Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Onigiri (PS4)

Today I took the time to try out CyberStep's free-to-play Japanese/Anime MMORPG "Onigiri", and was pleasantly surprised at what I found when I dedicated some time in figuring it out. Beyond the initial setup that required an email and password, and further beyond the Tecmo Koei inspired character customization menu I entered perhaps one of the more oddly beautiful gaming experiences I've had the privilege of playing this year. While the graphics do look like something ripped straight from the PS2 era, and are outdated for being on a console like the PS4 the world in which you play, and the mythological creatures you encounter in battle more than make up for the more poorly applied design elements. It truly is a Japanese inspired role-playing experience in every way imaginable. Even the soundtrack screams "Japan!". As a matter of fact a couple of Japan's own flagship games, and gaming series come to mind when I think of "Onigiri". Digging deep beyond the facade, and into the skeletal structure of the game that is, "Onigiri" I find that it reminds me a lot of the quest oriented N64 "The Legend of Zelda" games as well as the hack 'n slash centric "Toukiden: Kiwami" games that were recently released on the PS Vita, and PS4 consoles. Unfortunately everything that makes this free-to-play experience a gem could fall short of impressing the American audience it's aiming to captivate for the simple fact that it's not explained nearly well enough.

By the time you've sorted out the account setup details, and have created your hero, or heroine you will be thrust head first into a mystical world that's not easily understood. Control diagrams will be shown in big panels on the screen in an attempt to get you to understand the basics of combat, character movement, and control functions. Beyond that you are pretty much on your on in exploring the main community hub which comes in the guise of an ancient yet modern Japanese village. The first thing you need to understand once you reach this point is that the game is choppy, and sluggish for a reason. It seems that the "Channel" setting which is initially set to '6 (Japan's?)' is not where you want it to be here in the United States. Immediately go into the 'Settings" menu, access the "Channel" option, and change it to "1". This will improve the choppy frame rate issues caused by the over-population of previous Japanese players (Yes, 'Onigiri' came out in Japan first) significantly. Once you've got that squared away you may, or may not understand what it is you need to do next.

Supposing you don't comprehend what needs to be done in order to advance I'll explain it to you as best as I can. In 'Onigiri' your initial goals will be to do the main quests that tie-in with getting to know the in-game mechanics a little better. This will require conversations with the correct persons of interest who are each highlighted with a gold exclamation mark above their head. Once you've talked to these characters (supposing they are main quest holders) a golden directional arrow will appear on the floor directing you where you need to go next. These characters which you accept quests from will ask specific things of you in exchange for currency payouts, and rewards. It is imperative that you pay close attention to the dialogue lest you become lost like Alice when she followed the white rabbit down the rabbit's hole.

When you've squared away all of the main quests, or even during the course of initiating the main quests you can take on additional sub-quests which are given by characters who also have the gold exclamation marks above their heads. The difference in these character types is that once the quest they are offering is accepted by you the directional arrows that apply to them will be shown in blue, and bronze colors accordingly. The blue arrows signify the directions in which the sub-quest objective points are, and the bronze colored arrows are pointing in the direction you need to head to in order to complete a given sub-quest request. Knowing this will ease up the confusion somewhat.

When it comes to the battlefields, or enemy inclusive areas you'll often times find that the portals which you must pass through to get there will give you an option of various difficulty settings. It's best to go with battle areas that are equivalent in ranking to your customized character. Of course the more you level up the better equipped you'll be to handle the harder to clear areas. Clearing an area mostly consists of defeating the enemies, and bosses therein. Once completed you'll be given an alphabetical rating, and rewarded experience points accordingly. The completion rating system is a lot like that of a Sega game in that 'E' is the poorest, and 'SS' one of the highest ratings you can get. As you clear out the enemies through hack 'n slash, projectile, or magic means you'll also find item drops in the form of weapons, gear, creature cards, and currency. Picking up the items requires a pressing of the "CIRCLE" button.

