Oninaki is a game that frequently sabotages itself
Oninaki has a complex and interesting relationship with death. For the people living in this realm, death is not just accepted, but sometimes even embraced, as they believe that they will be spirited onto their next life upon their passing. But sometimes people don’t just go peacefully into reincarnation. They have unfinished business, lingering desires, or unbearable pain that prevents them from completing the cycle–and if they can’t find relief, they may transform into terrifying monsters called Fallen. That’s where the Watchers come in. They are a group of humans gifted with the ability to cross into the parallel realm of death, and they must both guide lost souls to their next destination and deal with those who have become Fallen.
This concept is undeniably cool, and it’s ripe for storytelling potential about dealing with the inevitability of death and finding peace and acceptance. The beautiful graphics and world design of Oninaki bolster the intrigue of this setting, too; serene fields, plant-filled marshes, elaborate ruins, and craggy mountains have a zen-like quality to them that feels both contemplative and somber, which contrasts starkly with the crowded, anxious mood of the bustling cities, palaces, and other man-made dungeons and structures. When you “cross the veil” to the realm of the dead to search for lost souls, familiar things immediately transform into an eerie miasma of dark shadows and bright neon lights, giving an otherworldly vibe that really makes you feel like you’ve reached a place far beyond the senses of normal humans. The combination of intriguing setting and visuals really does a lot for Oninaki, and it’s one of its strongest elements. This sounds fantastic on paper, but there’s one big problem: Every Daemon you recruit is extremely weak when you first get them. Daemons level up separately from Kagachi, and only gain combat skills–active and passive, offensive and defensive–through a skill tree that unlocks with weapon stones dropped when using that Daemon. When you first get a Daemon, no matter how far along in the game you are, they have next to no skills and no weapon stones, requiring you to grind with their limited skillset to get them to a point where they are maybe, possibly fun and effective to use.
Using a powerful Daemon you’ve been putting a lot into, however, makes combat boring, as you’re encouraged to use the same special attacks over and over in hopes that one of them might randomly gain a permanent special attribute. Boss fights can change things up a bit, and there are some genuinely cool and challenging encounters. However, most of the bosses also soak up damage like crazy. Strategy tends to devolve into using attacks with evasive bonuses and quick recovery until you get enough energy to “Manifest” your Daemon for a huge damage boost, then wailing on them with your biggest attacks until that runs out, repeating until dead and hoping you have enough healing incense to make up for mistakes. Oninaki is a game that frequently sabotages itself. Its beautiful environments and mood are dampened by annoying hordes of samey enemies. Its amazing concept and world design are wasted on a story that’s poorly paced and doesn’t give you an adequate reason to care. Its varied and interesting combat styles get dragged down by the need to grind Daemons and uneven difficulty overall. There’s certainly some beauty to be found in Oninaki’s tragic world, but these flaws make this a circle of life that you can skip over.
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