ONINAKI creators talk life and death, action RPGs and the pain of daemonic wolves

We delve into the game’s secrets with Director Atsushi Hashimoto and Creative Producer Takashi Tokita
By Duncan Heaney

ONINAKI isn’t your typical RPG.

It’s set in a uniquely imaginative world, where life and death intermingle, has a darky compelling story and features a dynamic real-time battle system that lets you switch abilities on the fly.

The game’s Director Atsushi Hashimoto and Creative Producer Takashi Tokita (who you may know from his work on CHRONO TRIGGER and Parasite Eve) were attending Gamescom 2019, so we took the opportunity to talk to them about the game’s evocative themes, the unique battle system, and why it’s unlike anything Tokyo RPG Factory has made before.

In your own words, what is ONINAKI?

Hashimoto-san: ONINAKI is the third game from our team - Tokyo RPG Factory. It’s an action RPG with a new battle system that lets you change jobs in real-time.

Tokita-san: When developing the game, I thought about how to bring a unique story to the table - something high stakes and expressive. We started thinking about themes of life and death, which led to the game you see today.

Why did you choose to move to an action RPG-style for ONINAKI?

Tokita-san: We discussed in the team what we wanted the game to be, and decided it was going to be a single player experience. Then, considering the setting and the story we wanted to tell, it seemed like an action RPG system was the natural fit.

Hashimoto-san: But we wanted to do more than just a standard battle system. That’s why we introduced the job-changing system, where you can bind different Daemons and switch between them mid-battle. By doing so, we were able to develop mechanics that tied in perfectly with the themes of the game - the contrast between the living and the dead.

So how does the job changing system work?

Hashimoto-san: Kagachi - that’s the player character - can bind Daemons, all of which have wildly different abilities and roles in battle. So Aisha is a fast sword user, good for getting in close for attacks, and getting out again, while someone like Dia uses guns to attack from long range.

Tokita-san: Switching Daemons really changes the action that you experience. There are so many Daemons to choose from, all of which have very different abilities. Some are speedy, some are tank-like - they add so many different ways to play, which makes the battle system really satisfying.

What were the inspirations for ONINAKI’s world and story?

Tokita-san: First there’s the element of there being two worlds: the world of life and the world of death. When characters die they are reincarnated - that’s the basis of the world we created.

Hashimoto-san: We took some elements of the real world to influence the setting - there’s inspiration from Buddhist religions in some of the designs, for example. But rather than look at the real world, we actually took a step back and considered how this scenario we had created would work.

We thought of this setting, where life and death are so closely linked and reincarnation is a fact of life. We thought about how the people who lived in such a world would realistically think and behave - then the story unfolded naturally from that.

Without spoiling anything, ONINAKI's story goes to some pretty dark places. How did you find the right tone for the game?

Hashimoto-san: We wanted players to feel the darkness, not necessarily see it. There’s nothing gory in the game - a lot of the more shocking moments are implied rather than shown directly. So through that, and the gameplay itself, we make the player experience those moments of surprise.

What are your favourite Daemons and abilities?

Tokita-san: Ooh - I can’t pick (laughs). There are so many - some are so weird and crazy. I like the weird ones.

Hashimoto-san: My favourite would be Izana - it’s a very different type of fighting! Though I love them all in their own way.

Tokita-san: I think my favourite is Gavod. It’s a completely different action style - the mechanic aspect is great. Feels like high intensity action.

I like Zephyr - the wolf-like Daemon that you ride - that one’s particularly cool.

Hashimoto-san: (Laughs) That one was actually really hard to implement! Getting the positioning and movement of attacks was difficult - QA Quality Assurance was a nightmare! But it turned out great in the end.

Tokita-san: That’s exactly what the Daemon shifting system is about - letting the player choose between the sort of actions and weapons they might expect from an action RPG, and new, innovative and crazy ways to play!

Are there any Daemons that were in development that didn’t make the cut?

Hashimoto: Oh yes! There was a Daemon who used tarot cards. She was a small girl - part human, part monster.

But that sort of magic didn’t really fit in the world we had created - she was an anomaly. So fairly early on in her development, we made the decision to not include her.

Tokita-san: (laughs) Ah, what could have been!

Finally then, what one thing about the game are you most proud of?

Tokita-san: What one thing? Hmm, getting down to one is tricky.

Hashimoto-san: For us, it’s the visual element. The style of the game is so expressive - it looks beautifully animated and distinctive - it looks like nothing else out there.

Tokita-san: For me it’s uniqueness. The combat and story have an impact that’s very different to any game we’ve made before.

Many thanks to both Hashimoto-san and Tokita-san for their time.

ONINAKI is out now for Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Steam.