One shouldn’t really name their development company with a rote name like Tokyo RPG Factory; it just means you’re just known for churning out title after title of mediocre value. But to be fair, the company’s previous efforts, I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear, are full of charm and aesthetically-pleasing choices, but they just come off as shallow copies of previous RPGs we knew and love back in the SNES glory days of the 90s.
Oninaki, a full-on action RPG involving spirits and intentionally washed-out palettes, is keeping in theme. While it has a few lovely story moments, they don’t change the fact that the game is as middling and as flawed as they come.
A Ghost Story
The plot of Oninaki is one filled with a lot of spiritual elements. As a Watcher, it’s your job to keep the spirits a-flowing and underworld order maintained while also passing judgment on how people in the material world should be judged.
You also get into some Supernatural or Constantine type scenarios where you converse with spirits to get to the bottom of certain murders and suicides happening in the course of the tale.
Without spoiling much, Tokyo RPG Factory did a damn good job at telling a heavy story involving death and the (possibly high) cost of living, much like that Sandman spin-off.
The game isn’t afraid of making its audience uncomfortable with its depressive themes. It’s up there with games like Phantom Brave and Final Fantasy X that deals with the afterlife and spirits.
Game-wise, however, that’s when it starts faltering. Let’s start with the good: the Daemon mechanic makes the game a tad interesting. Alone, you only have a few basic moves, but when paired up with a Daemon, you have access to a plethora of special skills and moves to kill off the monster horde like dashes and screen-clearing and AoE attacks. From a samurai swordsman that buffs up your evading skills to a ranged crossbow wielder, you’re spoilt for choice as you can switch between them on the fly. Plus, they have cool backstories since they start off as ghosts who have no idea how they ended up as such. It’s pretty riveting.
Unfortunately, the bad parts of the game start seeping in the longer you experience it. Being a top-down isometric-esque action RPG, you would think the fighting and the controls would be smooth at least after the first few hours. Not so in Oninaki. While the Daemons give you cool abilities, it’ll take you a long, long while until your Watcher feels less-than-sluggish from the get-go. The cool combo teching and ability cancellation mechanics all start coming in eventually; keep in mind that this is a 20 hour+ game that spreads out its rewards and ability upgrades in the worst way possible.
Tokyo RPG Factory needs to work on design and pacing in order to keep even the most patient of gamers invested. Refer to games like Diablo III and Hades for better examples of giving you cool mechanics to work with from the get-go.
On top of all that, there isn’t anything interesting you can use your cool abilities onto. Instead of unique boss battles, you end up fighting giant crabs and bugs in the first half, with each of them having predictable patterns.
The enemies you fight are just moths, penguins, and other bland-looking beasties that aren’t indicative of the special spirit realm narrative the game is emphasizing on.
Coupled with some special techniques that don’t land due to shoddy hit-boxes, and the overall experience starts to grate on you.
Oninaki is a case study of two halves that work against each other. Its narrative half is well-done despite its third act being a bit too draggy -what middling JRPG’s climax isn’t? Its gameplay half needs a lot of work when it comes to getting the action and skills opening up to give players a sense of freedom with their attacks and combat after the first few hours.
With a shorter run time and a bit more tweaking with its action RPG mechanics, the game could have been more than just a “Factory”-made title.
- Intriguing story about the afterlife and the concepts of death.
- Decent aesthetics.
- Too darn long for its own good.
- Mediocre action RPG with a lot of jankiness.
- Ho-hum enemies and bosses.