Oninaki on PlayStation 4
Some games come frustratingly close to being exceptional, only to make some missteps and fall into the same bad habits as other titles from their genre. Oninaki is one such game, though there’s thankfully enough novelty to the experience to make it worth seeing.
Set in a world where reincarnation has been proven, the game places players in the role of Kagachi, a Watcher who protects the living from malevolent spirits and guides the dead on their way to the next life.
Though his job usually entails guiding the dead through their last requests, it can also take a darker turn into killing those who have given up hope for their lives in the present and wish to move on to their next life.
Though difficult, Kagachi carries out his duties without question until he meets Linne, a spirit with no memories of her former life. She refuses to pass on until calming the spirit of the Night Devil, an evil entity engulfed in so much hatred it could never reincarnate.
Kagachi agrees to assist her, and as a result is drawn into the deepest, darkest secrets of the powers behind reincarnation itself.
It’s a fantastic premise that the game has plenty of fun with. Time after time, it presents tough moral dilemmas through its lore and tries to explore them in as genuine a way that it can, strapping the player in for the ride all the while.
Admittedly though, it takes time for Oninaki’s story to properly insert Kagachi’s own narrative into this premise, falling back on JRPG tropes aplenty as it does so.
Unexplained importance to fate, poorly developed love triangles, and unnecessary angst all take center stage at one point or another, and it muddles the more interesting points the world and its lore try to make.
This makes the opening hours of the game a slog, and nearly gets to the point where few aside from die-hard JRPG fans could be expected to muscle through to the otherwise exceptional story that unfolds in the title’s second act.
Fortunately, there’s some interesting gameplay to make the journey to this point a little more bearable. Using an action RPG framework, Oninaki tasks players with slicing, smashing and shooting their way through hordes of enemies with the help of Daemon spirits. Each Daemon has its own move set and abilities, making them ideal in some situations and a hinderance in others.
One area might see players leaning on the ranged attacks of the Daemon Dia while shying away from Aisha’s up-close and personal sword techniques, while another sees them using Izaya’s scythe-based crowd control combos to keep several enemies pinned in a combo at once.
It motivates players to test out and implement different Daemons for new combinations, and the versatility of these different combinations keeps the otherwise simple combat feeling fresh the whole way through the game.
As with the story though, there are some glaring flaws to the gameplay. Namely, the poorly paced introduction of new elements like weapon upgrades and a lack of enemy variety. Both cause some quality-of-life headaches for players, and while they may not bring down the experience as a whole, they do lead to some frustrations and monotony that drag down the better elements around them.
As for sound design and graphics, both areas hold their own serviceably enough. The music ranges well enough from melancholy to energetic based on the situation, and the limited Japanese dub provided for the characters is serviceable enough whenever it’s used.
Graphics are likewise what fans of Tokyo RPG Factory have come to expect: A decent blend of modern graphics and old-school JRPG sprite work, with some beautiful fantasy scenery and set dressing thrown in for good measure.
Oninaki is not a perfect game. Its flaws are noticeable enough to be a hinderance, and hold the full experience back when it otherwise could have shown brightly.
And yet, when the game shines, it shines brightly. Once the story finally hits its stride and the full palette of gameplay mechanics are made available, the game settles into a comfortable groove that very nearly elevates the full package past the weaknesses and mistakes of its first half toward something well above its contemporaries.
It’s story and lore have plenty to love about them, and when paired with the depth of the combat system, it makes for an engaging and entertaining experience fans of JRPGs will at least want to take a look at.
Score: 4/5 – Great
For more information on how we review games, check out Twinfinite’s review policy here.