Clearly, this is not operating on the rules of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.
It took less than a half hour of the Oninaki demo before my roommate asked me if I was going to be able to play it.
I had just finished the opening mission of the demo now on the eShop, and the title card had just hit. My character, Kagachi, was working with a fellow Watcher to help a young boy cross over to the afterlife. In the world of Oninaki, the dead can reincarnate, but only if there’s nothing holding them back in the world of the living or else they become monsters. In this case, the person we were trying to help was a young boy whose parents were still grieving. While his colleague was attempting to help the parents move on in a more psychological way, Kagachi decided to cut the knot of despair and strike down the parents as well.
I’ve been getting treatment off and on for depression for the better part of this decade, and there’s only been one game I’ve had to put down in that time. That game is Persona 3 Portable, which involves summoning demons by pulling out a gun, sticking it to your head, and pulling the trigger (How is Persona 3 only rated for 17+?). It’s never a good sign when I have to bring up that comparison.
I had the chance to speak with some of the developers of the game from Square’s Tokyo RPG Factory studio at E3, though the eShop demo is the first time I actually played the game. Two things that I was told were that Tokyo RPG Factory was experimenting with different genres after their first two games were turn-based affairs, and that they were trying to avoid direct comparisons to past Square Enix games. On the first point, they definitely succeeded. Oninaki eschews prior Tokyo RPG Factory battle systems in favor of pure action, though there are elements that could be construed as similar to Secret of Mana. Chief among them is that the Watcher teams up with Daemons (one of the two paths of lost souls) to battle, with a benefit to hitting 100% on a meter in the form of additional damage and defense. The second point may draw comparisons to the 2010 Nier games or Final Fantasy X in terms of how in-universe death is handled, but Oninaki may be darker than any of those titles.
Another point brought up at E3 was that the game would have a loot system, with director Atsushi Hashimoto citing Kid Icarus Uprising specifically as an inspiration with its weapon drop system (Hashimoto was one of the planners of KIU and also worked on Final Fantasy Explorers.) The demo didn’t have a lot of drop variety, but it specifically warns that this will be limited in the demo, with progress carrying over to the released game if you choose. Among the loot were more Healing Incense than I needed, additional Daemons from boss monsters, and Soul Stones. These stones are used to unlock new abilities for the Daemons, as well as additional background on them by way of unlocking the memories of their past life. Bringing these memories back will have some impact in the final game, but for now I’m not really sure why it’s relevant that I have two-star affinity with one Daemon over another. If/when I play the final game, it seems like these memories will go a long way to explaining the background of this world.
The promotion of Oninaki has leaned into the ability to travel between the worlds of the living and the dead. While true, this mostly manifests early on in a darker view of the areas, and giving/receiving more damage from the enemies. The part that I found the most irritating with the world traversal is that depending on where you make the jump, you can end up in an area that is totally blacked out. The mini-map doesn’t show anything around unless you can move Kagachi to a save point to open the map, and if you hit an enemy along the way you die instantly. Sadly, one of these sequences was mandatory to proceed, so I can only hope the final game minimizes these areas as much as possible.
If you can handle the protagonist’s brutality in the early going, the third Tokyo RPG Factory game is definitely the charm. I think I’ve seen too much, but that’s my own personality—if you’re on the fence, grab the demo and see if you’re up for being a Watcher.
Oninaki releases on Switch August 22.