It’s been a long journey for Omori — the first video game from OMOCAT — on its way to the land of Nintendo. After a successful Kickstarter campaign all the way back in 2014, the game was originally slated for release on the 3DS, though this was later cancelled as development wore on and Nintendo’s old handheld fell out of favor. After numerous production issues — including a complete engine change and total overhaul of the visual style — Omori has finally arrived on the Switch and we’re happy to report that it was well worth the wait.
The narrative of Omori is by far the biggest draw of the experience, but it’s also the sort of thing that is difficult to discuss too much without giving away critical elements. You play the titular role of Omori, a young, colorless boy who lives in a blank, infinite hellscape called White Space. Sometimes there’s a door in White Space, and if you go through this door, you can visit a strange, dreamlike world where you can play with and go on adventures with your gaggle of close friends.
Suffice it to say, this is very much a narrative defined by juxtaposition and contrast. The clear inspiration from Nintendo’s EarthBound is evident in how Omori matches its oddness and quirky humor — such as an early quest where a space pirate named “Space Boyfriend” will forever be stuck sleeping in his bed unless someone plays a certain mixtape on his jukebox.
You get caught up in all kinds of silly interactions like this, but there’s also often a heel-turn into psychological horror with little warning. The dark imagery and events can be as shocking as they are sudden, and this keeps you on your toes as you’re increasingly unsure of what’s really going on here.
It takes 20-ish hours to get through one playthrough of Omori and the journey proves to be frankly hard-hitting in the best possible way after the credits roll. This is ultimately a story about mental illness and processing difficult feelings, and the deeper emotional beats hit hard when things start to make more sense towards the end. Those of you who can’t get enough of the narrative here will be pleased to know there are multiple endings, too, depending on decisions you make at key crossroads in the plot. Omori is an equally hilarious and harrowing experience, and it’s the kind of game that makes you think long after you’re done with it.
The gameplay itself is the weaker part of Omori, but this is only because it gets rather dull as the hours roll on. Omori is a classic JRPG at heart, so much of your time will be spent exploring a decently sized map which takes you to all sorts of whimsical locales in the standard dungeon and town cycle. The problem is that it feels like there are a few too many lengthy sequences where there’s not much to do because you’re constantly buried in lengthy dialogue sequences which are bookended by blink-and-you-miss-it walking segments that take you to yet more lengthy dialogue sequences. The story is worthwhile, but it feels like the pacing could be tightened up; incessantly pressing ‘A’ to trawl through text gets old when it isn’t broken up enough.
When you finally get to the dungeons, you’re sure to come across all manner of cute and weird enemies, and this is where the turn-based combat comes in. Each character has the standard assortment of basic attacks and special skills that offer heals, buffs, powerful strikes, and so on. Where things get decidedly more interesting is in the ‘emotion’ system, which replaces the usual status effects seen in RPGs.
Here, a character can be neutral, happy, sad, or angry, and each emotion (except neutral) does more damage to one emotion while taking more from another. What’s more is that each emotion carries with it both positive and negative stat changes, making them much more situational. For example, if a character or enemy is ‘Sad’, their defense is raised and part of any incoming damage is taken from their Juice (mana) gauge instead of health, but this comes at the cost of decreased speed.
We rather enjoyed the narrative connection this emotion system brings, as it highlights that no emotions are simply ‘better’ than others, but also that there’s an appropriate time for any emotion. In terms of gameplay, it’s interesting to engage with proper timing for cycling emotions, especially in boss fights. For example, making the boss angry will lower its defense allows your ‘Happy’ characters to do more damage to it, but these characters run the risk of taking more due to the boss’s attack stat being boosted.
The only real complaint we have here is that most of the game’s battles don’t necessitate you utilize this system much, and combat can thus become more of a slog as the enemies are too squishy to make it worthwhile to properly plan out several turns, but they’re also too sturdy to just quickly dispatch them with basic attacks.
As a more concrete representation of the friendship between your party members, there’s also an interesting ‘Energy’ system that acts as a sort of limit break any character can use. Taking damage will fill up a bar at the bottom of the screen, and you can choose to burn portions of it after any character’s action for some synergistic moves with your teammates. This can take the shape of something like an emotion buff or a follow-up attack, and sometimes that extra oomph is all you need to finish off an encounter or narrowly save a party member from becoming toast (literally). As mentioned earlier, however, this is also something that you don’t really need in a typical enemy encounter, which can have the effect of blunting an otherwise cool mechanic.
Omori utilizes a simplistic, but deeply satisfying art style that blends several types of art into one cohesive experience. Most of your time will be spent looking at brightly lit and sharply drawn pixel art worlds with adorable characters to match, but things go in a completely different direction for the battle scenes. Here, enemies and characters are portrayed via perfectly imperfect colored pencil drawings that seem like they jump right off the page of Omori’s notebook-style visuals. There’s occasionally some bizarrely ‘realistic’ imagery thrown into the works, too, just to keep you guessing. Despite being a game that was initially developed in RPG Maker, Omori proves to be anything but cookie cutter in how it shows itself off.
This also extends to the music, which strikes a unique and bizarre identity in how frequently it waffles between emotions. Much of the music is chipper, cutesy, and overly saccharine, to the point that it’s almost unsettling. Things get decidedly more unsettling when the plot takes a turn for the creepy, and all the happy music gets flushed down the drain in favor of darker, ambient sounds. Much like the narrative, there’s just no telling where this soundtrack may go next, and in this way, it proves to be quite memorable.
Omori isn’t a game that we would say is for everyone, but it’s the kind of thing that seems like it will deeply resonate with its intended audience. If you’re looking for a funny, sad, creepy, and downright disorienting RPG adventure, Omori is something you won’t want to miss. The memorable narrative, offbeat sense of style, and high replayability make this one easy to recommend, even if the plot pacing can feel sluggish and the combat doesn’t always deliver on its potential. We think Omori is an experience that’s worth your time; give it a shot if you want to try something a little different.