|Developer(s)||Tokyo RPG Factory|
|Platform(s)||PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch|
|Release||August 22, 2019|
Oninaki[a] is an action role-playing game developed by Tokyo RPG Factory and published worldwide by parent company Square Enix on August 22, 2019 for PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows and Nintendo Switch. Gameplay has players exploring dungeon areas selected from a world map, fighting enemies in real-time combat with spirit weapons called Daemons while shifting between the living world and the Beyond. Oninaki is in a world where the doctrine of reincarnation is enforced by figures called Watchers, who assist in the passing of souls and fight monsters born of regret. The player controls the Watcher Kagachi as he confronts a shrouded figure called the Night Devil. As his journey continues, Kagachi uncovers hidden truths surrounding the cycle of reincarnation and his own past life.
Concept work began in 2016 during the last stages of Lost Sphear's development. Takashi Tokita, noted for his work on Chrono Trigger, came on board as a creative producer and pushed writer Hirotaka Inaba's story in a darker direction than his earlier work. The gameplay and graphics were also changed, becoming more action-focused and cinematic. The music was composed by Shunsuke Tsuchiya and Mariam Abounnasr of Procyon Studio. The game has received mixed reviews from critics upon release, with praise going to its mature setting and art design, though several criticised its story delivery and gameplay.
Oninaki is an action role-playing game where players take on the role of the Watcher Kagachi, who battles monsters called the Fallen while exploring the game world through two planes; the Living World and the Beyond. Players view environments from an isometric angle, with Kagachi exploring dungeon environments completing both story-based and optional quests. Standard enemies roam the dungeon environments, attacking Kagachi on sight, while many areas end with a boss encounter.
During exploration and combat, Kagachi can find Healing Salves which restore health, upgrade artifacts, and grant new weapons. In the Beyond, the environment shifts, allowing for new routes to open or allowing access to teleport points for travelling between different areas. During combat in the Beyond, Kagachi gives and takes more damage. There are some zones that must be cleared and revealed in the real world, as otherwise Kagachi must navigate a black void and is killed in one hit by enemies. By defeating Fallen, Kagachi earns experience points which raise his basic statistics.
Kagachi battles the Fallen using Daemons, spirits manifesting as weapons. Starting off with a basic sword Daemon, Kagachi gains more Daemons as the story progresses. Each Daemon comes with a different weapon type, such as scythes, axes and spears. Daemons have different weapon-based skills, mapped to four different control buttons, each with a cooldown timer after use. Using a Daemon increases an affinity meter; reaching 100% raises Kagachi's attack power, while going above 150% begins decreasing his defence. When at 100% and above, Kagachi can trigger an empowered state. Using a Daemon in combat earns Soul Stones which unlock that Daemon's skill tree; unlocks include new combat abilities which are equipped to three of the four buttons, stat increases, and small cutscenes related to the Daemon's narrative. Using skills repeatedly unlocks bonuses for that attack. New weapons found during exploration and combat can be equipped to Daemons, with these weapons having slots for upgrade gems, which increase weapons stats.
Kagachi is a Watcher, a person charged with defending the Cycle of Reincarnation, killing monsters formed from regret with spirit weapons called Daemons and helping spirits pass into their next life by any means necessary. He works closely with his adopted father Kushi and his daughter Mayura, operation from the world's one city Szaka. In the aftermath of a mission against a cult rebelling against the Cycle of Reincarnation, Kagachi meets a spirit girl he called Linne. Linne is being hunted by the Night Devil, a powerful spirit who hounds Kagachi and gives aid to the cult in undermining the current monarch Lobelia. Lobelia and her son Leo instruct the Watchers to focus on destroying the cult over their other duties, causing friction within the Watchers. During one mission against the cult, Mayura is killed and Kagachi helps free her spirit. The Night Devil confronts Kagachi several times, possessing Watchers with his hatred and eventually using Kushi as his host.
Kushi incites a rebellion, with the people demanding spiritual equality with the elite surrounding Lobelia. Kagachi tries to reason with the mob, but they attack and force him to kill them. As Kagachi confronts Lobelia, Kushi appears and reveals that Lobelia usurped the throne after having the last true sovereign executed. Kushi attacks, but Leo protects Lobelia at the cost of his life. Kagachi then defeats Kushi, learning as he dies that the Night Devil is a Daemon filled with hatred that wants to end the world. Lobelia further reveals that the true sovereign was key to preserving the world, and a terrible force has been preparing itself since she ended the bloodline. Kagachi finds the Night Devil, learning along the way that he is a fragment of his previous incarnation Soju, banished brother of the true sovereign. After defeating the Night Devil and absorbing him, Kagachi kills himself. Linne, transforming into an adult form, prays for Kagachi to make a new future as a monster emerges from underground to destroy the world.
