Oninaki Review — Death Is Only the Beginning
Tokyo RPG Factory's Oninaki is the studio's most ambitious project yet with characters and themes that are as fascinating as they are tragic.
Oninaki is the third title from Square Enix’s Tokyo RPG Factory and easily the most ambitious game from the studio yet. As death is the core foundation for its overall narrative, Oninaki not only acts as a great action RPG but contains one of the most moving stories of this console generation. What started as a studio that set out with a goal to make nostalgic JRPGs has now found their footing with something entirely new.
While the overall game is small, Oninaki has a fleshed-out world that’s instilled with ideas from the Watchers and overarching church in place. Watchers act as individuals who can transition between the world of the living and the dead. In the living world of Oninanki, death is advertised as something that should be welcomed, and those who hold regrets or sadness towards the passing of a loved one will cause said deceased person to be stuck in a purgatory-like state. It’s up to Watchers to enter the world of the dead, help them find solace, and ultimately pass onto into their next life. The idea is that those who pass on will be reincarnated without memories of their past lives. To keep the flow of life going, Watchers must ensure that all spirits pass on to continue this cycle. Problems arise as those who remain in the afterlife too long become monsters after a certain stretch of time.
What’s initially so interesting though is this doubt that’s prevalent amongst everyone in Oninaki. A doubt about reincarnation and what people believe about death and the afterlife. There’s this comfort that’s advertised in losing your life throughout the game, but many of this world’s inhabitants seem uncertain with the idea of what’s going to happen when you die, much like our own reality. Throughout the streets of the game’s main city, players will encounter cults preaching salvation and citizens talking about what they want to do once they’re reincarnated. Even with this sad reality, NPCs often reflect on their lives in an almost poetic way. There’s never any real comfort to these tiny moments as life is always fleeting; however, they make one reflect on what it means to live in the moment. It’s clear that Tokyo RPG Factory drew from religious ideologies and the general existentialism that comes with facing mortality.
Players will explore this world as a young man named Kagachi, who’s a Watcher. The game opens with the death of Kagachi’s parents, which results in a mysterious connection that sparks between himself and a young spirit named Linne. Overall, Kagachi is an arrogant and unlikeable character. He’s oftentimes rude and blunt with those he encounters who have passed but gradually becomes more understanding as the story progresses. Given the overall somber tone of the game and what Kagachi has to go through, his typically unlikeable personality becomes more justifiable in a world that’s filled with existential dread. By a certain point in the game, players will become as invested in his character arc as they will in the overall idea of a Watcher. Not just Kagachi but all Watchers, including the characters who accompany you, as they face a harsher reality when they’re constantly at the helm of dealing with others’ tragedy.
Visually, Oninaki is Tokyo RPG Factory’s best-looking game to date. Locations are filled with vibrant colors and beautiful vistas that are integrated into various storylines throughout. With the added context these areas are as beautiful as they are sorrowful. There’s a fine balance between realism and chibi-like character models that gives off a quality that’s really lovely to look at. Combat is flashy and satisfying with powerful particle effects, while cutscenes are striking despite what looks to be more budgeted animation. Of course, there’s also the disparities in coloration between the living world and the beyond that gives each two distinct feelings.
Gameplay-wise, Oninaki works as more of an isometric action RPG. It’s most interesting system comes in the form of Daemons, which are lost souls who pair themselves with Watchers as their weapons. Daemons are different from conventional souls as they have no memory of their past life. There’s a wide variety of them to find in-game, and each comes with their own tragic backstory that players will be able to unravel as they level up specific Daemon skill trees. It’s like collecting Pokemon except there’s not a single ounce of joy to be found. All jokes aside, leveling up and getting accustomed to specific Daemons will determine each players’ playstyle. Finding the perfect combination and growing with each Daemon over time is one of the best qualities of Oninaki’s gameplay.
Oninaki definitely has a repetition problem. Throughout the game’s runtime, you’ll be facing off against many of the same enemies over and over again. Even certain boss battles reoccur, albeit, with a couple of different added moves that a boss will throw at players. On the normal difficulty, it was relatively easy to steamroll everything, especially once players make their way towards the end of a Daemon’s skill tree. To counter this, Oninaki encourages players to experiment with different weapon styles. As this isn’t an isometric action RPG in the same vein as Diablo, for example, the game relies heavily on its core combat. Daemon balance feels off as some are much stronger than others when dealing with mobs and bosses. If you don’t want to farm, you may ultimately opt for some of the earlier Daemons since they’ll be far stronger than the ones you get in the later game.
Even the final boss was disappointingly easy which brings me to another point. Whereas Oninaki’s opening hours have many triumphs and stories to uncover, the final hours rely heavily on JRPG tropes. The game also answers a lot of the questions that players will likely have early on, and it might’ve been better to leave certain things up to the imagination. The discussion around Oninaki could’ve been a lot more meaningful if Tokyo RPG Factory didn’t open up about how the overall world really works. Additionally, the story can become a bit convoluted at points when other ideas get involved with the core theme.
Once all is said and done, Oninaki offers players one final dungeon that’s really quite a trek to get through. Like, it’ll literally take hours to complete. It’s a nice last hurrah that’ll allow players to utilize everything they learned throughout Oninaki. Despite that repetition, Oninaki never overstays its welcome and price is well worth it with the content and story provided.
Despite a handful of missteps and some convoluted narrative decisions in the final act, Oninaki is a really fascinating game that I want to learn more about even after completing almost everything it has to offer. Quite frankly, Oninaki sits boldly next to some of the best Japanese games released this console generation. While it may give off a smaller indie vibe, there are some bold ideas explored that really affected me in ways I didn’t expect.