For some time now I’ve felt burnt out on the JRPG genre. It started with Final Fantasy XIII, and then Tales of games began to lose their luster. Every day I long for a return to the old school games I loved so hard. Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger. Final Fantasy IX and VIII. Sure, I could play them again thanks to remasters or dusting off my sturdy grey PlayStation, but my brain craved a new tale to enjoy. The announcement for Tokyo RPG Factory’s third title, ONINAKI, seemed to check off all the items on my wishlist and I figured now was the time to see what this studio had to offer a gamer such as myself.
Who Watches the Watchers
In a land that believes strongly in the tenets of reincarnation, there exists a group of dedicated men and women whose purpose is to help Lost souls sever their ties to the living world and move onto their next life. Not every soul lingering in the Veil wants to leave; these souls are known as Fallen, turning into monsters to be slain and forced toward their new life. Watchers provide a valuable service to the realm as they maintain the status quo in service of the Sovereign.
ONINAKI is the story of one particular Watcher. At a young age, our hero Kagachi loses both of his parents and is taken in by Veil Watcher Kushi and his family. Reminded that grief and regret are ties that keep the Lost anchored to their world, Kagachi must steel his heart so his parents can be reborn. He gives himself just a moment to cry but is interrupted by an ephemeral girl appearing before him. She knows him, or so she claims. Years later, now a Watcher himself, Kagachi runs into this same young girl in the streets of Deto. With a past she can’t recall, Kagachi offers to help her discover who she is and what it is she needs to accomplish, giving her the name Linne for the necklace she wears.
Together, Kagachi and Linne will traverse the land, both Incarnate and Beyond the Veil, in search of the truth.
Don’t Fear the Reaper
Every JRPG needs a solid battle system. ONINAKI provides its players with an active battle system. Real-time encounters with Fallen appear in both the Living World and The Beyond. These real time battles are a welcome change. There’s nothing like a major break in combat to really ruin the mood, and ONINAKI avoids doing so extremely well.
A Watcher uses warrior souls known as Daemons to fight. Kagachi starts his journey with one such being, Aisha, a swordswoman lending her blade skills to the Watcher. As he and Linne explore the world, other Daemons can be located and join your party, bringing with them new weapons and skills. My personal favorite is Zaav, a spear-wielding soul that lets me abuse his jump function to perform aerial lunges. Each Daemon can slot up to four attack moves and has a special ability mapped to X; for some this is a dash or jump function. The more Fallen you slay, the higher your Manifestation gauge grows, and that’s where you can pull off some pretty damaging blows.
Sight Stealers are a unique enemy in ONINAKI. The manifest in the Living World and in doing so take away a Watcher’s ability to see when they pass through the Veil to the Beyond. You will need to kill them and absorb what they leave behind in order to pass to the other side safely. Trust me. It’s pretty much a guaranteed Game Over to cross into the inky darkness of the Beyond if Kagachi can’t see.
Kagachi can have four Daemons in his party at a time and can easily be swapped in and out of battle using the right stick. If you ever want to change up which Daemons are in the line up, because there are definitely more than four Daemons in this game, just head on over to a Waystone and customize your selection wheel to your liking.
Just how well you do in battle is up to you. Each Daemon you can possess has its own unique skill tree for you to explore. When you defeat enemies they have the chance to drop a Soulstone for that particular Daemon. Hop on over to their sub-menu to spend these stones on passive abilities and new, stronger attacks. Also hidden inside the branches of each skill tree are fragments of the Daemon’s lost memories. Once you’ve unlocked these, head to a Waystone to view them; doing so often opens up further access to their most powerful skills.
If you’re a little short on Soulstones, odds are you may have a Null Stone or two in your inventory that you can use instead. By completing sidequests given by the Lost souls you encounter in the world outside of the main story, you can obtain more. These are not locked to any particular Daemon and can be used freely.
This means if your goal is to max out every skill tree, you’re going to want to rotate your battle partners regularly. I’ve personally found that when adding a new Daemon to my menagerie it’s helpful to travel back to an earlier level and grind for Soulstones. Not only does that nab me some stones, but also lets me get a feel for the new weapon style at my disposal.
Playing with Power
As well as dropping Soulstones, destroying Fallen is a great way to obtain better weapons for your Daemons. But you can make them even more stronger and imbue them with Shadestones (also dropped in battle) to create the ultimate killing implements. To do so, you’ll need to visit the Alchemist next to the second Waystone in Deto. From here you can use extra weapons to strengthen those you wish to use or place Shadstones into weapons with available slots.
Another service the Alchemist provides is Transmutation. Every hundred kills or so, he will have new formulas available to Kagachi. Most of the time these will be for stronger weapons or ones with more Shadestone slots and require offering up other weapons in your possession to craft. Other times he may have Shadestone formulae displayed, which, you guessed it, require trading in other Shadestones to create. I’ve found his services invaluable as Kagachi grows stronger. The more stones I can slot on stronger weapons, the easier it is to fight through hordes of Fallen and survive boss battles. I always seem to be checking in with him, especially when I’m working on powering up my newer Daemons.
No question, ONINAKI has reignited my long extinguished JRPG spark. I’ve actually been looking forward to booting up my PS4 every day to follow Kagachi and Linne’s journey. It’s not a slam dunk game; there is a lot of predictability in the storyline, but even then, I’m compelled to see this through to the very end. There are Daemons I absolutely do not enjoy having in my party but will eventually grind out simply to view all of their lore and max out skill trees. All in pursuit of that feeling of accomplishment for hitting the one hundred percent completion mark, or perhaps in this case, my next Platinum trophy.
ONINAKI review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4 console. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.