Oninaki Is an Interesting Game Marred by Poor Design Choices

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first_imgStay on target Last month I got the chance to go hands-on with Tokyo RPG Factory’s Oninaki. At the time, I found the game’s mechanics and premise intriguing. While the final product contains the same elements that drew me to the demo, it isn’t everything it could have been. That isn’t to say Oninaki is a bad game or a waste of anyone’s time. It can be quite enjoyable. But it’s best to temper one’s expectations before diving in. There’s a lot to like in Oninaki if you’re willing to overlook some of its shortcomings.Oninaki presents a world obsessed with life and death. There is the world of the living and the world of the dead. Those who die can reincarnate but only if the living do not grieve for them. If those left behind cannot get past their grief, the spirits of the dead become monsters called the Fallen. An organization called The Watchers exists to help families overcome their grief. They’re also tasked with eliminating the Fallen.For the first few hours, the premise works great and helps suck you into the world. You learn about the Watchers, discover a death-worshipping cult, and begin to unravel a mystery surrounding a serial killer. As the game progresses, excessive dialogue boxes and a myriad of filler-quests bog down the main story. The fact the protagonist, Kadachi, is borderline unlikeable doesn’t help matters. It’s frustrating how convoluted the narrative becomes since the underlying premise is so intriguing.You’re free to explore the living world and the Veil. The Veil is the living world with a darker color palette and different enemy types. At first, going back between the two worlds is interesting. The novelty soon wears off when you realize there are no major differences between the worlds. Sure, you’ll need to solve puzzles in one realm to open up paths in the other. But besides that, it’s the same maps.A good chunk of Oninaki involves hacking and slashing your way through hordes of foes. You battle the Fallen with the aid of beings called Daemons. Each Daemon gives Kadachi access to different weapons, evasive maneuvers, and special attacks. Weapons consist of long swords, spears, clubs, and scythes. No two weapons handle the same. Long swords strike fast and deal medium damage while clubs strike slow but hit hard. As you level up each Daemon, you’ll gain access to different attacks. You can have up to four Daemons at a time, each with four special attacks.The ability to wail on foes with a barrage of back-to-back Daemon attacks is pretty fun. Every special attack needs time to recharge. You can use all of a Daemon’s attacks and continue down the line until you return to the first Daemon and repeat the process. Once you find a roster of Daemons you like to use, you’ll become a one-man wrecking crew. Combat can get repetitive given the number of foes the game loves to throw at you. Daemons and their abilities prevent things from becoming monotonous.The main drawback of Daemons comes when you find a new one. I know that sounds weird. Receiving a new Daemon should be exciting. Unfortunately, the fact that you need to level up new Daemons from scratch tampers the excitement. There’s nothing worse than getting a cool new Daemon only to find it is effectively useless in combat because it’s so weak. It would have made more sense if new Daemons were at least the same level as the ones in your current roster. This might be a personal complaint though. Some players specifically play RPGs because they love to level grind. If you’re of that persuasion, then you won’t mind having to beef up weak Daemons.As battles progress, Kadachi builds Affinity with Daemons, which increases his attacking power. It’s possible to build Affinity up to 200%. The catch is Kadachi becomes physically weaker as his Affinity rises. This creates a sort of mini-game of risk vs reward. Though you can deal insane damage to foes when you’re at 200% Affinity, they can kill you very quickly. I’m thankful for the inclusion of Affinity since it, like Daemons, prevents combat from getting tiresome. Couple in the fact Affinity works slightly different with each Daemon and you have some room to experiment.My favorite part of Oninaki is the presentation. The dark and melancholic world comes to life through a muted, almost washed-out color palette. The stylized character designs also help enhance the game’s somber atmosphere. Though the art style is anime-inspired, it doesn’t have the usual cheerful look you’d see in similar JRPGs. I suppose what I like best about the graphics is the fact they’re so understated. Nothing is hyper-realistic or overly colorful. Things don’t “pop” out of the screen and there isn’t anything that will catch your eye in the traditional sense. It’s really more about the feelings the art style instills in players rather than its graphical prowess.I walk away from Oninaki with mixed feelings. The game presents an interesting world with a lot of story potential. The muted graphics draw you in and fighting alongside Daemons is genuinely fun. Unfortunately, the game never fully explores its themes of death, grief, and cult-like religions. The bland level designs and the need to level up new Daemons doesn’t help matters either. If you’re an RPG fan I’d still recommend Oninaki. 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