Awakening as Soju in the past, Kagachi pieces together his history; raised by an assassin's guild, Soju acted as a precursor to the Watchers as he carried out the last wishes of lingering spirits. After one such mission, he was killed. Meeting Sara, he realises that "Linne" was her spirit. Sara explains that the sovereign must keep the Oni, a manifestation of the despair humans discard during reincarnation, from awakening; the monster seen awakening in Kagachi's last life was the Oni. They go to the First Pillar, an ancient magical landmark, and view murals of humans defeating the Oni and Sara's ancestress establishing Szaka, with the Oni sleeping under it. Journeying into the palace and entering the pool of despair at its heart, Kagachi experiences the hopes of those who fought the Oni in ancient times as he escapes; during this time he sees Szaka, called here the Wailing Land where the Oni sleeps.
The Oni is revealed to have created the Cycle of Reincarnation to nourish itself with despair, heralded and nurtured by a human avatar called the Oni Priestess; with each awakening and defeat, the Oni destroyed a little more of the world, until only a portion of it remains. Its next awakening will destroy the world, also leading to the Oni's demise without humans to feed it. Kagachi confronts Sara, the current Oni Priestess, and she asks him to decide the world's fate. Kagachi can choose to accept the Oni's awakening and the world's end, or fight Sara. Defeating Sara, he then destroys the awakened Oni. Kagachi then chooses to either kill himself or watch over the world from the Beyond.
Discussions and concept work for Oninaki began in 2017, during the last stages of development for Lost Sphear. Oninaki was the last of three titles conceptually planned by Tokyo RPG Factory when it was founded to work on I Am Setsuna (2016). The basic plan was for a game built on the resources of the previous two games. A notable addition to the staff was Takashi Tokita, who had gained fame for his work on Chrono Trigger, Live A Live and Parasite Eve. Having previously provided creative input for the battle systems of its earlier titles, Tokita decided that this time he wanted a deeper creative role. Tokita was a general overseer for the project as creative producer, as well as helping create the basic world view and scenario. Main producer Ryutaro Sasaki, who previously had a supporting role in the company's earlier titles, supervised the gameplay and technical side of production. Atsushi Hashimoto returned as director from Lost Sphear and I Am Setsuna, as did scenario writer Hirotaka Inaba. The music was composed and arranged by Shunsuke Tsuchiya and Mariam Abounnasr of Procyon Studio. Both Tsuchiya and Abounnasr were notable for their work on Another Eden.
Tokita's aim for the narrative was to return to his long-held principles of using games to tell a narrative only games could tell, as well as pushing narrative boundaries in terms of theme and tone. One of the things Tokita pushed for was breaking away from the convention that Square Enix role-playing games had to fit within a certain age range. While Inaba was worried, Tokita encouraged him to include far more mature or disturbing content than either Lost Sphear or I Am Setsuna. The game's main motif was life and death, drawing inspiration from many Eastern philosophies that incorporated the concept of reincarnation. The team wanted players to see the story and revisit their own views on the subject. The team crafted the narrative so it would disturb people who experienced it. While the story was dark, the team wanted players to feel rather than see it, so there was no gore or graphic violence and many of the "shocking" moments are implied rather than shown. In the event, the team had to "self-censor" the narrative so the age rating in Japan would not be too high. The Daemons' backstories helped communicate the narrative's somber tone. The world's faith and its related imagery drew from real-world rituals for the dead such as the Bon Festival. Following the globe-spanning adventure of Lost Sphear, Inaba wanted to write a story on a small scale similar to Vagrant Story.
Its earliest concepts included the continue use of the turn-based system, with Kagachi fighting alone to protect the young Linne. Tokita wanted the studio's games pushing for reinvention, something he compared to the drastic gameplay changes between Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II, which later led to the SaGa series. There was internal opposition to the change at first, but Hashimoto brought the staff round to the idea. Hashimoto was also exhausted with the turn-based system. Hashimoto wanted the ability for Kagachi to switch jobs, then for jobs to switch in real-time, which contributed to the shift from turn-based to action-based gameplay. The shift between the real world and the Beyond started as a joke about moving between the worlds of I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear, but eventually became one of the founding elements of Oninaki. The game's dualistic story themes were derived from this style of shifting gameplay. Sasaki was initially aiming for a 20-hour experience, but Tokita pushed for a longer campaign, so it was eventually extended to past 30 hours. The Daemon system, compared by Hashimoto to the job system of Final Fantasy V, was designed so players would not end up hitting roadblocks because some boss enemies were weak to job types the player had not focused on. A notable Daemon cut during development was a human-monster hybrid who used tarot cards in combat. The weapon drop system was inspired by item drops in Kid Icarus: Uprising, a game on which Hashimoto worked. An important element was keeping the gameplay accessible to casual players.
