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Review

Review: Oninaki

Squa­re Enix have published a few games over the last few con­so­le genera­ti­ons that try to emu­la­te the feel of clas­sic JRPGs with a modern twist. Bra­vely Default, Octopath Tra­vel­ler and I am Sets­u­na all fit this descrip­ti­on and had vary­ing levels of suc­cess. The lat­ter was the work of Tokyo RPG Fac­to­ry, Onina­ki being their third attempt at crea­ting a JRPG that can rival the clas­sics. Like their last 2 releases though, Onina­ki ends up mis­hand­ling its uni­que ide­as and leads to a for­gett­able expe­ri­ence.

Despi­te what the car­to­o­ny cha­rac­ter models and over­all art­syt­le might lead you to belie­ve, Onina­ki is qui­te a dark game. Rein­car­na­ti­on plays a big part in the world, being the dri­ving force behind the laws and beliefs of the world and its inha­bi­tants. Wat­chers, tho­se that can tra­vel to and from the realm of the dead, are tas­ked with making sure spi­rits are free of reg­ret and can pass on to their next life. Kaga­chi is one of the­se Wat­chers, his jour­ney through the world slow­ly making him ques­ti­on the natu­re of rein­car­na­ti­on and how it affec­ts people’s lives.

Initi­al­ly, Kaga­chi comes of as a rather bland prot­ago­nist, with litt­le to say and even less inter­ac­tion with other cha­rac­ters. He does impro­ve some­what, but with how the sto­ry is paced it’s hard to real­ly care too much about him by the end. This is becau­se of how quick­ly cha­rac­ters are intro­du­ced and then thrown asi­de. What should be a sho­cking and tone set­ting moment at the start of the game ends up being rehash­ed mul­ti­ple times, having anyo­ne who seems remo­te­ly important kil­led off at a moment’s noti­ce. Every plot point for the majo­ri­ty of the game is also incredi­b­ly pre­dic­ta­ble, and the one main plot twist comes off as con­fu­sing and rus­hed rather than impac­t­ful. Once the ending credits rol­led, we were hard pres­sed to find a sin­gle cha­rac­ter that could be con­si­de­red memo­r­able, eit­her due to having no screen­ti­me or the plot rui­ning what litt­le per­so­na­li­ty they had.

Com­bat fares a litt­le bet­ter, but is mar­red by stran­ge design choices and a lack of varie­ty. Kagachi’s wea­pons are tied to Dae­mons, beings that can pos­sess Wat­chers to give them enhan­ced abi­li­ties. Each Dea­m­on gives access to a basic com­bo for that wea­pon, along with a series of unlock­able skills that go on coold­own after they’re used. While you can equip 4 skills per Dae­mon, you’ll gene­ral­ly only use a coup­le due to how slow many of them are rela­ti­ve to how weak they end up being. It’s also impos­si­ble to com­bo regu­lar attacks into a skill, and the oppo­si­te is only avail­ab­le after unlo­cking an upgrade for that Dae­mon, mea­ning that after the end of every regu­lar com­bo there’s a long pau­se befo­re you can act again. It makes even the fas­test wea­pons feel incredi­b­ly slug­gish and the slo­west near unus­able during boss fights.

The­re are a few other mecha­nics rela­ted to the batt­le sys­tem, though they do litt­le to chan­ge how unin­spi­red it is. Gem­stones can be slot­ted into wea­pons to adds a varie­ty of basic effec­ts like bonus dama­ge or shorter coold­owns. Fur­ther cus­to­mi­sa­ti­on comes in the form of wea­pon orbs that drop after attacking enemies, which are used to purcha­se upgrades for the Dae­mon of that spe­ci­fic wea­pon type. This sys­tem is rela­tively line­ar, and with a Deamon’s power being increa­sed by having more upgrades there’s litt­le rea­son to try and use mul­ti­ple wea­pons types ins­tead of one stron­ger wea­pon. Dae­mons can also enter a mani­fes­ted sta­te after the ‘affi­ni­ty’ meter reached 100%, increa­sing your stats and allo­wing ani­ma­ti­on can­cel­ling for every move. While this does make you more power­ful, it’s also clo­ser to how the batt­le sys­tem should have been to begin with. Com­bat is less slug­gish and your evas­i­ve moves are actual­ly use­ful, so only being able to use this mode occa­sio­nal­ly ends up being jar­ring.

Per­for­mance on Switch is ano­t­her pro­blem area, fur­ther adding to the clun­ky com­bat. Onina­ki is locked at 30 fps in both hand­held and docked modes, but it often has trou­ble hol­ding this frame­ra­te during busi­er moments. The hand­ful of ful­ly ani­ma­ted cuts­ce­nes are the worst for frame­ra­te issu­es, any visu­al effec­ts causing the game to look more like a sli­de show. Fur­ther­mo­re, while the visu­als are fair­ly colour­ful, cha­rac­ter and ene­my models are often poor­ly ani­ma­ted, making com­bat even more frus­tra­ting sin­ce it can be hard to tell the ran­ge of ene­my attacks. The bland envi­ron­ments do litt­le to help make play­ing more enjoy­a­ble eit­her, each area being a series of unin­te­res­ting fields or rooms that are just repeated a few times.

Conclusion

After a strong ope­ning, Onina­ki just gets wor­se the lon­ger you play. The unre­spon­si­ve batt­le sys­tem com­bi­ned with a sto­ry that is far too rus­hed makes for a tho­rough­ly unin­te­res­ting game. The­re are far bet­ter JRPGs, on the Switch or other­wi­se, that alrea­dy released or com­ing out in the near future, making it hard to recom­mend Onina­ki even at a hea­vi­ly redu­ced pri­ce.

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