It can be a lot of fun beating up mean ghosts while possessed by helpful ghosts to eventually free wayward ghosts from their earthly attachments, as I discovered in Oninaki’s stylish action RPG world. Some of the basics of combat feel a bit too clunky and repetitive for it to ascend all the way to the heavens, but the mature storytelling, captivating art, and excellent music had me wanting to stick around like an unfulfilled spectre.
While Oninaki’s art style comes across as almost childlike, it works in service of a story that explores lots of deep, dark questions about death, uncertainty, and how we cope with those things. You play as a Watcher, a sort of morally ambiguous ghost cop responsible for making sure departed souls re-enter the cycle of reincarnation rather than hanging around as shadows of their former selves in the spirit world. Sometimes this means going as far as executing someone who can’t let go of the deceased so they can both be at peace, setting a clear tone early on that your journey is going to take you to some disturbing, thought-provoking places.
The way that story is told is fairly linear and typical for a JRPG, with too much talking and not enough showing at times. The earlier missions carry an undercurrent of a coherent plot, but largely come across as a series of disjointed anecdotes without much flow between them or relation to a larger, ongoing quest. One of the highlights was getting to discover the buried memories of each of my Daemons – restless spirits who possess willing Watchers to enhance their combat abilities. Every Daemon was someone troubled in life with a secret reason for sticking around as a ghost, and I enjoyed getting to know them little by little as I leveled them up.
Daemons aren’t just there to add to the story, though. Each one also gives you a completely new playstyle to experiment with. Aisha, your first Daemon, is a katana master focused on fast strikes and great mobility. Zaav is a heavily-armored knight with a far-reaching lance and strong defensive abilities. Since each one changes everything from your movement to your basic attack capabilities, they are like playing a totally different class or character. Switching out on the fly brings some needed variety to the combat, though I often found I would mostly level one Daemon up and use them the vast majority of the time. There weren’t a lot of places where I felt like I really needed to pick the right fighting style for the task at hand, as opposed to the one I was most comfortable with.
There’s quite a bit of customizability with each Daemon, as well. They all possess extensive skill trees and can be equipped with up to three secondary skills, from ranged energy blasts to deadly cross-slashes. Add in the fact that each of these abilities can be upgraded with modifiers like doing more damage or generating more Affinity – a resource that lets you be fully possessed by your Daemon and go into a Super Saiyan-like mode for a limited time – and there are more combinations than I even had time to try. And that’s without getting into the straightforward but satisfying gear system that features upgrading weapons and modifying their properties by slotting in relics called Shadestones. When it comes to character customization, Oninaki doesn’t slouch.
Despite all of this, I found the combat to be a little bit unwieldy and repetitive at times. The further into the game I got, the less pronounced this was, with increasing enemy diversity and unlocking new Daemons and abilities. But it never fully went away. Certain abilities, like the movement powers that are vital for avoiding strong attacks, never quite felt responsive enough. A lot of targeted strikes like Aisha’s Tranquil Mind, seemed to miss about half the time on smaller enemies even if it looked like I lined it up right. Using the right stick to aim often over-corrects for tiny nudges instead of actually pointing in the direction I’m pushing. I just got a lingering sense every time I was in combat that there were a few screws that needed some tightening for everything to feel as satisfying as it should.
The graphics and the music don’t need any such tweaking, though. The characters, enemies, and environments are colorful but muted, supporting the feeling of traveling through a fairy tale land with lots of hidden pain and sadness lingering just below the surface. Somber mood pieces effectively accentuate many heartbreaking story moments that I didn’t see coming. And the boss music, which is energetic and woven with Celtic flair, is downright excellent.
The bosses themselves are well-designed, challenging fights that could have really shined in a game with slightly tighter combat. Each is larger-than-life, ready to demolish you with fluid, impactful animations and plenty of tricks up their sleeves to keep you on your toes. Some of the normal enemies, especially later on, show a bit of this cunning. But just as often, I’d see a small group of them standing around doing nothing as if their AI had bugged out or something, even after being attacked.