While earlier Tokyo RPG Studio titles had used their graphics to evoke nostalgia, the team opted to use those same graphics to create an original worldview. The artistic style of the game blended Western photorealism with a stylised appearance drawn from traditional Japanese paintings. The character designs and key visuals were drawn by Japanese artist Taiki. Hashimoto credited Taiki's designs with reinforcing the unique art style of the world. A number of other artists contributed to the project. Background designer Oga Takeshi drew from several Eastern cities when creating Ehir Palace and the world's capital Szaka. Several monuments drew specifically from Buddhist and Shinto shrine designs. The game's monsters, designed by Morinaga Koji, were based on the concept of them once being normal humans. One design was based on a recurring monster type used in previous Tokyo RPG Factory games. The Japanese calligraphic logo was designed by Tomonori Kogawa, noted for his work on Space Runaway Ideon and Aura Battler Dunbine. Tokita asked for Kogawa based on his skill at brushwork. Kogawa was surprised by the request, but agreed to design the logo. While he was asked to write out words, the final product was compared by Tokita to a full illustration. Since its foundation, Tokyo RPG Factory had drawn inspiration from the Japanese phrase Setsugekka (Snow Moon Flowers) when choosing the visual themes for each planned game; I Am Setsuna used snow, Lost Sphear used the moon, and for Oninaki the team used flowers as the main visual motif.
The game was first announced in February 2019 for a summer release the same year for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows through Steam. The date was eventually announced as August 22; the date was first confirmed for Japan, then as its worldwide release. It was principally released as a digital exclusive, with the Japanese edition coming with several store-exclusive pre-order bonuses. A limited physical release for Switch and PS4 was also produced as a Square Enix store exclusive. While it received a CERO B rating in Japan due to a lack of bloody violence, other regions gave it higher ratings due to its dark themes and storyline.
A linguistic feature was the combination of kanji, hiragana and katakana characters within terminology, with katakana sounds being equivalent to hiragana counterparts. This stemmed from an early concept for the Watchers, "Guardian of the Departed", which the team put together using the different scripts. This was met with a positive response, and as writing it entirely in kanji would be difficult and less interesting, the multi-script style was kept in the final product. The game's Japanese title, Oni no Naku Kuni, came about during early discussions about potential titles. A key influence was the concept of "demon", which was present from an early stage. Once the concept and title were decided, the scenario writing proceeded quickly. Its title translates directly from Japanese as "Country Where the Ogre Cries". Kagachi's name had several meanings; the word is an alternative word for the Hozuki flower used during the Bon Festival, a homonym for "snake" which is a common symbol of reincarnation, and when written a certain way included the character for "Oni". All of these tied into the game's themes.
The simultaneous release was challenging for the team, creating a pressure that Tokita compared to the hardware limitations he had to face when Chrono Trigger and Parasite Eve were being developed. The script was localised by Alexander O. Smith and a team from his translation company Kajiya Productions. Many of the localized terms were chosen as they were the closest English parallel to the concepts, although staff felt the Japanese names may have given different impressions when directly translated. The marketing staff thought the Japanese title Oni no Naku Kuni would be too long and complex for many Western players to remember. Giving themselves a four-syllable limit, the team created the title Oninaki.
A demo of the game, featuring the opening hour of its story and a mid-game dungeon area, was released in July. Players could carry over their saved story progress into the main game. While the demo was released too close to release for any substantial changes, the team did make minor adjustments based on feedback from players. These included control fixes and toning down Kagachi's vocalizations during attacks.
A complete guide was released alongside the game in Japan, including full walkthrough instructions and a short story written by Inaba which retold the game's events from the perspective of side characters. This was planned for the main scenario, but clashed with the narrative flow and so was reworked in a written story. A soundtrack album was released on September 11 in Japan, published by Square Enix's music label.
Reviewers for Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu were generally positive, with their main complaints being complex terminology, stiff character movement, and inventory limitations. Eurogamer's Malindy Hetfeld found several concepts worth exploring, but said the game "comes across as loveless" due to other areas appearing lackluster in execution. Joe Juba, writing for Game Informer, enjoyed playing through Oninaki while citing several elements that undermined the experience for him. T.J. Hafer of IGN called Oninaki a "a gorgeous, distinctive, entertaining RPG", with his only negative views being on combat pace and the story delivery.
Heidi Kemps of GameSpot was particularly negative, focusing on the slow pace and clunky mechanics in the gameplay and a lack of energy in the narrative. By contrast, Nintendo World Report's Jordan Rudek gave it a positive review, praising the developers for their efforts and lauding its themes and mechanics despite disliking the ending and noting pacing issues. Mitch Vogel, writing for Nintendo Life, shared several opinions with Hafer and citing Oninaki as a sigh of Tokyo RPG Factory's maturation in game design and quality. RPGFan's Alana Hagues was disappointed with the game overall due to its gameplay shortfalls and narrative, a feeling magnified by her wish to enjoy her time.
Journalists generally agreed that the game's dark setting and theme of how people coped with death was intriguing, but faulted the writing as either long-winded or poor. The gameplay met with a mixed response; some praised it, others found it boring, but a common complaint was a lack of variety over the course of the game. The Daemon system and its customization were praised, but many felt it lacked depth and several Daemons were underwhelming. The graphics and music, despite a few critics citing a lack of variety in the former and sparce use for the latter, were generally praised as strong points. A general consensus was that the game features strong ideas, but suffered from poor execution and a lack of polish.
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