Games like EarthBound become must-play titles not based on graphics but more so for its unique systems, narrative, and willingness to think outside the box of traditional RPGs. Developer Omocat’s Omori shares many of these qualities. However, instead of simply wearing these influences on their shoulder, players will find a profound and memorable narrative inside this charming and often dark RPG.
Omori’s narrative is told through reality and a dream-like world that exists in a white space. While in this dream, players assume the role of Omori, who hangs out with his friends and goes on adventures with them. Sure, they face some dark moments as they must search for a missing friend along with other mysteries, but they are happy for the most part, and more importantly, they are all together. Reality takes on a different form as players name their protagonist, who is moving away in a few days.
Four years ago, something tragic happened to this tight-knit group of friends, which caused them to go their separate ways. The protagonist takes it the hardest and completely disappears into his head, better known as this white space. The two words exist, but one is set when everyone is friends, whereas reality hasn’t been too kind to the characters who find themselves in dark places.
I can’t begin to explain the expert symbolism this game features. Meeting people and exploring the dream world is somewhat mimicked in reality through the inhabitants and areas. Taking your time to talk to NPCs and explore will only make the experience better for you. Seeing the two sides of the characters is a narrative masterpiece as the writer answers any questions you have not through exposition but instead through simple conversations. It’s absolutely brilliant and is nonstop up until the conclusion.
Gameplay revolves around exploration and turn-based battles. When you encounter an enemy, a fight will initiate where each character chooses an action, and then speed stats will choose who goes first, including enemies. One interesting system is how the battles incorporate an emotional status effect instead of elements. Characters begin in a Neutral state but can become Sad, Angry, or Happy, which includes some benefits to a fight. This isn’t used too much in the first 8 hours of gameplay, but it does come in handy after your characters learn new skills that benefit from specific emotions.
The battles were consistently fun for me, with options to use joint attacks, items, and skills as a way to cause extra damage. However, boss battles became a little too repetitive in the first half of the game as you simply have to wait to charge an all-out attack that can pretty much one-shot them. Still, in the later parts of the game, you’ll definitely need to understand how buffs work because it’s needed if you hope to survive.
Outside of battles, players can take on side-missions and complete light puzzles. The puzzles are used to progress through some dungeons, but they’re a few tough ones that seem to just be there to pad the playtime. I was able to complete the game in 20 hours, but that’s after getting stuck on a few puzzles. Further, there are just some slow moments, such as lengthy unskippable events and super long conversations with random NPCs. On that note, these are sometimes needed if only to clue you in on events happening on certain days, which you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
In that regard, Omori doesn’t consider your time. The game is telling a story for impact and uses its slow pacing to deliver it. It works for most of the game, and each scenario lands perfectly, but there are a few more comical side-scenarios that I could have done without. This parallels perfectly with the dark and almost nightmarish themes of reality as the protagonist suffers greatly from depression. These themes are found in many parts of the game, and the team wasn’t shy about exploring other serious themes such as anxiety and suicide, but none of it feels shoehorned in and flows naturally with the story being told.
The visuals of Omori are taken right out of a coloring book and also feature similar designs to the EarthBound series. I found this approach fitting for the story and the various zany areas that you find yourself in. While in dungeons, each character has a special skill to get through areas, with a really cool animation that plays while you switch the leader. Animations also play into the narrative’s themes as the characters live through these old photographs of how things used to be. Even though these aren’t’ your friends, you can’t help but long for the times they are trying to hold onto.
Music is a huge part of Omori and will be present 90% of the time. The developer knew when to crank the sound up and when to keep it low with lo-fi beats and quirky noises. Each track is a great inclusion into the game as it is used as a sound for some voices.
The difficulty is kept moderate for the first half, but it does become more challenging in the later parts. By then, you should have a good idea of equipping your party better and utilizing the items in your inventory. On that point, the opening hour of the story is really messy, and things just won’t make sense until a few hours in, but sticking with it will prove worth it, trust me.
Don’t let its presentation fool you, Omori is an adventure into some dark themes of loss, growing up, and fear of change. These are easily relatable elements uniquely projected to players through its expert story presentation and character writing. You feel yourself immersed in this world and with these people to the point where you want so bad to see their adventure through until the end. Luckily for us, this is one experience that you can’t easily grow out of.
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