If you’re a fan of the previous games developed by Tokyo RPG Factory, then you’ll be happy to know a lot of the same story and visual elements can be found in their next title, Oninaki. But while Tokyo RPG Factory previously worked on turn-based role-playing games, Oninaki takes a far different approach with real-time combat and a much more open leveling system, complimented by a dark and twisted plot about death and the spirit realm. It might be downright depressing and incredibly harsh at times, but Oninaki manages to convey a few interesting ideas with its gameplay. Everything comes together very nicely and will keep you playing for many hours, despite a few moments where difficulty spikes and repetitiveness impact an otherwise great experience.
The story of Oninaki follows a young man named Kagachi and his time as one of the Watchers, beings with ties to the spirit realm. They guide those who have lost their way after passing on, as well as those who interact with the dead and find trouble in the world of the living. While fulfilling his duties as a Watcher, events trigger the rise of dark forces behind the scenes and force Kagachi into a fateful encounter with a young girl named Linne.
Getting deeper into anything further would be major spoilers for the plot, but as you progress in Oninaki the story takes many twists and turns that lead to dramatic and startling revelations. Some characters you come across do end up being shallow with their motivations and not as fleshed out as others, leading to a few unfulfilling moments. Things can go very dark early on, even to the point of being very disturbing. However, the story manages to not drag too much or become too caught up with being edgy or shocking with its darker moments.
The most interesting part about Oninaki is the real-time combat, which is very different from what Tokyo RPG Factory has done before with their previous games. You take control Kagachi and move around various locations within Oninaki’s world, exploring dungeons and wide-open areas most other Japanese role-playing game. Enemies appear frequently for you to engage them in real time, which is done using spirits that Kagachi connects with during the plot. Spirits are important for opening up new abilities and attacks, allowing you to fight in a variety of different ways.
Spirits act like your party members in a JRPG, with each having their own pros and cons for utilizing them, and you can find new spirits at various points of the story while exploring around. Finding the right combination during the story can be a little tricky, especially when you can accidentally go into battle very underprepared with the wrong spirits on hand. At the beginning, combat can be slow and take a bit to clear areas full of enemies, which can feel repetitive at first. But as you defeat enemies and level up your spirits, you can fight through waves of enemies faster and with greater devastation.
Most of the time you’re hitting a button to attack normally, but you can equip a number of special attacks for each spirit that mix things up. Your attacks can build up a Manifestation meter that when full will allow you to gain a burst in attack and defense, which can have other effects as you level up. With each attack you land, you have the chance to find a weapon stone that will allow you to power up your spirits on a skill tree, which gives you abilities and stat boosts. Every spirit has their own stones that you can obtain, but you can’t mix and match them.
This can be a little frustrating and monotonous when you need to level up a spirit in a newer area in order for them to be viable later on, so you’ll spend a lot of time searching for enemies in dungeons to attack. Eventually every spirit you gain can become incredibly powerful, but you’ll to make the time to use them. The skill tree for each spirit can be wide and take a while to complete, especially when you need to visit save points to watch short cutscene with a spirit’s backstory and unlock new skills you can obtain. These cutscenes aren’t too special visually, but they tell a lot about the spirit themselves and allow you to further upgrade them over time. Getting these spirit lore scenes costs weapon stones, but they’re well worth it.
Spirits can also be powered up further with equipment you find and make in the main hub town. Finding new versions of weapons and stones to equip onto them can make you more powerful, provided you upgrade them and attach the right stones. You can give your attacks special effects and damage boosts by using older equipment to upgrade them, which isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
While you don’t need to do this to progress through most of the game, it definitely helps out in a few places where the difficulty of enemies starts to really spike upwards. This is especially true with the boss fights in Oninaki, which can be the most frustrating battles around. Having weapons and extra attacks that give you bonuses and debuffs against your enemies, and more while in manifestation mode, can make these fights significantly easier to deal with. They still won’t be a walk in the park and provide a challenge, but you’ll find them more manageable to overcome.
Small criticisms aside, Oninaki is an interesting game to play through. Its visuals are very good, while it’s music and ambient sound sets a moody tone throughout the experience. The story can maybe get too dark for some people, but it has a lot of enticing aspects to it for anyone to be entertained throughout. Role-playing enthusiasts will spend a lot of time fighting enemies to level up all of the spirits, while everyone else will spend most of their time taking in all of the backstory about them. There’s a lot to enjoy about Oninaki despite its depressing plot, which if you can look pass you’ll find a solid role-playing game with a lot of good going for it.
This review was based on a digital review code of Oninaki for the PlayStation 4, provided by Square Enix.