Developer: Omocat LLC
What’s the background?
OMORI is an indie RPG based on a web-comic series by artist Omocat. The game was funded through Kickstarter and developed over the course of six and a half years using the popular RPG Maker game engine. Its release in December 2020 snuck up on a lot of people, given its long-gestating development period and unassuming visuals and premise. However it’s since attracted a cult following due to a mix of quirky, colourful characters and a looming dark tone which leads to thrilling detours into psychological horror.
What’s up with the graphics?
Well it’s an RPG Maker game so the core game is presented as a tile based, 16-bit inspired pixel-art adventure as you control your character around the environments. It draws comparison to another indie RPG hit of Undertale in that regard. Though the pixel art is well drawn and environments make great use of pastel colours. However, the primary visual attraction is the hand drawn style. Whenever you battle enemies the art-style switches to be hand-drawn. It’s quite cutesy, until the game decides to flip the switch and go horror. It's quite unlike much else in the game market right now. While the whole game adopting this hand-drawn style would make for a more uniform experience, that’s a big ask for an indie studio and what they pulled off here is very impressive regardless. The character designs are memorable and there’s sometimes blending of different art-styles to heighten some of the horror.
How’s the plot?
It’s definitely a primary attraction here. I would say the less you know the better going in, as the seemingly innocuous and child-like tone clashes with glimpses of horror effectively. Be prepared for the game to go to some dark places that’ll stay in your thoughts. The core cast of characters are well written, each of them are likeable and distinct. There’s also some interesting instances of game mechanics being used to tell or progress the game’s story. This is often an exciting use of the medium and a good title to prove that videogames can tell a story in unique and interesting ways, compared to say a book or film.
However the pacing will not be for everyone. Some people will dislike how hand-holdy and dialogue heavy the first few hours are, others will find the middle portion of the game too long as it’s banking on you being drawn into the quirky world and characters. A lot of the plot is withheld and shrouded in mystery until the final act of the game, which means if you go in wanting mainly horror over a quirky RPG adventure, you likely might feel this is wasting your time a bit. Personally I got sucked into the child-like wonder of the world of OMORI and the harsh dual narrative switch to a different more dark and real world. Moments where the psychological horror elements slip in feel rewarding and not just there for the sake of scares but instead to further character development and world building. I think it’s definitely worthwhile, but given the length of the game at 20 hours or so, it’s a commitment not everyone will be on board for.
What’s the gameplay like?
Very inspired by classic Japanese RPG’s like Dragon Quest and especially Nintendo’s cult classic title: Earthbound. It’s a fairly standard turn based affair, though it employs an unique emotion system which works like a rock-paper-scissors meta-game in which you're able to control the emotions of both your party and the enemy, while the enemy can do the same thing. It’s a fun system but overall it leaves a bit to be desired given how long the game is and how it isn’t really switched up too much. If it was expanded on more, it would leave it feeling less shallow and encourage battles to be more thought provoking. As far as the rest of the game outside of battling, it’s standard RPG exploration and talking to wacky characters. Though interspersed with horror moments where you go through dark scenarios that focus more on visuals and storytelling through environmental exploration.
How much value for money is there?
I was really surprised at how long this game ended up being. I’d say that ignoring side quests the game still approaches 20 hours. My play through included some side quests, but ended at around 20 hours, which at an asking price of £15.49 you can’t really go wrong with, as long as you feel like it’s your sort of game. There’s also multiple endings, though unless you love the combat and don’t mind doing a lot of the exploration and dialogue focused parts of the game again, I wouldn’t think many people would dive right back into this one after finishing.
Any other highlights?
The way OMORI tackles the themes of depression, guilt, loneliness and so on, is to be applauded. It takes a “show don’t tell” approach to storytelling that provides smart foreshadowing and intriguing subtextual elements. Considering the limitations of the RPG Maker engine, the fact that an ominous mood is able to be conjured up is also great. Another great highlight is that there’s actually a lot of heart put into every little character who may only have one line of dialogue. It makes the areas you visit feel rich with personality and it’s rare in an RPG that I’d be interested in seeing what every NPC has to say.
Sum it up!
OMORI’s is an interesting mix of cutesy RPG adventuring with a more mature and darker side that rears its head to show that there's something scary hiding under all the pastel coloured pixels. While its pacing will lead to uneven play sessions, often too heavily relying on seemingly frivolous RPG battling and dungeon crawling or story-heavy, darker exploration segments, generally the mix is one that keeps you on your toes. It’s got a great story, a wonderful set of characters, an imaginative world to explore and the darker underside is frightening and has some great uses of subtext that could only be pulled off in a video game.
Well thought out storytelling tackling some tough subjects
Great art-style, both in the pastel pixel art and hand drawn battle screens
Fun world to explore, lots of funny (and scary) characters to encounter
Great value, around 20 hours to complete without taking into account side content
What's not so good!
Pacing is definitely uneven
Battle system could have been deeper and more rewarding