As far as combat goes you can switch weapons on the go via "Up & Down" on the Dpad as well as switch the skills that tie-in with each weapon using the same DPad method. Slashing, or shooting on the other hand is done with the 'R1' button while skills are tied to the 'L1' button. Consumables which have varying effects can be consumed using the 'Left & Right' buttons on the Dpad followed by a pressing of "SQUARE". As far as blocking is concerned pressing in 'L3 (the Left Thumbstick)' will cause the controlled character to block supposing they have a bladed, or blunted weapon in hand. When pressing 'L3' with a staff type weapon it'll build up SP which powers the spells that fire forth from said staff. Other useful mechanics include an evasive roll which requires a quick flick, and release of the 'L3' thumbstick in opposite directions. You can also lock onto targets if you get them in the crosshairs making them easier to deal damage to. For those of you who find this control scheme odd you can switch to control option "B" via the "Touch Pad" menu under the 'Settings' listing.

When it comes to the weapons in the game they will wear down with use, so using repair items, or going to the right support character for repair after battles is necessary. The catch is that the repairs cost in-game currency. As far as weapon types go they come in different rarities (bronze, copper, silver, gold), and each have specific stats, and skills associated with them. Using Lady Shizuka's 'Identify" services will allow you to find out a weapon's, accessory's, or item's name so that it can be equipped. In a way it's sort of like the rare items that you can find, and automatically identify in "Diablo 3". Aside from being able to identify newly gained weapons, and items Lady Shizuka can also double as your sidekick, or partner within the game's many battles. Sadly once her health is depleted though she will disappear, and leave you by your lonesome to deal with the threats before you. From what I gather Lady Shizuka can be damaged by attacks dealt by you, so do be aware when she's trying to assist you with a kill. As far as controlling her goes she's more of an automated assistant, and cannot be controlled directly.

Story-wise 'Onigiri' does have a central theme, or story, and it's one that seems to be similar to that of "Toukiden Kiwami". Basically Princess, or rather 'Lady Shizuka' is Edo's Shogunate's daughter, and is out to aid in the elimination of demons known as the "Kamikui". She joins you early on as a partner, and sticks by your side in your many quests afterwards that relate to the defeat of specific Kamikui threats. The battles, which include Lady Shizuka as your personal assitant take place much like they would in "Toukiden Kiwami" in that you'll be going through portals to specific areas to deal with lesser Kamikui, and larger Kamikui boss creatures. Once an area is cleared the barrier between that area, and the next will lift gaining you access to the next area of enemies. Eventually you'll meet a boss, fight said boss, and upon defeating it will exit through an exit portal that will take you back to the community hub, or the enemy populated crossroads that will get you back there.

Quests surrounding the Kamikui do vary, but for the most part you'll simply be slaying a certain number of a certain type of enemy after which you'll return to the quest provider for your rewards. Where the layers of gameplay come in is mainly through character customization though. By talking to certain vendors you can obtain new weapons, new accessories, and even new character customization options that are tied-in with the initial character customization menu system. That, and the friendship building gift system will have you grinding through the game while spending hours on it, so you can experience something new. The friendship gifting, as it were ties-in with all main NPC (Non-Playable Characters), and with obtained/gifted friendship items like paperbacks, or toy kits you can earn perks that will help you in various ways.

So ... That is what I've learned thus far. I hope it helps you to better understand the game, and that you might actually give it a chance. Knowing what I know now I feel it's a game worth investing in even if it is sub-standard in comparison to new-gen video games. Had I not figured out the significance of the channel setting I might have thought otherwise though. For those of you worried about the micro-transaction based currency system I haven't seen anything yet that demands us buying the extra PSN store currency for necessary items. I imagine it's mostly cosmetic features, and things that might gain you access to better weapons. What you have to understand though is that this is a single player game, so the fairness factor is not an issue at all.

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