When Square Enix unveiled the studio at Tokyo RPG Factory, there was the promise of RPGs that felt like the classics that many of us grew up with. Remember the likes of Chrono Trigger and the 16-bit Final Fantasy releases? Well, there was more of that to come, and they demonstrated it well with their initial releases I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear – two titles that were very old-school in design but enjoyable because of it.
With their latest release Oninaki, they’ve been let off the leash with the restriction of following an ‘old school’ design mantra loosened a little to allow for a more unique experience. What this means is that they’ve been able to release an RPG that focuses more on free-flowing action-packed gameplay, whilst a surge of fresh ideas involving levelling up adds a strategic touch to proceedings too. It makes for a pretty enjoyable title, though it is one that has a few shortcomings that prevent it from being essential playing for RPG enthusiasts.
Oninaki takes place in a world where the deceased don’t necessarily pass on carefree, but can instead linger as spirits in the ‘Beyond’ if they die with any regrets. As Kagachi, a member of a group known as ‘The Watchers’, you look to ease the burdens upon these spirits and fix any of their lingering issues so they can move on peacefully. What happens if they don’t get this opportunity? They become monsters and their soul never gets to rest. What’s more, if their soul is grieved they can become bound to the world, so it’s actually against the law to grieve for any deceased loved ones. What a world to live in, right?
Whilst a typically emotionless fellow, Kagachi soon finds himself wrapped up into more serious and world-changing matters after encountering the Night Devil – this leads into an adventure that sees him doing more than just easing the passing of lost souls, but also looking to save the world. Add to that a myriad of side-stories as well as some encounters with those who don’t necessarily believe in the way of the Watchers, and you’ll quickly see that Oninaki’s tale has all the ingredients in place for an RPG epic.
I really enjoyed Oninaki’s narrative; whilst I’ll admit that it is guilty of having some characters that are a little one-dimensional, the world and its concept of life-and-death really appealed to me. Add to that some genuinely surprising twists and it’s easy to find yourself hooked into Kagachi’s journey. It’s just a shame that it can feel a little padded out during the final third, with some unnecessary sequences of events adding some extra hours to the playtime but feeling a little meaningless when compared to the earlier aspects of the plot. It’s something that was criticised in Tokyo RPG Factor’s last release Lost Sphear, so it was a shame to see it occur again here.
Gameplay-wise, most of your time in Oninaki will be spent battling – however, whilst Tokyo RPG Factory’s previous releases have been turn-based affairs, here you’ll be taking part in some dungeon-crawling action-focused showdowns. This means mashing out standard attacks and blending together countless different abilities to go along with them. However, you’re never alone: you’ll always have a Daemon by your side in-battle that can change up Kagachi’s combat style in various ways.
You can take up to four different Daemon’s into battle with you that can be swapped around freely, with each one offering different abilities and weapons. This means that you can constantly change up your attacking style, be it through the use of different weapons like the axe, spear, or crossbow, or the even the abilities that the Daemons themselves can unleash. The Daemons have different abilities that improve in efficiency the more you use them too, though you’re also able to improve each Daemon’s capabilities through their own individual skill trees (more on that in a bit). That doesn’t mean you won’t be improving Kagachi himself though, with vanquished enemies giving you the XP required to level up in a traditional RPG fashion.
As you battle, you’ll begin to fill an affinity meter with your Daemon that sees your strength improve. It’s based on percentages with 200% being the maximum – the higher the percentage you have, the more damage you’ll unleash. It does come with the caveat that your defence begins to decrease after hitting the 150% mark though, so it comes down to what you value more: your ability to take damage or your ability to dish it out. Once the meter is over 100%, you can activate the ‘Manifest’ ability which sees Kagachi combining with the Daemon to take on a more powerful form. This gives you a massive boost in power and makes you immune to being stunned by enemies for a short period, so it’s a particularly effective way to get out of a tricky situation – if you use it at the right time, you can unleash hell on hordes of enemies or take a big chunk out of a boss’ HP.
Oninaki’s combat comes together to make for an experience that blends together button-mashing, the swapping of Daemons to change up your abilities, and a bit of strategic thought to exploit enemy weaknesses – there’s definitely more to it than it might initially seem. However, after a few hours play a few flaws started to creep through, such as the repetitive nature that comes with the enemies you face off against. Rather than having showdowns with a vast range of opponents, Oninaki is guilty of sending a lot of the same foes against you throughout the entirety of the game. It’s a shame, especially given the abundance of Daemons you have at your disposal, and it makes the game feel like it doesn’t offer the same variety found in similar RPGs.
It leaves combat feeling a bit repetitive, which is a shame because it can be a lot of fun. With the same kinds of enemies to face off against that do the same things throughout though, it becomes all too easy to take them out and can see strategy get thrown out the window. At least the boss encounters are a bit more exciting whilst the occasional difficulty spike will keep you on your toes, but it’s clear that Oninaki’s combat could’ve done with a bit more variety just to keep it fresh throughout its twenty-hour plus runtime.
At least levelling up your Daemons is a bit more invigorating, with each one having their own specific skill tree that allows you to fine-tune their capabilities. You’ll be able to unlock new skills, new passive abilities, and even upgrade your pre-existing skills with additional perks to improve their efficiency. It’s a pretty deep system and there’s a lot to play around with, which is something RPG fans will certainly approve of. Interestingly, there’s a lot of lore tied to each Daemon’s skill tree too, so you actually learn more about them as you upgrade them – it’s a small touch, but it’s something I appreciated as I used them more in combat.
Between the (mostly) enjoyable combat and the deep levelling up system, Oninaki certainly gets a lot more right than it does wrong. However, there are some other areas of its design where it can be underwhelming. The dungeon design is a little linear for example with very little in the form of puzzles, whilst the side-quests on offer are very run of the mill and lack imagination. Movement can be sluggish too, especially since some of your quicker manoeuvres are tied to the different Daemons you can use. They’re small issues in the grand scale of things, but they are the sort of issues that see Oninaki feel more like a decent RPG as opposed to a great one.
Oninaki is more proof that the team at Tokyo RPG Factory are more than capable of putting together an enjoyable RPG, though the transition to a more action-focused battle system has seen it falter a little when compared to their more traditional (and better) previous releases.
That’s not to say that Oninaki is a bad game when compared to I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear though; in fact, I had a good time battling with the use of various Daemons, whilst the deep upgrade system and the twists and turns of the narrative kept me engaged throughout. With an excessive use of padding throughout the final third of the experience and some underwhelming gameplay mechanics though, Oninaki can be a little guilty of outstaying its welcome as you reach its drawn-out conclusion.
Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PC