Omensight Review

Developer: Spearhead Games
Publisher: Spearhead Games
Played on: PS4
Release Date: May 15, 2018
Played with: DualShock 4
Paid: $0 (Key provided for review)

Several games have attempted the Groundhog Day format, to varying degrees of success.  What tends to be the biggest stumbling block is also what makes the premise so interesting: you’re repeating the same day over and over.  From a narrative perspective, this allows the story to focus on the same events from different points of view, or see how minor changes can impact the final outcome.  However, it’s a lot harder to incorporate those subtle variations into gameplay, meaning that it’s easy to find yourself going through the same actions ad nauseum, simply to get from one story beat to another.

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Enter Omensight: a game with an ambitious pitch, to say the least.  Take The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, add in a murder-mystery subplot, cut the apocalypse time frame down to a day, and substitute fast-paced hack-and-slash action for the dungeon crawling and puzzle solving.  Oh, and make the cast a bunch of anthropomorphic animals.  If it sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is on paper, yet you might be surprised at how consistently Omensight’s narrative can pull off sombre and reflective moments.

I’d argue that this is largely down to the writing.  While the voice acting sits comfortably in the “pretty good, but still a bit budget at times” category, the way that everything is written completely sucked me in.  It didn’t really become evident until I was reading the game’s unlockable logs that provide background on members of the main cast and the world as whole.  I rarely find myself getting engrossed in a world like I did with Omensight, and audio logs and similar collectibles tend to be completely wasted on me.  Here, though, I was ravenous for more, diving into each new unlock with gusto, and powering through to return to the equally interesting main plot.

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That main plot centres around two key points: the death of the Godless-Priestess Vera, and the end of the world, caused by the return of a nightmarish creature named Voden.  As the game opens, you take control of Harbinger: an ethereal being of legend who only appears during apocalyptic times.  Searching through the remnants of a battle between the warring cities of Pygaria and Rodentia, Harbinger comes across two recently-deceased individuals: a burly bear named Ludomir, and the Pygarians’ top general: Draga.  By utilizing her mystical powers, Harbinger can absorb the spirits (at least, that’s what it looks like) of the two.  Then Voden shows up and the world explodes.

However, that’s not the end of it, as Harbinger is awakened by a ghost-like entity known as The Witch.  In this otherworldly realm, there stands a massive, glowing tree, and in front, four stone statues; two of them looking a fair bit like Ludomir and Draga.  It turns out that interacting with each of these enables Harbinger to return to the beginning of the respective character’s last day of life, which just so happens to be the same day everything went to hell.

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This ends up being the core mechanic of Omensight: you go back in time to the start of a character’s day, follow them around to learn new information, watch the world end, and try to piece everything together before setting out to do it again with someone else.  In doing so, things gradually start to become more complex.  New characters get unlocked, providing different perspectives on the same events.  Harbinger can acquire seals and the titular Omensights, which grant access to previously inaccessible areas in each timeline and show life-changing (or, at least, day-changing) visions to characters, respectively.  This allows the game to get a lot of mileage out of its limited cast of four followable characters.  Days can progress linearly (especially early on), but there are also alternate pathways to be discovered, including several stories that can either end with peace or bloodshed, depending on whether Harbinger shows an Omensight to more than one character in a timeline.

Each of these characters has their own interesting mannerisms and motivations, from the belligerent, revenge-driven Ludomir, to the cheerful, rebellious Ratika.  Considering that you’ll be frequently traversing the same areas and story beats, the character variation is a huge asset in staving off monotony.  That being said, repetition can still set in, but the brevity of each level ensures that you won’t be staying in the same location for long if you’re getting tired of it.

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Of course, as I mentioned earlier, story is only one half of the equation here.  Thankfully, Omensight’s remedy for repetition in the gameplay department is just as satisfying, if not more so.  Despite its systems feeling like pretty standard hack-and-slash fare (light/heavy attacks, dodge, and an energy metre that gradually fills to allow you to unleash devastating special moves), combat in Omensight is simply a joy to experience.  Everything is so flashy and frenetic, while also being fluid and – above all – fun.  Despite the glaring omission of a combo list, there’s enough here for skilled players to really sink their teeth into, without alienating those who’d prefer to button-mash.

The combat is kept engaging thanks to the three different enemy factions you fight, each of whom has a distinct flavour to them.  Pygarians focus more on blocking and ranged magic, while Rodentians are more likely to overwhelm with numbers and pure aggression.  Meanwhile, Ciphers incorporate flying enemy types, as well as powerful minibosses, forcing you to drastically change up your strategy.  Thus, each fight becomes a game of careful target prioritization, where you’ll find yourself dodging and weaving between foes before unleashing a flurry of slashes and dashing to safety.

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Levelling and upgrade systems are in place to allow you to unlock new special moves and tailor Harbinger to fit your playstyle, respectively.  Maybe you find yourself constantly relying on Delay of Fate, which slows time down to a crawl during combat; why not pump some points into shortening its cooldown or lengthening its duration?  Is precision swordplay more your thing?  Upgrade your blade damage and combo bonuses.  Or maybe you’re like me, and you’ll just pour resources into health and defense so you stop dying all the time.

Unfortunately, some of those deaths didn’t really feel like they were my fault.  At times, the flashiness of the combat can work against it, with enemies and the warnings for their attacks blending into a mess of sword swipes, explosions, and so forth.  More annoying is when the game doesn’t stay paused during cutscenes, with the action frequently resuming before the camera centres back in on Harbinger.  Several cheap deaths resulted from this, and my frustration was only amplified when I found out that the game’s checkpointing system almost always respawns you prior to those same cutscenes, meaning you must contend with them on every attempt.  This becomes especially aggravating during the game’s otherwise exceptional boss battles, where death means you have to watch the entire pre-battle exchange over.  Sure, a “Skip” option is present, but it only bypasses dialogue; you still need to watch everything in between.

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Where Omensight truly shines, though, is in its visuals.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most beautiful games I’ve had the pleasure of playing this year.  The first time I entered the Crimson Forest during the daytime, I was literally awestruck, and that level of quality permeates nearly every area of the game.  The bright, saturated hues of the game’s visuals make everything pop, even in mostly monochromatic settings like the final area.  This is only amplified in combat, with the Harbinger’s frantic dashes between foes being punctuated by vibrant splashes of blue energy from her sword and special abilities; screenshots hardly do it justice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Omensight’s score, which incorporates emotionally-driven tracks that range from desperate combat anthems to saddening, thoughtful tunes.  Not only that, but there’s a beautiful vocal performance in the form of “The Cage (Ratika’s Song)”, which had me dropping everything I was doing in the game simply to stop and listen to it.

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If there’s still any doubt, let me be perfectly clear: I loved Omensight from start to finish.  It’s not a perfect game, with the aforementioned combat troubles, a few annoying glitches (though thankfully nothing catastrophic), and an ending that feels a bit too dark tonally for what the game seemed to be building up to.  Plus, some players may have less patience for the constant repetition than I did, despite the game’s admirable attempts to alleviate it.  As far as I’m concerned, though, Omensight is an absolute triumph, with a cast of lovable characters (when can I buy a Ratika plush?), an exciting plot that keeps you guessing, and some excellent combat that begs for some sort of endless survival mode.  Its protagonist may signal doom and despair, but Omensight is a harbinger of anything but.

9/10

 

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