Review: Oninaki

15 Sep 2019

Tokyo RPG Factory is Square Enix’s arm apparently dedicated to bringing classic style RPGs and action RPGs into the modern age. Up to this point, they’ve had somewhat mixed results, with some mediocre titles with great ideas that didn’t quite pan out. So far, one thing I can say about all of their work is that it always looks and sounds beautiful. Such is the trend that seems to continue with Oninaki, an action-RPG available for Steam, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. The Steam version was played for this review.

Reincarnation Incarnate

Oninaki places you in control of Kagachi, a “Watcher” in a world that embraces the concept of reincarnation, where people and things reincarnate after their death, but only if they have no regrets or unfinished business. Those that don’t have that complete existence become Lost, souls who are cast adrift “Beyond the Veil,” the name of the “dead” world.

Kagachi, as a Watcher, is able to traverse between the Living World and the world Beyond the Veil, which are physically the same but inhabited by living or dead things. The actual name of the world itself is unclear; maybe I missed it somewhere, but it doesn’t seem to ever be mentioned. I hope that’s the only question you want answered because, for a game that’s supposed to be story driven, it explains little other than the backstory of the character itself. It feels like we’re just following Kagachi around as he does various jobs associated with his career, more than following a real coherent story.

Much of the game you spend simply carrying out the duties of your job, locating Lost souls and helping them to resolve their regrets so they can pass on and reincarnate. There is an antagonist who appears somewhat anticlimactically early on, but the story is just really missing important things, like an actual plot. Your “party” members (we’ll get to that in a bit), in fact are a special variety of Lost called Daemons, and when you encounter them, they just join you. No conversation, no nothing. In fact, they have no memories either; you have to restore them to hear their backstory through a skill tree of all places, and even then, you don’t really care as they don’t talk to you outside of that. They seem to exist only to further the combat system.

Most of the characters lack any semblance of development, and some of them come and go while making you wonder why they were there to begin with. There are just so many questions that beg to be asked, but the game doesn’t answer them. The game’s Steam description bills itself as having “emotional cut scenes, events, and intimate conversations.” But if you ask me, none of those things are anywhere to be found. There are a few scenes that try, but most fail, largely because there is little context for the circumstances. You don’t really understand why the involved characters are in their situation and you feel like you should care about them, but you’re unable to because of the lack of details. The closest I feel like it comes to emotional impact is at the very beginning when you encounter a Lost child who wants to see his parents again and, in order to reunite the family and allow the child to reincarnate, you kill them right there. I understand the intent, but this doesn’t seem to line up with Watchers supposedly “prizing life above all else.”

Long story short (Or maybe “long story about a little story short?”), the story is completely forgettable and hardly even seems to try to draw you in at any point with its uninteresting writing. The plot, if you can say it has one, has holes as big as black hole in space might be. Having said that, I’m willing to overlook a lot of this if it plays well as a game. So let’s take a look at that.

Daemon Combat Action

Oninaki is an top-down action RPG, and its combat seems to draw inspiration from various classic game sources, such as the Mana series and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and even a few bits and pieces from games like Super Mario RPG, with a touch of Monster Hunter oddly enough, which I’ll get to.

The game uses a fairly straight-forward action RPG system, where you walk around and attack enemies in real time. You have a basic attack and up to four special skills and a special ability provided by the Daemon party member you have possessed (selected). Daemons are special Lost you meet along the way, and each one provides you with a different weapon and a different set of skills. They follow you around and they affect your stats, but everything you do comes from Kagachi, in essence. As you kill stuff, you’ll both level up and earn stones based on the Daemon you’re possessing, which can be used to strengthen them and unlock new skills on the skill tree, which is fairly small but highly reminiscent of games like Path of Exile or Final Fantasy X.

The attacks for each Daemon have a good flow to them and are very satisfying to use. You have to be careful though because once you press a button, you will commit to that attack, which can have a fairly lengthy animation. This is where I made the connection to Monster Hunter, since you have to predict the enemies’ movements and time your attacks carefully. Additionally, with some skills, pressing the button again at the right time will have more effects, which reminded me of Super Mario RPG, where you can press a button with good timing to boost attacks.

I like it very much, actually, and each Daemon is much like a different “Job” in a Final Fantasy title, distinct from each other with completely different moves and situations where each is useful. The enemies and the bosses are fun to fight (although it feels like there should be more of them) and the game offers a decent challenge on its Normal difficulty setting. You can also change the difficulty at any time if it’s too much or too little for you.

Look and Feel

As mentioned from the start, this is a beautiful game. The art is stylized and modern, but retains a touch of the past. The characters and enemies have a slightly toon-ish look to them, but everything is made more real-looking by the somewhat subdued color scheme – there’s no over-saturated colors to be found around here.

The visual effects and sounds are as beautiful as they are functional, which lend themselves to the satisfying gameplay, and the music, while fairly generic for an RPG, is very high quality and fits the environments and events well. The soundtrack in fact may be worth a purchase regardless of how you feel about the game itself.

I do however have a problem with the voice acting only in Japanese. This was true of other Tokyo RPG Factory titles and totally understandable given their origin, but this creates some problems because while the character dialogue is localized fairly well (with some oddities in a few places), Kagachi’s yells and other statements made during gameplay don’t have subtitles. Things like saying he found an item or other important observations go untranslated.

The biggest issue for me is the interface. While visually well designed, I found it difficult to navigate, as different pages of the menus want you to press different buttons to operate them, leading to a bit of a confusing mess. Furthering this confusion is pressing a different button to access the menus at save points vs anywhere else. Even worse, the keyboard controls are quite different from what I’m used to from games and definitely took some time to get used to. I understand, this game was targeted at consoles first, and even PC users may well play it with a controller. However, I consider it a requirement that any game ported to PC have at least functional mouse/keyboard controls, since it’s the one thing you can guarantee every PC user will have. At least the controls are rebindable.

I’m Lost

I’m very torn with Oninaki. For a studio selling itself as an RPG machine, they did a real poor job with the story aspects of the game. Then we have a super fun and engaging combat system, tempered by a questionably designed interface, but we still have a beautiful audiovisual experience.

The gameplay is great, but the game’s other problems are too substantial to simply overlook. This game is being sold at near-AAA-title prices ($50 on PC and higher on console), but it has too many issues to recommend as a full price title. The gameplay aspects are very solid and you may get a good amount of fun out of this on a Steam sale. But if you’re like me, the hole-riddled story might make you quit before you get far enough to truly appreciate the fun combat system.

~ Final Score: 5/10 ~

Review copy provided by Square Enix for PC. Sreenshots taken by reviewer.