REVIEW: Oninaki

Friday, September 13th, 2019

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As for the combat itself in Oninaki, it boils down to using a general combo with the Daemon-specific weapon in tandem with attack skills. The Daemon mechanic is quite innovative and choosing the right Daemon for a given situation is key. Weapons and styles range from hard and heavy, to quick and close, to long range, projectile, and balanced. Finally, each Daemon also has an innate non-combat ability. For example, Aisha the katana wielder, offers a dash to Kagachi that helps put distance between attacking foes and Izana, the Scythe user, has a warp move that allows Kagachi to maneuver behind enemies. Several Daemon offer jump capabilities and few have defense abilities, such as raising shields.

Oninaki | Aisha Daemon

Another mechanic to Oninaki’s gameplay is the Beyond. During the course of play, Kagachi can instantly shift through the Veil that separates the living world and Beyond to fight enemies, progress down blocked paths, or interact with the Lost. Also, both the living world and Beyond will each have their own sets of enemies to fight. At times, Kagachi will suffer Veil Blindness until defeating a specific enemy, which will restore his sight in the Beyond. Though the concept is amusing, this system could have lent itself to more exploration or innovative side play, breaking the monotony of strict combat-based play.

Besides direct combat and the unlocking and powering up of Daemons, there is little more to gameplay in Oninaki, but there are ways to improve your chances in more difficult fights. As you attack, you gain Affinity with your Daemon, represented by a percentage. As this increases past 100%, your attacks become stronger, but then defense diminishes past an Affinity of 150% and up to the max 200%. Also, once Affinity reaches 100%, you can Manifest, unleashing Kagachi’s power for a limited time strength boost. Certain passive and active skills have secondary benefits during Manifestation and when stacked, can turn the tide of any fight. Outside of direct combat, new weapons and buff/debuff lending Shadestones can be found, crafted, and equipped. Most new weapons will be enemy drops, but all weapons can be upgraded. The game’s sole shop offers the ability to upgrade weapons, socket Shadestones into those weapons, craft new weapons from old, and craft new Shadestones. Only three craftable weapons and Shadestones are available at a time and are randomly swapped and assigned after every one hundred Fallen slain.

As for Oninaki’s overall execution, combat is acceptable, with its strengths mainly in its creativeness. The variety of the Daemons, their exclusive weapons, and the many types of skills all provide an original touch to the traditional JRPG formula. And as I said, I really appreciate the Daemon Lore and its direct implementation within the skill tree, as I found myself wanting to unlock them all. That allowed my experimenting with all the different Daemons rather than just sticking with the first four we find. Trying them all out, discovering their different skills, and mowing down waves of enemies can all be pretty fun. However, even with all the different Daemons and their unique characteristics, combat can become repetitive. The choice to go with a standard, unchanging combo per weapon, anywhere from five hits for light weapons down to a two hit combo for heavy weapons, quickly becomes stale and even the vast number of skills provided struggle to compensate. Also, there are just too many Daemon. Even after trying them all and expanding their skill trees, I found myself favoring a fraction of them, as others are either a chore to use or are too similar to the point of redundancy. Rather than so many, I would have preferred fewer if it meant a more robust combo system. Combos via directional input or a weak + strong, pattern based structure would have been a better choice. Combine those setups with personalized combos per Daemon and I believe Oninaki’s combat would have been incredible, far and away from the repetitive, and sometimes tedious, mechanic we have here.

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Other mechanics, such as navigating the shop, accessing the Memories, Help topics, story recaps, and other resources in the menus, as well as the controls, all work well. Having simplicity in usage and accessibility to a database for everything encountered in-game is a welcome addition. The controls are fairly strong, in that both keyboard and controller setups are equally intuitive and easy to learn. I had zero problems with the default button layouts and yet you can customize, too. Always a plus. One aspect of control I took issue with is in regards to the delays between executing different actions. There is a noticeable pause that must be taken between, for example, launching a combo and healing. You can’t just heal, or you can’t just launch a skill after a combo. Rather, you must account for a delay. Now there are passive skills that allow you to minimize some of these delays in different actions. For example, the delay between using consecutive attack skills can be reduced for some Daemon, as well as beginning a combo immediately after a skill. Really though, I would have just preferred this being a non-issue in the first place. It’s both a needless bother and poor design choice. It’s not game breaking, but annoying enough for a mention.

