Oninaki is developer Tokyo RPG Factory's third game. Like I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear before it, Oninaki is fundamentally a role-playing title, but it differs greatly in that it takes more inspiration from Diablo than it does Final Fantasy. This is a dungeon crawling action RPG with randomised loot, expansive character progression, and one heck of a sad story.
Despite its cutesy visual style, Oninaki pulls few punches when it comes to telling what is a surprisingly twisted tale. You see, the game's world hinges on the concept of reincarnation -- its inhabitants firmly believe that death is not the end. However, only those with no regrets can pass over to their next life. If something's holding their soul back, they essentially become wandering ghosts, and if they're stuck in limbo for too long, they manifest as monsters.
This is where main character Kagachi enters the equation. As a Watcher, it's Kagachi's duty to uphold the laws of the cycle. In other words, if a soul is burdened with regrets, it's his job to help out. Fortunately, Watchers have the ability to shift between the living world and limbo whenever they choose, which allows them to commune with the deceased.
For the first few hours of Oninaki, it's business as usual for Kagachi and his fellow Watchers. During this time you're introduced to a number of characters, and the game does a good job of solidifying the world around you. It's a genuinely intriguing opening act, and the release carries this momentum forward as Kagachi and company delve into the horrors that come with a culture that's borderline obsessed with death.
It's not until later on that Oninaki really starts to drag. For as interesting as its world might be, its gameplay just doesn't hold up over the course of this 25 hour adventure. Great dungeon crawlers tend to nail three core gameplay elements: combat, loot, and exploration. The problem with Oninaki is that it fails to fully deliver on any of these aspects, resulting in what all too often feels like a stunted action RPG experience.
For starters, combat is let down by an incredibly limited pool of enemies. From the first dungeon until the last, you'll be fighting the same types of foes over and over again, and to make matters worse, some of them are simply a pain in the arse to engage. Later levels, for example, see narrow corridors house numerous large enemies to the point where you can barely make out what's going on.
The loot that you get for felling these hulking beasts isn't the greatest, either. Progressively better weapons drop as you hack and slash your way through the game, but they never offer up anything new or exciting, just some extra stat boosts. Even finding a big old treasure chest is rarely rewarding -- it's probably just another healing potion.
And then there's the lacklustre exploration. Environments in Oninaki certainly look the part -- again, the game's got a lovely art style -- but aside from hosting scattered groups of enemies, they're just so empty. By the end of Oninaki, heading anywhere that isn't your objective begins to feel like a waste of time, especially when dungeon layouts get more and more complex.
Pretty much the only thing that holds Oninaki together -- aside from its story -- is its character progression system. Throughout Kagachi's quest, you'll encounter 'daemons' -- lost souls who will pledge their service to our hero. In life, many of these daemons were powerful warriors, and so allowing them to possess Kagachi grants him access to their unique abilities.
You can swap between four daemons in battle, each of them bringing their own weapon and fighting style to the fray. Discovering and trying out different daemons is a definite highlight, and developing their skills is rewarding. As they level up, daemons unlock both active and passive abilities, bolstering their unique approach to combat. One daemon might rely on fast attacks and agile dodge rolls, while another wreaks havoc with huge blows that weaken your aggressors. Finding your favourites is fantastic fun.
All in all, Oninaki falls short of being a great action RPG, but it's not without its charms. An intriguing world and story keep things afloat, while an addictive character progression system distracts from repetitive dungeon crawling. This definitely isn't Tokyo RPG Factory's best game, but it is an interesting diversion. With a little more depth, a sequel would be a tempting proposition.