Embracing the darkness in action-RPG Oninaki

Tokyo RPG Factory made a name for themselves a few years ago with I Am Setsuna (AKA I’m A Satsuma for people who love terrible dad jokes), a call back to JRPGs of the 90s with a particularly mournful tone and a new take on the classic Active Time Battle system. Following a spiritual successor Lost Sphear, they’ve gone in a rather different direction for their third game; Oninaki is an action RPG.

While they might be kicking ATB to the kerb, Tokyo RPG Factory are clinging onto their ability to create intriguing fantasy worlds. Much like I Am Setsuna, Oninaki has a sorrowful tone as it opens with a young child being confronted with the reality that his parents are both dead. Quite literally, they’re lying right there on the bed in a wake.

It’s a pretty big thing for a child to come to terms with, but more bewildering is that Kagachi is told he mustn’t grieve for them. It’s not even in a “you should remember the good times” kind of way, but more troublingly that their passage through the afterlife is dependent on everyone that knew them thinking happy thoughts, lest your grief and sadness shackle their souls and keep them from reincarnation. So far, so anime, right? Well it gets even more so, as he’s told this by, and eventually becomes, a Watcher.

Twenty years later and he follows in that Watcher’s footsteps to become a part of the Veil Watch himself. They have the power to travel between the Living World and the Beyond, seeking out the souls of the Lost and trying to help them feel the peace that they need to move on. Even within this demo, which gives us the opening hour or so of the game, that’s twisted in some dark directions, from the actions that Kaguchi must commit to restore balance, to the delusions of the living as they glamorise the afterlife and let this lead them astray. That’s all before the central mystery and threat to the world’s balance is brought into play, and I’m really interested to see how the game can evolve the story and world from there.

A key part of the game is being able to shift between the Living World and the Balance. Accompanying Kaguchi and the Watchers are Daemons, the souls of those who are doomed to remain Lost forever. They are there to augment your basic combat skills which, when it comes to it, is basically just slashing your sword. It’s the Daemon that you’re partnered with that determines how you jump or dodge, it’s the Daemon that decides the weapon you carry, and as you level up you can expand the abilities that the Daemon lets your bring into the fray.

You start with Aisha, a sword-based Daemon, whose abilities start with a simple lunge, but can expand to a ranged attack and combos with Kaguchi. Zaav is the second Daemon you connect with, welding a spear, but losing a dodge in favour of a jump that can lead into an aerial attack – Zaav is slower, making him less than ideal for the boss fight that comes soon after meeting him! We also got a chance to try out Wil and his awesome axe and Izana with a scythe. All of them have very different feels and strengths and weaknesses that can be tuned and amplified as you level up and get to upgrade them.

It can, I feel, get a little bit samey as you battle through each successive group of shadowy enemies. Early on, you’re predominantly fighting the waddling enemies that look like penguins with little orange candle lights sticking from their heads, and that gradually grows to include enemies that will wind up and charge in your direction, scorpion-like creatures that fire flaming balls of lava at you, and so on. The real goal of each area is to battle through them and find an enemy that lets you peel back the darkness that shrouds the Beyond. They also have a tendency to just be larger versions of the basic enemies.

You see, even though Watchers can travel through the Veil with their Daemons, if you venture into areas blanketed in inky blackness, you’ll be killed. You can switch between these two realms at will, stepping into a shadowy version of the Living World where the Lost are waiting to be found. Just as you battle enemies in the Living World, you also encounter them in the Beyond, but this side to the world offers you enhanced battle abilities, such as making all of your hits critical or adding a push-back effect to your attacks.

That’s part of why the combat can feel a tad one note, as you find the exact same enemies on either side of the veil. Even then, I found myself able to simply run back entire clutches of enemies like they weren’t even there, just making a beeline for the next shadowy beast that would light the Beyond for me.

If I’m a little underwhelmed with the combat at the moment, some of that will surely be down to Oninaki not showing all its cards within this demo. A Battle Mode was also available to us with more difficult enemies to take on, leading up to a challenging boss battle featuring laser attacks, spawning little drones, and just generally being tough as nails. If the combat can live up to that through the course of the game, and the story can keep exploring similarly dark themes, Oninaki could shape up to be another resounding success from Tokyo RPG Factory.

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