Oninaki Review – A Standout JRPG Experience

    Title: Oninaki
    Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
    Release Date: August 22, 2019
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: Action-RPG

“Death is nothing at all… It does not count,” said Henry Scott Holland, an Anglican priest, in his poem, Death is Nothing At All. Some might read this quote and find it to be insensitive and unbelievable. Others might read it and think of the exact opposite. One thing is for sure, grief and the ways that people cope with it is overwhelmingly complicated, to say the least. Facing life after the death of a loved one is one of the toughest struggles we’ll have to deal with, but being able to do so makes us much stronger than before, and allows us to move forward with our lives. 

Tokyo RPG Factory’s action-RPG Oninaki explores deep, and at times, dark themes, such as grief, in ways that truly capture your emotions. Oninaki doesn’t only have you go on a captivating journey, it also has you experience a glorious rebirth for Tokyo RPG Factory that demonstrates what the developer is capable of as they’ve created a vastly different JRPG than ever before.

Oninaki follows Kagachi, a young duty-bound Watcher who has a sacred duty to help usher wandering souls of the dead, known as Lost Souls, into their next life. Those who are Lost can be reborn into a new life, however, there are times when they seek salvation in death as they have unfinished business they want to take care of, such as grieving over the end of a loved one, which leaves them astray. This is where Watchers come in to help them out, ensuring that the Lost can move on and end up following through the cyclical process of reincarnation.

The true goal for Kagachi and fellow Watchers is to serve as keepers of two worlds, the Living World and the Beyond. However, doing so is easier said than done, since evil entities, Lost Ones who have failed to reincarnate, are scattered about. Throughout the adventure, Kagachi meets multiple characters, both alive and dead. One of these characters is a mysterious girl named Linne who makes Kagachi’s mission spiral into a journey of self-discovery filled with blood, death, and life.

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While Oninaki‘s premise of reincarnation drew me in right at the start, it’s the characters, and world-building offered moments that had me ponder the meaning of life. From Kagachi whose heart is set on completing the reincarnation process even if it means ending the life of another, to an elderly man who can’t get over the loss of his dear brother, each character handles the concept of death in their own way and being able to see that unfold was emotionally gripping.

Oninaki’s story has an emotional impact on the player that can bring them to tears; I’m speaking from experience here. However, mentioning any specific moments or scenes would be a disservice to the excellent storytelling, so I encourage you to go through the journey yourself.

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Tokyo RPG Factory has managed to engrain the theme of reincarnation not only with the game’s story but also with its combat and exploration gameplay. While the developer’s past titles featured classic turn-based combat, Oninaki instead has a fast-paced, real-time action combat system, the Daemons Battle System, that ties in perfectly with the game’s central theme. Just like how Watchers need to make tough and quick decisions, in the heat of battle, knowing when and how to strike needs to continually be considered on the fly. Combat may look a little simple at first glance, but there are layers of depth with it that make it a thrill.

As Kagachi, you have the power to bond and harness the power of unique Daemons, amnesiac souls that could not be reincarnated, damned or banished. To survive against the many creatures in the Living World and the Beyond, Daemons are vital to use as they serve as various weapon types that carry unique attacks, abilities, and skills that can be unleashed in the heat of battle. The first Daemon in your arsenal, Aisha, delivers swift and focused sword-swinging blows, along with the ability to quickly dash to dodge attacks, which is especially ideal when facing bosses, but other Daemons come with their own strengths and weaknesses. That said, there’s the ability to switch Daemons in real-time, allowing you to adjust your playstyle whenever you want in battle, which is fantastic as it makes combat all the more engaging.

Sure, sticking to basic attacks with one weapon is an option for some easy-to-defeat opponents, but tougher opponents, especially those in massive groups, require you to switch weapons and change up attack tactics expertly. For instance, there’s one boss that unleashes quick area-of-effect attacks, so instead of using a slow-but-powerful Daemon that could make it difficult to dodge these attacks, it’s probably best to use a more nimble Daemon.

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The boss battles are, without a doubt, challenging as they require you to always be alert and ready for anything, but combat can lean towards being repetitive, sometimes. It’s not too difficult to determine how certain enemies will strike, given that they telegraph their attacks. Overall, though, combat is enjoyable as it encourages players to be strategic but fierce for most battles. Also, the isometric camera, which you can adjust its zoom, makes combat less stressful as it lets you get a clear picture of what’s happening around you.

Paired up with the Daemon Battle System are somewhat in-depth RPG systems, such as skill trees for each Daemon that not only grants the ability to get new skills but also allows individual memories of the Daemons to be unlocked and experienced via the Daemon Lore menu. The way the Daemon memories are handled is a little plain, basically consisting of Daemon sharing a monologue as they stand in an all-white space, but I did like being able to learn more about the Daemons as it shines a light on how they are not just tools used to kill monsters. In addition to the skill trees, there are weapon customization trees here that let you customize and buff up the actual weapons that Daemons have equipped. This system ends up being simple but effective.

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What spices up Oninaki‘s gameplay, is crossing the Veil to jump from the Living World to the Beyond and vice-versa. Each world offers its own set of enemies to fight, treasures to get, and even characters to meet. What makes the Beyond special compared to the Living World is that when a particular, more tough enemy type is taken down, you can enter a warp hole that reverses your “Veil Blind” state, allowing you cross the Veil to go into the Beyond. Doing this, however, causes a random, neat precept (basically a handicap) to occur in the Beyond that can work in your benefit or make fighting enemies even more complicated. For example, one of them can cause your attacks to be more powerful the farther away you are from your target. Crossing over both worlds can also allow you to get from point A to point B as well, bringing light puzzle-solving into the mix. While level designs are different in theme, they are rather identical in layout, but thankfully, being able to switch between realms helps Oninaki from being tedious. 

Oninaki has a beautiful and breathtaking presentation. With its bold, cel-shaded, anime-influenced art style paired with expressive and detailed characters and gorgeous landscapes, Oninaki is a lovely piece of eye candy that I couldn’t help but be drawn to. The developer put in the extra effort with the game’s look overall, especially in the way they used a more muted yet vivid color palette that perfectly correlates with the overall vibe of the game. However, characters don’t necessarily come to life as much as they could have given that there isn’t much voice-over audio (and all the audio is in Japanese, which I actually don’t mind) — even during cutscenes, however, the serene soundtrack from Shunsuke Tsuchiya and Mariam Abounnasr of Procyon Studio is what really enthralls you into Oninaki‘s world.

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Oninaki is one of the best JRPGs I’ve played this year (so far). It’s a heartwarming yet heartbreaking adventure that never, ever fails to keep you wanting more from beginning to end. After two worthy attempts, Tokyo RPG Factory has crafted something truly special that I won’t stop thinking about for quite some time. I’ll be grieving over not being able to experience Oninaki for the first time again, but do yourself a favor and play Oninaki right now.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Brad Crespo

Editor-in-Chief - On a quest to play as many new games as possible while trying to finish an endless backlog.