Sometimes, as a writer, you just have opinions that don’t align with others. This has been the way with me and the Tokyo RPG Factory games, with both I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear appealing to me, but not resonating with that many others. So, when Oninaki was revealed earlier this year, I was already sold on it and honestly couldn’t care that no one seemed to agree.
Oninaki follows archetypal blunt-but-with-a-heart-of-gold protagonist Kagachi, who becomes a Watcher after the deaths of his parents. So a buoyant start. The Watchers have a duty to aid the passing of the dead so that they don’t become Lost, and are led by a questionable religious order, which I absolutely cannot possibly see becoming an antagonist at some stage – no, sir.
The story does take some incredibly dark turns at times, as various characters and forces grapple with death, which forms the core narrative focus of the game. Then there’s the delightful Night Devil, an oppressive spectre that seems to be hunting your companion, Linne. With the main story, your edgy stalker, and the various side stories, there’s a lot of narrative to find in Oninaki.
Oninaki is by no means a traditional JRPG, as the studio’s first two games were. Instead it ventures into action RPG territory for it combat, relying on quick response to threat and knowledge of your move set and your enemy to proceed. A large portion of the game involves defeating Fallen, the souls of the Lost that have changed into monsters, by messing them up with whatever weapon you have equipped at the time.
Every area has two planes; the real world and the Purgatory-like Beyond, which you reach by crossing ‘the Veil’. There’s Fallen to dispatch in each and Lost Souls to find and aid in moving on through the afterlife that can’t be interacted with in the real world. This means filling in the map twice for each area too, but this simple act gives a strange sense of achievement nonetheless.
Battling the Fallen is done via the Daemon system, with each Daemon you partner with allowing the use of different weapons and play styles, from the ranged crossbow to the gaming staple that is impossibly large scythes. You gain new and stronger weapons through exploration, but most of your utility in battle will come from the attack skills that your Daemons gain as you progress.
Each Daemon has their own skill tree, with the resource for unlocking nodes being dropped by enemies slain with particular weapons. So, the more you use a particular Daemon, the stronger and more useful they become. You start with a single ability, but before long you’re obliterating swathes of Fallen with flashy ease, which is undeniably satisfying.
The thing I love about the Daemon system in the game is how they grow as you bond with them. Uncovering their memories in the skill tree unlocks new branches for you to head down, giving you more powerful skills and fleshing out the world’s lore at the same time. They really add something to the often startlingly bleak world.
Both skills and Daemons can be equipped in combinations up to 4 and 3 respectively, and so there’s a large amount of player choice in how you want to go about playing. It’s a good idea to try out each new Daemon as you acquire, if only to freshen up the gameplay. There will be some you gel with and others you don’t, but Oninaki won’t overly request certain ones be used.
Finally, your combative prowess is expanded by the Manifestation state, shown as a percentage in the bottom left of the screen. It builds to 200%, with incoming damage increasing as you get higher and higher, but gives a temporary increase to your stats when activated and can also give added effects to any skills used in its duration. The latter needs to be unlocked in the skill tree of the equipped Daemon, but is completely worthwhile.
Unfortunately, the combat isn’t flawless. The move to an action RPG form results in the game initially feeling repetitive, a feeling that keeps on returning as you acquire each new Daemon and have to build them up to a reasonably interesting move set again. Once you have a few more abilities, the gameplay becomes enjoyable again, but the build up to it can be a chore.
This can also be seen in the boss encounters, which can be laborious tests of patience, with the player just slowly whittling down large health bars. With these encounters there’s often a Daemon that is stronger against them, but you might just happen to not have that one equipped (not me – ever). The satisfaction of defeating them does outweigh the frustration of fighting them though.
One thing that Oninaki does get right is the visuals, which carefully tread the line between a simple polygonal style and gorgeously detailed painted works. The gameplay runs in 3D with the simple, blocky models making the action easy to follow, but there’s enough detail to keep them distinctive and unique. Except for the monsters, that is, which are sadly quite generic.
Then there’s the beautiful artwork that is splashed across the menus, giving more detail and personality to the Daemons and characters of the game. The only aesthetic let down, if you can call it that, is in the music, which is largely forgettable. The lack of a decent score isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but noticeable when placed alongside the stunning artwork.
Once you fall into the groove, Oninaki is greatly enjoyable, even if it initially falls flat because of its repetitive combat. The story heads to dark places surrounding the central theming, occasionally in a ham-fisted way, but still manages to have emotional impact. Ultimately though, Oninaki is a gem of a game if you’re persistent in putting in the work. Tokyo RPG Factory have done it again.