Game Review

Omensight: Definitive Edition (2018) [Switch]

Nothing is permanent. Not even the end of the world.
-Isaac Marion

 

ninjamage “The following is a contributor post by the Mail Order Ninja Mage.”

Time travel as a plot device is a tricky thing. It has come to a point now that when I hear that the idea is central to a story, no matter the medium, I sigh and wait for the worst. In my opinion, it requires a master story teller in order to do time travel correctly, mostly because there are just so many issues that can arise the second you introduce the concept.

Once I learned Omensight‘s main crux of the plot was a warrior travelling through time and replaying the end of the world over and over again in an attempt to fix it, I got a little worried.

For the most part I shouldn’t have been, but there are moments where the game stumbles with the premise, and it goes from a cool idea to a confusing gimmick.

Omensight is a fun game, with a great vision, that stumbles telling its story and in some of the technical aspects of the game. How badly does it stumble? Well, I’m glad you asked.

 

 

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visuals Visuals: 6/10

There is something to be said for a great art direction — done well, it can elevate your game above many others and gain it instant attention, trumping even the technical wizardry of many AAA games.

Omensight has that art direction in spades.

The character designs, though obviously on the furry side of things, are for the most part well done and the colors that saturate the world often times make for a gorgeous background. There are noteworthy segments of levels that culminate in a beautiful area or backdrop that you want to stop and take a screenshot of, and I did just that on several occasions.

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The problem then becomes the technical side of pulling off your greater vision, and it is in this regard that Omensight fails — at least on the Switch version I played. Throughout the game there are moments where the edge of characters are riddled with jaggies, and textures don’t load in correctly, if at all. I had some moments where the bright and colorful world almost seemed like it had Vaseline smeared across it, the whole thing blurring.

This problem increased dramatically in handheld mode, which is understandable to a point, but when we consistently see showstoppers like Smash Ultimate or Breath of the Wild running on the device it is hard to give that to the game as an excuse.

In addition the game has a cool load screen that helps you keep track of your time-traveling antics and where each character is on the timeline, but it chugs dramatically during loads. I was relieved to find that the rest of the game didn’t suffer from constant framerate drops, but in these sections it drops to a near slideshow. It is horribly distracting, and unfortunately one of the first things you will experience on loading up the game — not to mention something you’ll experience over and over throughout the experience.

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Seeing the love that went into the art design of the game makes the fumbling of the technical side of things a little heartbreaking, to be honest, but it isn’t something that ever truly breaks the game.

audio Audio: 6/10

Omensight‘s music is just the other side of standard video game fare, with music appropriate to its fairy-tale aesthetic. There were never any tracks that truly had me tapping my toes, but it was serviceable.

Voice work certainly has its low points, with some characters coming across as if they are attempting to fight off sleep, but those are leveled out by some decent to good performances with some of the characters. The Pygarian empire baddies give the best performance throughout, and never dip below that decent quality line, pushing the entire audio presentation up a notch.

gameplay.png Gameplay: 6/10

At the end of the day a game is far more about how it plays than how it looks and sounds, but it isn’t all good news for Omensight in this regard either.

The core concept of the game is that you play the Harbinger: a powerful warrior who is summoned before the end of the world in a bid to stop it. You do this by travelling back in time on the day that the world ends, following the path of four different characters as you try to discover how to stop the destruction.

As you relive the days of each of these characters you’ll affect the way their day ends, or learn new clues that can help you along your journey. As you slowly and dutifully collect clues, you are actually going through the motions of each of these characters days and changing small things to learn ever more secrets that each of the whole cast possess. These insights can then be shared with each of them via visions, changing the way events unfold — hence the title Omensight.

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At first this seems like it might be the setup for a cool narrative concept to make a branching story path, but in reality it is all incredibly linear. Yes, you can choose what Omensight to give to who and when, but really there is only one path forward that you can take, the rest ending in your failure in having to simply replay that segment again.

If all of that sounds a little taxing and repetitive, that is because it is. By the end of the game you’ve played through the same stages, albeit with small changes and new directions you can take, six or seven times each. The enemies don’t really change, and the layout of the stage doesn’t change, so by the end of my seven hour play through I had grown weary of a good number of the areas.

