Release date: August 22, 2019
Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
Publisher: Square Enix
Tokyo RPG Factory’s offerings have been nothing short of fascinating, releasing the likes of I Am Setsuna as its debut title in 2016 and following it up with Lost Sphere in 2017. While those may have been hit or miss for a lot of people due to gameplay elements that didn’t feel fully realized or mechanically sound, their stories intrigued and impacted those that played them, giving players a much more somber narrative that hit specific themes of family and sacrifice that connected with many around the world. Oninaki continues Tokyo RPG Factory’s trend of melancholic storytelling by taking on much heavier topics surrounding life and death, making it easily one of the most depressing games I’ve played in years. However, the way it’s all presented from the art direction, music score, lands, cities, characters, and gameplay is all done so tastefully and with such finesse, Oninaki serves to be a message of growth not only through grief, but for Tokyo RPG Factory as a development studio.
Ever since Kagachi was a boy, he’s been able to see spirits and connect with the other side, offering a glance at where we go after we pass and the potential trials and tribulations we face if we’re unable to accept one’s death, externally or internally. Everyone in this world accepts the idea of reincarnation and that even if one is taken prematurely, we could meet again in the next life. Joy in place of grief is a way to help cope, celebrating one’s life rather than mourning it, but Kagachi has always had questions regarding the Beyond and what’s actually happening when there. Do we simply accept fate because we’re told to, or do we have control over what can happen next? Does one simply end their life early as a way to please another, or extend it further to achieve goals and live one well spent as to not be stuck lost forever in this life and the next?
Those that have had the ability to peer into the Beyond are known as Watchers, and because of Kagachi’s ability – and especially after having dealt with deep losses himself – he deems it necessary to become a Watcher and aid those seeking peace in this world and the next, even if that means taking a life himself at the request of a living soul wanting to be together again with the deceased. Kagachi’s questions are all valid and I think is safe to say are ones that we all have asked at one point or another for those of us that have a genuine curiosity about those final moments before releasing that final bit of oxygen back into the atmosphere. Kagachi serves as someone who seeks to understand, but help along the way, and isn’t afraid to call people out on simply accepting a certain ideal without proof or cause just because they were told so or read it in a book. It’s a deep-rooted feeling I connected with, and while Kagachi can be overly stoic and a bit intractable at times, he means well and simply wants to help others feel right with their emotions and thoughts, and making sure it’s perfectly valid to have doubts and curiosity for something that may never truly be answered.
Crossing over beyond the veil with Kagachi is as easy as simply pressing the ZL button, and this can be done at any time in any area – whether enemy infested or not – to explore through and reach objectives and areas where your aid is needed. There’s no time limit or anything of the sort, so players are free to roam without hesitation, though in some cases some areas may be blocked off in which you’ll need to shift from the living to the beyond to reach certain points.
Enemies are plentiful and have a wide variety, though much like everything else Oninaki has to offer, they feel as if they have purpose and aren’t just placed sporadically without any rhyme or reason. Because of the power and possible dangers that lurk in the unknown, however, Kagachi must be able to wield not only a weapon of his own, but a lost soul known as Daemons that aid you in combat. Daemons offer their services to watchers once they’re chosen, and while they themselves are lost souls much like those who can’t find peace when passing, Daemons have lost all sense of purpose or recollection of who they are and why they’re there, making them unable to pass and in a permanent state of limbo. Aiding Watchers throughout their journey give Daemons a sense of reason, so they’re typically happy to help as it holds significance in an otherwise insignificant existence.
While controlling Daemons may make it seem like the player will have to juggle between multiple characters, it’s actually surprisingly easy as they essentially serve as glorified special attacks. Kagachi will gain multiple skills and find multiple Daemons as he traverses throughout the world of Oninaki, each with their own special set of traits that can also be changed on the fly. Players can assign up to four other Daemons that can be swapped by using the right stick at any given moment, and after a certain duration they can be summoned. Even mid-way through an attack you can change on the fly, allowing for strategic battles when certain enemies and bosses prove to be formidable and dynamic. Every Daemon has their own skill tree that can be grown to the player’s liking, so if you prefer a more attack based strategy while playing versus something more reserved through passives and buffs, you can set it up that way. I found it interesting to utilize certain Daemons depending on how you’d want to approach a scenario. For example, if you’d prefer crowd control when there’s a barrage of enemies, you can unleash one that has a wide area-of-effect with its attacks, possibly stunning those around you to give you a chance to breathe. If I ever wanted to hack-and-slash away, your starting Daemon, Aisha, is absolutely great for that. Each Daemon is special in their own right and feels useful, it’s just a matter of ranking them up and selecting a party that works for you.