The final aspects to address are Oninaki’s aesthetics and this, too is a mixed bag in terms of choices made and overall quality. Visually, Oninaki features some absolutely stunning artwork, depicting main characters and Daemons in gorgeous detail. Especially the Daemons, their depictions help immensely to remind us that these were genuine individuals with their own previous lives and personal stories. I almost wish this was a 2-D game if it meant having this level of artistic quality throughout. As for the 3-D work, it’s dull, unpolished, and uninspired in comparison. The character models are overly simple and bland, giving the game a dated feel. The enemies fare better, as their designs are imaginative and colorful, giving them more vividness compared to the human models. Many of the environments are also of better quality, bringing needed style and tone to the world. However, the backgrounds for these environments are often bland and the play areas themselves and inconsistently detailed. While some are gorgeous, dramatic, and lively, others are entirely void of energy. In these, once enemies are cleared, the areas are just too blank and empty. Lastly, I am impressed with the copious lighting effects. From the auras of buffs and Daemon switching and the glows and generous use of colors to demonstrate attack skill power and range, to the gentle lighting of serene landscapes and the abundant brightness of the bustling city, the lighting is incredible. It perfectly sets tones ranging from dire situations and intense fights to the tranquility of nature and the quiet calm of heart to heart moments. Visually, Oninaki is 2-D beauty and vividness plagued by bland 3-D designs.

Oninaki | lighting

Oninaki’s audio is strong, featuring a fitting soundtrack and impressive voice acting. The music lends itself nicely to both the particular events on screen and the overall tones of the game. Many of the tracks match the energy of a solid fight or convey the urgency of plot-moving scenes. All the tracks fit and all are a pleasure to listen to, even if some are too short and tend to get themselves lost during the action. There is also a slight overuse of silence in the game. I do enjoy it when it’s an opportunity to enjoy the ambiance, but the long, silent pauses between a track’s loop occur often enough to notice. As for the voice work in Oninaki, the voice acting is great, as it brings much needed life to a narrative in need of substance. I do wish it was fully voiced, since what we do get improves the experience. Instead, the rest of the time we only get single words, grunts, and other audio gestures during the majority of conversations. Fully voiced conversations during the entirety of the main quest would perhaps have encouraged me to further emotionally invest in the characters as well. This is one of the reasons why I felt more connected to the Daemons, as their Lore scenes are all fully voiced. Other than a few uninspired tracks, a silence overuse issue, and my want for full voicing, the audio is one of the most noteworthy aspects of Oninaki.

Oninaki could have been extraordinary. Artistic beauty, ingenious ideas, solid voice acting, and a story foundation open to endless potential, is utterly diminished by flat storytelling, zero character development, overall lack of narrative depth, gameplay design missteps, and lazy 3-D aesthetics. Perhaps a more generous reviewer would have scored Oninaki higher, but I cannot simply overlook the game’s compounding faults. It’s truly unfortunate, as there are glimmers of pure magic within and a little more would have made a remarkable impact. To experience all Oninaki has to offer and to find all of those moments of brilliance, be prepared to spend 30 hours or more to do so. It will take patience, as grind and fatigue will undoubtedly appear. Nonetheless, I personally found the experience worthwhile. Yet, if a more robust effort were made, Oninaki could have been a masterpiece; refined gameplay that matches its creativeness and a story that should have conveyed perceptions, ideas, and questions that challenge how one perceives life itself. So much potential untapped, I wanted to love this game so much more.

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Review Score

Review copy purchased by author.

About Drew D.

Drew has been an avid gamer most of his life, favoring single-player campaigns. For him, a worthwhile game is one that immerses you; it envelops you and draws out an array of emotions that produce those memorable moments we live for as gamers.

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