Luckily the combat system that holds up the bulk of the actual gameplay for Omensight is a redeeming factor. It is snappy and fluid, with a variety of options open to you during each battle. The game takes place from a slightly isometric view as you partner light and heavy attacks to form basic combos, while dodging at the last second before you are hit provides a small window where time slows and you can punish your enemies. These are all tried and true methods that work well here and allows for a fair amount of options as you take out baddies.

As you defeat enemies you’ll gain experience, which you’ll be able to use to level up in the hub world between battles. Each time you level up you’ll be granted a new ability, or an upgrade to an existing one, eventually netting you three distinct abilities on cool down. These are combined with purchases you can make, separate from the leveling, that buff damage for different attacks and allow some new ones, allowing a small bit of customization for your character.

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My only complaint with the combat itself is that for a good majority of the game it was incredibly easy, until suddenly it wasn’t. I went from annihilating armies of enemies, to one enemy being able to take a quarter of my life with each hit. Whether this was because I focused on buying the attack upgrades instead of defense I’m unsure, but it certainly seemed like a sharp spike in difficulty at times.

Overall the game plays well enough, and everything functions as it should, but the constant reuse of assets grows old by the end of the game. Luckily the combat keeps giving you a reason to push through to that next big fight and drives the rest of the game forward.

narrative Narrative: 8/10

I’ll be honest, I really struggled on what review score to give the narrative. It somehow manages to be both the best thing about the game while simultaneously bringing it down, and the ending significantly hampered my enjoyment of the entire package.

Before we discuss the ending (no spoilers), let us talk about the beginning shall we?

As I mentioned previously you play as The Harbinger, an entity summoned before the end of the world to prevent it from happening. By using the ancient magics of the tree that connects life and time, you are able to go back in time on the day of the apocalypse and attempt to stop it by playing alongside one of four unique characters.

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This is set in a backdrop of a war between anthropomorphic creatures. The birds and cats make up the Pygarian Empire who are attempting to conquer the Rodentian nation–a country populated by, you guessed it, mice. In the course of that war somehow a powerful person called the Godless Priestess was killed, and it is this event that the Harbinger’s main adviser believes ends the world. You set off to solve the mystery by seeing events unfold from different character’s perspectives along the course of that day.

To tell you each character you’ll play alongside would be spoiling some of the story, but at the outset each seems like a cliche character archetype, and I thought I knew how the story would play out from the very beginning.

One of the most pleasant surprises I had while playing Omensight was how I slowly grew to know each character and saw the sometimes subtle reasons why they were on the paths they had each been placed, and I grew to like each of them in their own way. One of the first you’ll play alongside is a large and powerful bear with very little brains, but this hulked-out Pooh Bear has a whole other side to him that you’ll learn of as you uncover his story.

The only real collectibles in the game are the memories of the main cast, and while entirely optional and not affecting gameplay at all, they were well told enough that I felt compelled to get them all anyway. By the time the credits rolled I was truly invested in how these characters stories turned out, and I found myself stomaching the oft-repetitive gameplay just to get every clue to insure the best possible outcome for them all.

I was rewarded for this diligence by an ending that, while I won’t spoil, is so masochistic that it makes George R.R. Martin’s writing look like happy fairy tales by comparison. I was appalled, assuming that even though I had unlocked nearly everything I somehow got the bad ending. A quick Google search declared that there was only one ending available, the alternate much better ending removed before the game came out.

This all underlines an ongoing problem I had with the plot of the game. While you can choose which characters to follow at what point, and  you can choose who to share your Omensight visions with, it all means relatively little to the plot. The way you are supposed to proceed is always plainly obvious, and moving outside of that rewards you with little more than failure. It is this illusion of choice that leaves you yearning for some kind of agency in the game, far more than if the developers hadn’t bothered making you seem like you have any.

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In conjunction with the often confusing timeline that takes place, changing events that I had seen multiple times via time travel left me a little confused as to the final timeline and how it proceeded. It is a shame that the lack of any actual choice in the story, a terrible ending, and confusing time travel story ultimately hampered my enjoyment of the narrative. I had become invested in the stories of the world of Urralia and its inhabitants, which made the conclusion to their stories all the more painful.

