Playing through some games can be a roller coaster. When you go in with low expectations, finding something truly enjoyable can be great. Even games for which you have no expectations can end up taking you on a hell of a journey. What isn't so great is ending up right back where you start, and that's the case with Oninaki. During the first few hours, I was ready for the game to be, at best, mediocre. By the halfway point I had got into it and was really enjoying myself. By the last few hours, I was just waiting for it to be over. Right back where I started.
Oninaki is an action RPG from Tokyo RPG Factory, creators of I am Setsuna and Lost Sphear. In a similar way to those previous titles, Oninaki takes inspiration from the JRPGs of yesteryear. In particular, action RPGs like Secret of Mana and Ys III. The story follows the tale of Kagachi, a warrior and member of 'The Watchers'. This organization keeps the cycle of death and reincarnation working by making sure that dead souls aren't hanging around for too long. As such Watchers are the only people who are capable of perceiving and talking to the dead, as well as crossing over to their world.
Oninaki Review | Shades of Grey
It should be pretty apparent from that description but Oninaki deals with death. A lot. In The Inner Kingdom, it's all about the laws of reincarnation. When someone dies, their relatives cannot grieve. If someone dies with unfinished business or a grieving family they remain trapped on 'the other side'. As Watchers, it's your job to go around and make sure that these people can move on properly. This usually involves killing someone, usually someone who doesn't necessarily deserve it.
At least that's one of the more interesting things about the storyline. Almost every moral decision that the main character makes is, at best, a grey area. There are no absolutes, from beginning to end. There are several occasions where seemingly 'wrong' actions end up being for the best, even if most of the characters don't seem to realize it. This sort of complex morality is one of the strongest things that Oninaki has going for it. While the overall story does have a very 'overblown' vibe, all to do with ancient civilizations and conspiracies, the moral questions keep things on a very personal character level.
Oninaki Review | Combat Chops
Combat is pretty simple. You have a normal attack and four slots for special abilities. You also have a movement ability and can heal using an incense. Your special attacks, weapons, and movement abilities are all tied to Daemons, spirits which possess you in battle. You collect these Daemons as you play through the game in lieu of gaining and losing party members like a traditional RPG. These Daemons also have their own skill trees, making for a grand total of eight or nine. Filling these out is not only a completionist's delight but also gives you some grandiose attacks to use.
Gaining new attacks and skills is shockingly similar to Final Fantasy X. Each Deamon's tree is like a grid with little circles on it which requires stones to unlock. You get stones for fighting as each Deamon and each little circle either add buffs to your character or give them new abilities to use. Some of these abilities can get pretty damn powerful too. You can fill out a Deamon's tree by the halfway point of the game if you use it enough. Once you've got to that point most of the bosses have a hard time standing up to you. Normal enemies don't even kind of stand a chance anymore as long as you can avoid a crowd.
Oninaki Review | A Lack Of Balance
Balance and pacing are the two biggest problems with Oninaki. The first boss has attacks which are nigh on impossible to dodge, and the early levels can be a bit of a pain. As you move further on however the enemies stop being a challenge and start feeling more like padding. Part of this comes from the fact that every last element repeats so many times that you can practically see the holes in them by the end. By the last few dungeons, the game has mostly stopped adding enemies, so you're just re-fighting the same mobs over, and over again. Not to mention the fact that the last three dungeons are all absolutely huge and all have the exact same boring library design.
The worst example of this gameplay element recycling is one of the bosses. One particular boss comes around three times, and he isn't even a reoccurring character. Each time, he's just a palette-swap ready to rumble once again. When he reappears for the second time it's already during the padded late-game stages, but it gets worse. Not only does this boss fight fail to add any more mechanics or even new attacks, but for some reason, you have to fight him twice. With limited healing items, it basically becomes a game of retrying until you don't get hit by an of his attacks. I really see no good reason why the fight had to happen twice in a row, especially with absolutely no variations.
Oninaki Review | Pacing Problems
Pacing also suffers quite badly thanks to some baffling choices. Healing without using incense requires that you stand perfectly still with no weapons drawn, which completely kills the flow of gameplay. Honestly, this healing trick is only necessary for the early game, but it does make the opening hours dull. There is also a massive issue with stun-locking. Often, taking one hit means suffering a string of follow-up maneuvers. This happens in both boss fights and regular scuffles, and it kills combat flow. In some cases, it makes sense. You want to carefully pick when to use attacks with a slower build-up. A lot of the time though it just adds an extra layer of frustration to an already frustrating experience.
The unfortunate truth about Oninaki is that there's a lot to like. The different Deamon's attack styles and special abilities mean that combat can stay fresh if you keep switching it up. The story has some interesting beats to do with the morality of murder in a world were reincarnation exists. Even the environments do a mostly good job of staying interesting. There are ancient ruins, glowing space-like areas, traversable frozen lakes and numerous other interesting bits of environment design. It's just such a shame that the bones of a good action RPG lie under a huge amount of padding.
Oninaki Review | Final Thoughts
Overall, Oninaki does have something to offer. If you can get past the opening hours and their dull start then you'll find a pretty deep experience mechanically. Excessive padding brings the game up to a good 30+ hours, but less is more. A less lengthy amount of playtime would have worked in Oninaki's favor. While some may find it worth the effort, no one will blame a player for stopping at the first hurdle. The opening hours of gameplay are important, as are the final few. Great moments in the middle does nothing when sandwiched between bad pacing and poor balancing. Even if you can make it through, the mediocre elements will probably sour the experience.
Techraptor reviewed Oninaki on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer.
- Interesting Environments
- Well-Done Moral Points
- Lots Of Combat Variation
- Extra Padded Gameplay
- Boring Hours At Start And End
- Poor Balancing
- Stun-Locking Central