Onigiri, developed by Cyberstep, is an action MMORPG based on Japanese mythological elements that engage players as they travel through the land to stop the evil Youkai. Or something. I was too distracted by the bevy of attractive (and some scantily clad) animated babes to notice. An action MMO in the same vein as Dragon Nest, TERA, and Phantasy Star, Onigiri is replete with the anime motif that most of us will find all too familiar.
Now, let’s be honest with ourselves here; what anime-themed game has had any real success in the western MMO market? I came into the game expecting a disaster; a total trainwreck of monumental proportions that stems not only from the gameplay itself, but also in every other aspect that could be scrutinized by the discerning eye. While I might be infallibly correct in some areas, I’m also wrong at the same time.
Objective Scrutiny: Visuals
Jumping right in, I can tell you that the graphics are god-awful. Being in the second decade of the new millennium, we expect better from developers with each game that goes live. Blocky textures, bad 3D modelling, and repetitive landscapes pockmark what should otherwise be an interesting setting of pseudo-mythical Japan. Every road, dungeon, and general area feel so generic that if it weren’t for the quest markers, you couldn’t make heads or tails of the area you are in, and it is most especially apparent in dungeons where I would hardly be able to tell which direction I came from after a movement-intensive encounter.
The character models aren’t anything special either as they all look like they came from some anime-oriented PS2 game late in the console’s life. However, that may be in part of it being in the mainstream Japanese artstyle, thus hampering what could have been better if they deviated from it just a bit more. But, I digress, they are pretty awful, though the female models look decent enough. Poor male characters, though, as most of them look like they came from bad bishounen, visual kei bands.
There is little to go for in terms of character creation due to the limited amount of customization available. With a few facial differences and hairstyles, expect to be a very generic character in the world of Onigiri, even though you’re the protagonist. Then again, in most anime of recent years, every protagonist looks the same, so I’m not exactly sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Outfits, on the other hand, have a lot of variation with every piece able to be put together to suit your tastes. You can either go for the full set or mix and match what you’d like. Finally, the choice of voices, as limited as they are, is the character creation’s best asset. There aren’t many MMOs that take into account that players might like to hear a better sounding avatar than, let’s say, the heavy grunting and silly death screams of human males in WoW, or the awkward yelping of most High Elves in the Elderscrolls series.
Objective Scrutiny: Combat
There is a certain standard for action MMOs and… I don’t know what that is. What I do know is that it always borders on hack and slash mechanics of old, mashing left and right clicks till your finger breaks through your mouse. Most games add their own unique, but mostly negligible, element to the formula. Onigiri makes no claim to fame for changing the face of action MMOs as we know it, adding but a simple, 4-weapon switching mechanic that adds a bit more depth to repetitive clicking. It’s quite similar to those used in the past by the Phantasy Star series and the Dynasty Warriors series, two franchises that pretty much come to mind when regarding this genre.
Each instance is what you would expect it to be: Get inside a dungeon, clear rooms, kill boss, pick up loot. That’s all there is to it. There are some pretty interesting encounters, like the teleporting, uh, thing pictured above, tossing fireballs in your face that may or may not instantly kill you, but otherwise, at my level of 28, everything is pretty standard.
The combat in Onigiri, on the other hand, being the hallmark of every action MMO, I expected to be at least amazing, but it also falls short with clunky controls and the odd decision to make the 3 to 6 skill hotkeys available to only transfer to the right mouse button rather than being used outright. Aiming is tedious and ineffective if you are melee because the lock-on feature does nothing and the reach of certain melee weapons is hard to judge, though lock-on works quite well with ranged weaponry. Animations are far from excellent, but decent enough to not be an eyesore, though idle combat stances are pretty cool to look at.
There are 8 weapon types in the game that at least make combat interesting, and the 4-weapon switch mechanic makes encounters very enjoyable and entertaining. At first, it just seemed like a gimmick, but after playing through the game further with a friend, it turns out that the 4 weapons are more of a strategic option if you ever chose to utilize it. Skills are not tied to your character, but rather the weapon, and they all have specific cooldowns. The action became far more fast paced when I realized that switching from one weapon to another when skills are on cooldown kept things going, especially in the more frantic boss fights where I just wanted to squeeze out as much burst as possible on a vulnerable target.