On one hand the fact that I cared that much is the sign of good writing for these characters, but the fact that the plot’s execution is ultimately fumbled is disappointing as well as a little frustrating.

uniqueness Uniqueness: 6/10

There really aren’t a lot of games like Omensight out there in which you gather clues as you essentially play a choose your own adventure game that only has one viable conclusion. That is unless of course you count the studio’s previous game Stories: Path of Destinies, which actually does a better version of what Omensight sets out to do.

That being said, while the concept of a Groundhog Day scenario to stop some horrible event isn’t a new one by any means, doing so in a videogame is. The way the developers lead you to care about these people and give you the illusion of agency in how you go about solving the mystery can be frustrating, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely without merit. At the best of its moments I felt utterly compelled by Omensight — a game that is a rather unique game if you ignore the developer’s previous game that takes place in the same universe and does the same thing with a different spin.

If they make a third game where you replay a bunch of levels making choices, however, I’ll begin to wonder if they just have found a clever way to reuse assets over and over.

challenge Challenge: 4/10

I’ve oft said that I feel challenge is the most difficult thing to do right in a video game, and the key to the greatest games is a soft, yet ever increasing upwards difficulty curve. The games that do this slowly give you new abilities, test you on them, and continue to build your arsenal until you become exceptionally skilled at the game by the time the credits roll.

This is not one of those games.

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Instead the game starts out as a horribly easy game that doesn’t reward all the combos and abilities it has worked so hard to balance. Simply button mashing and dodging will get you through most fights, until suddenly it doesn’t, as a few types of enemies suddenly take a quarter of your life with every hit. There are a few spots within the main story where you’ll encounter dozens of these people at a time as you rush through timed objectives, and at those times it is difficult enough to want to throw a controller through your TV.

Then I got to the last boss and absolutely steamrolled it.

There is no consistency throughout the experience, and it leads to a game that feels messy — both in the way that it hands out upgrades and in the presentation of enemies.

replayability Replayability: 4/10

Ultimately the only reason to replay this game is if you wanted to experience the story over again, or if you missed any of the optional collectibles along the way. Outside of that, after you see the abysmal ending and realize you can’t change it no matter what you do, you’ll run off to your room to pout and declare you shall never let Spearhead Games break your heart again.

Until their next game of course, because you have to see how it really ends.

mypersonalgrade My Personal Grade: 7/10

It might seem like I’ve been hard on Omensight, and that is because I have been. In all walks of life you are often the most tough on things you love, and when you see those things take a wrong turn and fail in many aspects it is all the more disappointing.

There is such a genuine effort put forth in the development of this game that is evident in the art, the narrative, the gameplay, and not to mention the creation of this seemingly rich world. I could clearly see the potential in the vision that Spearhead Games had and constantly felt the love put into it.

In its best moments this passion does the game a great service and creates a product that stands out despite its flaws. It was these moments that had me pushing through one hard crash and a handful of cheap deaths, determined to push past the repetitive gameplay to see how things ended for our heroes.

The ending I pined for did nothing but leave a bitter taste in my mouth, and the lack of agency in changing the outcome make it even worse. That, and the technological issues that hang like a heavy weight around the great art direction’s neck, drags down the final product from a must-play game to simply a game that has a lot of potential that it occasionally fulfills.

We’d like to thank Spearhead Games for furnishing us with a copy of their game for this critique!

Aggregated Score: 5.8

 

The Mail Order Ninja Mage loves video games across every console: an assassin of fanboy nonsense. He also really loves martial arts and pizza, though that is of no consequence here. To read more of his random word soup, or to view daily(ish) photo mode screenshots from his favorite games, visit him at Home Button.

 

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2 replies »

  1. This type of game – with the time-travel narrative causing you to repeat sections – seems like a tough project from a design perspective. Hitting that sweet spot of how different it needs to be to feel fresh, while still being familiar enough for you to truly feel like you’re replaying the same day of history, is a tricky proposition.

    Liked by 1 person

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