However, blindly crossing to the world of the dead is a dangerous affair, as you will be enveloped in darkness and will not be able to see anything. You need to find and kill the Sight Stealer in the living world first to gain safe passage to the realm of the dead. You will need to traverse between both worlds to progress in certain dungeons.

The obvious drawback in the brilliant combat system is that the enemy variety is downright poor. Combat is fun and engaging but it gets old quickly when you are fighting the same penguins and scorpions again and again. It’s frustrating when a new dungeon presents more penguins and scorpions in different colors as if they were new enemies. Plus, they do not even feature new moves. Color-swapped enemies are nothing unusual in video games, especially in RPGs, but Oninaki overindulged here.

The music in Oninaki is forgettable. There are some beautiful piano tracks here and there but none of them stuck with me for too long. The dungeon themes are generic and some dungeons don’t even have any music. I noticed a few frame-rate drops and stutters, but otherwise, the game runs great without major hiccups.

Oninaki is a flawed but overall an enjoyable experience. Instead of joylessly emulating turn-based RPGs of the old days, Tokyo RPG Factory took a step in the right direction and created a fantastic and refreshing action combat system. Apart from that, the game offers nothing special when compared to many similar RPGs. Still, Oninaki is the best game by Tokyo RPG Factory so far. I look forward to see how they will improve with their next title.

Lv-99 simple sheep