After two derivative products, Tokyo RPG Factory raises the bar by proposing a title that, while remaining widely in the context of Japanese role-playing games, tries to diversify through a series of mechanics, so as to distance itself sensibly from the furrow traced by I am Setsuna and Lost Sphear. If you don’t look for originality at all costs from a role-playing game, then Oninaki , available for a few days on Switch (tested version) and PS4, could be for you.
As much as the previous works of Tokyo RPG Factory, Oninaki consists of a dark and melancholic narrative, in which the fate of humans is to survive, as in a huge waiting room, waiting for the coming of the next life, in the hope that it will be better than the current one. The firmness of the dominant creed, which revolves around reincarnation, impoverishes the life of the citizens of the world in which Kagachi moves, the detached protagonist of the narrated events.
If some of the inhabitants of Deto choose to live for the day, hoping for an accident or an illness, others do not hesitate to procure the death by their own hand, cloaking the production, from the first hours of play, of a sinister aura, that smells of death even more than the realms visited in I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear. Anyone passing by must not be cried by loved ones or acquaintances, because their pain would bind the soul of the deceased to the earthly world, not allowing it to ascend and reincarnate at a later time.
Since, unfortunately (and humanly, we would add) not everyone respects this dogma, many souls are forced to wander through the realm of the living, ending up turning into hideous monsters, to counteract which the order of the Watchers, spiritual fighters, was founded. able not only to explore, albeit briefly, the kingdom of the dead, but above all to keep these aberrations at bay. The entry of the mentioned Kagachi in the order of the Watchers is the natural result of its vital history, given that the boy, orphaned at an early age, was raised by a family belonging to the order. And yet the journey that we will experience personally in his shoes will put him in front of all the questions that he had never asked himself, unshakable in his cynical certainties: he will falter but will not fall, driven by the player’s curiosity but also by the thirst for justice and the sense of duty. Despite not always convincing dialogues and some dull NPCs, the narrative plot drafted by the development team works, enveloping the player in a spiral of sadness but challenging him, at the same time, to break a cycle that has the sound of inevitability.
Not everyone will appreciate the dry style and particularly heavy tones of the adventure, but the steps forward compared to the stories narrated in the two previous titles are undeniable.
After two games based on a turn-based combat system, Tokyo RPG Factory ventured into the hack’n’slash field for the first time, with good but not excellent results. The combat system works, and, on balance, is one of the most successful aspects of the production, yet the basic repetitiveness takes the form of the most terrifying of the Fallen (the monstrous creatures of the game). The player can be possessed by one Daemon at a time, and each of them brings unique skills and weapons: from sword fighters to spears, from daggers to ranged weapons, variety is not lacking, and the ability to equip up to four Daemons simultaneously , so as to pass from one to the other in real time by simply pressing a button, it should give the combat system unpredictability and flexibility.
We use the conditional because, with the exception of some of the boss clashes, it never came back to us that it was particularly useful to go from one configuration to another, and, indeed, we regretted on several occasions that we had spent skill points in the talent trees of Daemons different from the two or three we used most often during the thirty or so hours of testing. Moving the view and abandoning the party in favor of a system with a single controllable character brings production closer to Diablo-like who have flooded the market over the years, and, with all that follows in terms of strengths and weaknesses: the immediacy of the combat system corresponds to a certain repetitiveness,
In this regard, we must also point out a lowering of the general challenge level, which instead represented one of the distinctive marks of both the sad epoch of Setsuna and Lost Sphear: even at the maximum level of difficulty selectable of the three initials we were rarely put to the test, more than anything from some of the bosses. With a view to streamlining the mechanics and opening up to different audiences than the nostalgic Japanese role-playing games that were, however, this choice may seem sensible, although those who were to buy the title in search of the same difficulty as the first two works of the software house could be disappointed.
Oninaki then manages to entertain as long as he does not expect incredible depth and to play it as the developers would have liked, or alternating Daemons as much as possible, even at the expense of comfort and habit: by doing so, one can appreciate the work done on the characterization and on the differentiation of the latter, which otherwise will be wasted. Paradoxically, despite the lack of Italian localization can act as a deterrent, even those who have always kept away from JRPG but appreciate the titles along the lines of Diablo could find satisfaction in the latest effort of the Square Enix internal team.
As often happens with independent productions, or at least mid-level productions like this one, the visual discourse needs to be split up to be better understood: on the one hand the artistic side, on the other the merely technical side. If, with regard to the first, Oninaki deserves a promotion without too many reservations, daughter of a character design that mixes the influences of the first two products of Tokyo RPG Factory with a more pronounced anime style and a brilliant use of a very rich color palette, on the technical side, at least limiting the speech to the Switch version object of this review, there are ups and downs. Among the first we can certainly count the soundtrack, delicate and dreamy, which well underlines the aura of sadness that has always characterized the products of the Japanese software house, the models of the main characters, sufficiently detailed, and, surprisingly, the framerate, maintained almost always stable both during the tests in docked mode and in those in portable mode.
The list of seconds, alas, is a bit more substantial: we were struck by the continuous recycling of some enemy models (in particular the subspecies of penguins present from the first to the second to last area of the game), of consistent loading times, especially with the console unencumbered by TV, environments a bit too bare and a smaller number of secondary missions compared to the average of similar productions, with negative effects on the overall duration. Overall, however, given the size of the team and the scope of the project, which, we recall, cannot even count on a physical edition in European territories, Oninaki manages to pass the exam, provided he is not particularly strict with some of the shortcomings mentioned above. In the eyes of the manga fans among the readers of Spaziogames, after all, the latest effort produced by Square Enix will be able to make up for the technical stumbling blocks with a good quality chara design.
Oninaki had all the credentials to represent the best work of Tokyo RPG Factory so far, and instead, despite being an enjoyable and well structured action role-playing game, it ends up leaving a little bitter taste in the mouth for the many unexpressed potential.
The combat system in itself amuses and gives great freedom of approach, but a watered down level of difficulty and all the same enemies make it drown in repetitiveness, which has always represented the Achilles heel of all the productions that look at Diablo.
Nevertheless, the team at Square Enix proves that it can walk on its legs and have so many good ideas in the cylinder: we only hope that the next time we put them to good use.
Recommended for fans of vintage role-playing games but with some reservations.