by Peter Fobian
Onigiri is the newest MMORPG on the scene, released by CyberStep. This player-focused MMO tells the story of you, one of a race of Oni in Feudal Japan. After being sealed away, powerful demons known as “Kamigui” may have returned to the world. You and a small group of humans and oni must band together to investigate the sightings of these monsters and find a way to banish them once again.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the game is definitely the art. The enemy models and the splash illustrations of bosses are reminiscent of Okami in a cartoonish Ukiyo-e style. Monsters are bizarre, inspired by Shinto mythology and twisted into an eerie childrens'-book illustration made three dimensional.
Probably the first thing that struck me about Onigiri was that it played more like a 3D action game than an MMORPG. Fighting is comprised of mixing in quick attack combinations and hard hitting techniques with responsive guarding and dodging. Although many MMOs are adopting more dynamic combat systems, Onigiri really feels more like a title like God of War or Drakengard. Also unlike most MMOs, there are no set races or classes to choose from. After choosing your gender and appearance, you simply set a starting stat spread. Afterward what you end up specializing in is entirely up to you. Each level you get points which you can spread among your attributes and which lend themselves to using different weapons.
Weapons are probably the biggest factor to determine your style of play. Each weapon type has a set basic combo, and each specific weapon has a number of unique techniques which run as something of a lottery system, with rare weapons having stronger or higher level techniques. You can then level up the techniques with repeated use, allowing you to develop greater ability with certain weapons organically by using them in combat.
Another familiar feature carried over from 3D action games is dynamic weapon switching. Onigiri allows you to rapidly cycle through 4 different equipped weapons. This serves two purposes. First, the variety of weapons the game can be useful in different scenarios, giant sweeping weapons for groups of small monsters and bows for enemies you would prefer to attack at range, etc. Second, your weapons do take damage with use, so you can switch weapons out before they break after prolonged dungeon crawls.
Weapons are a common drop in all areas of the game. When you pick them up you get a small indication of their likely quality by their metallic rating (bronze, silver, gold) and can later have one of your friends identify them. From there, you can upgrade your favored weapons by combining less desirable weapons into them as part of an upgrade system. What seems simple on the surface turns out to be quite complex as you have to take into consideration the weapons type, base stats, and the advanced techniques it allows you to use.
One of the more unique features of Onigiri is its partner system. As you progress through the main storyline, you meet a large number of characters who join your party. You have your choice among these characters to team up and have them follow you through the main map and dungeons to support you in combat. Among the item drops in the game are a number of gifts you can give to different members of your group to increase their stats, allowing you to buff the members you prefer fighting with.
Dungeons have a unique feature which increase replayability. Each dungeon has multiple levels of difficulty and your performance after clearing them is graded on a letter scale. After running the dungeon the first time, you can always return to try it again on a harder difficulty or to beat your high score. In this way the game is very easy to pick up a put back down again. You can devote a great deal of time pursuing the main story and completing quests or just make a short dungeon run if you have 10 minutes to burn.
All-in-all, Onigiri is an extremely versatile game that really lets you play it however you most enjoy. The structure of the game accomodates hardcore grinding as well as casual play and rewards the player with power and accolades in equal proportion. The variety of weapon choices facilitate a number of combative styles which can be switched depending upon the situation or just your mood. CyberStep took the best features from several genres and developed a very solid title.
+ Free to play
+ Game structure good for playing a 5 minute session or a 5 hour marathon
+ Good replayability with dungeon scoring feature
+ Lots of weapon equipment diversity allows for a deep customization
+/- Lean design provides simple graphics but runs smooth with minimal resources
- Sparse control customization