Onigiri does have an interesting companion system where you can choose one out of several different companions unlocked through the course of the game to accompany you doing dungeons and quests. Each even has their own influence level that you can raise by giving them gifts, and each level unlocks further story quests centered on that character. It adds more depth to your experience hitting things, though only by a little due to the “tired” mechanic of every companion, forcing you to switch out to another and wait for them to be fully rested in order to summon them again.
For gearing, Onigiri does away with armor, keeping in theme with the anime aesthetic. Players are free to wear whatever clothing they may find or buy (in-game or cash shop), with only the weapons and unseen accessory slots being the main focus of gear progression. Weapons, especially, are the most driven element in gearing because weapon enhancements, smelting, crafting, all mostly require players to have hundreds of trash weapons at their disposal to fuse together. Surprisingly, the weapon upgrading in Onigiri is pretty deep, almost to a Diablo-ish degree.
Subjective Scrutiny: The Story
As I said earlier, Onigiri is a bad game overall, and the plotline doesn’t help it either. It mostly stems from the generic anime storyline and its veritable band of generic anime archetypes. I mean, seriously, its story is such utter piles of smouldering, could-care-less-to-follow drivel that it shouldn’t even be considered a topic for any review of this game. The NPC personalities are those you’d see in every other anime or manga you could ever get your hands on, smothered with anime trope after anime trope (I’ll be with you forever, Onii-chan!) in the unsurprising use of the classic Japanese visual novel story telling. With so many other absolutely weird-ass characters that just make no sense whatsoever, it’s bad. It’s just so bad.
So, what’s all this then? Onigiri is one very honest game. Marketing itself solely as an “MMO set in mythical Japan,” it does not bother to blind us with the false promises of great things it wants to accomplish for the genre, but only as an entertaining, fan-service laden, hack and slash, anime MMO. What you see at face value is what you’ll get. In its own right, it is thoroughly enjoyable if you like all the things I just said. It’s silly and is just so bad that it’s good. And, as an addendum, I don’t particularly like the anime genre for many reasons as a writer, but I can always enjoy a feel-good ride. Not to mention that the upbeat soundtracks compliment the atmosphere and brightness of the entertainment of the game.
You know how a lot of people, like me, enjoy watching bad movies for the sheer fun of it? There are some fan-freaking-tastic B movies that just hit you right on the spot for whatever reason. Whether it be to poke fun at it or just to find a certain fancy for it, these non-AAA titles just tickle us silly. These things make us appreciate them and, hell, even want more of it. Onigiri is one of those things. Onigiri simply has this amazing B-movie charm that you can’t help but be attracted to it. It’s campy, offbeat, and cheery; a rousing game for a good mood.
Playing with friends, you won’t ever find a dull moment. From ogling the very enticing Douji, to ripping on the silly designs of certain characters and bosses, you’ll find some good laughs and just an overall good time. It’s definitely not something you’d want to take seriously like WoW or LoL, but it certainly has its place by being plainly fun. Even Onigiri’s cash shop isn’t any cause for alarm for those of you concerned with such things. They all mostly sell cosmetics, item reversions (in case you break a weapon while smelting), and experience boosts. It doesn’t even take itself seriously enough to try and make bank on those willing to spend their cash for virtual advantages. That’s what I’m talking about.
Onigiri is in the Heart
To sum it all up, Onigiri is not a very good game in comparison to its contemporaries. Dated graphics, clunky combat system, dubious plotline, and incredibly bad interface plague it, making what would have been a great title marketed to the west into a mess of a game. But its charm is undeniably simple, entertaining, and, most importantly, it’s got heart. If you’re looking for innovation, look for that in the most expected MMOs of the future. This isn’t the work of Carlos Bulosan either, so if you are after some poignant pieces on the actions of ordinary man, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a good time with your friends on a lazy afternoon, look no further because Onigiri’s got you.
Purely for its heart and charm.Related: CyberStep, F2P, MMORPG, Onigiri, Review