ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni Review – Tiresome Tearjerker

    A road that feels longer than it is.

    ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni immediately appealed to me when I first heard it was in the works back in 2021. Its charming character designs, Breath of the Wild-ish art style, and teaser trailer featuring a gorgeous vocal track really impressed me. ONI appeared to have a distinct focus on presentation and polish for an indie game, and the choice of music gave it an intriguing melancholy tone (which is even more interesting in contrast to the game’s cute visuals).

    With staff members who’d previously worked at Hironobu Sakaguchi’s studio Mistwalker as well as PlayStation, things looked even more promising. Now that ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni is finally here, I can confidently say that many of the aspects that drew me in were delivered on: the game is beautiful, endearing, somber, and has a killer soundtrack. Unfortunately, at nearly every turn, there’s a fatal flaw hindering the enjoyment of each point of ONI‘s appeal.

    All For Revenge

    In a cutscene from ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni, Kuuta says that there's no time to waste on Kisejima island because he needs to train.
    Kuuta is focused on his goal but isn’t so standoffish that he doesn’t make a few friends on Kisejima Island.

    Players control Kuuta, the only demon to survive the legendary battle of Onigashima. To defeat his arch nemesis Momotaro, Kuuta strives to become the mightiest oni by defeating the spirits of demon warriors in a series of trials that will bestow him with new powers. This short, stout, and surly little demon cares for little else besides battle and revenge, but he does take the time to befriend the ghostly Kazemaru, occasionally help out the merchant Zenisuke, and over the course of the entire game, slowly becomes close to the mysterious girl Kanna, the only human on the lonely island.

    ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni takes place on Kisejima Island. It’s a demon training ground where the souls of the fallen remain trapped, lingering on as shadowy creatures full of negativity. The game’s structure is such that a few of these shadows will populate the small open world of Kisejima Island at a time, and engaging with one will begin a trial/mission.

    Each of these will pit players against assortments of enemies that they’ll need to defeat in simple, but mostly satisfying action beat ’em up gameplay. Kuuta uses a club as a weapon, and you’ll be using one type or another of the weapon to bonk each and every enemy in the game over the head. One novel aspect is that once your opponents are knocked down, you’ll need to use a different type of attack to then destroy their spirit; this process can be chained from foe to foe if multiple are downed at the same time.

    Droves of Demons

    During a cutscene in ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni a vision of Kanna's parents appears on the shore of Kisejima Island.
    During cutscenes, words or gorgeous art will appear floating in 3D space to help tell the game’s story.

    These enemies consist of other demons similar to Kuuta, bats, giant oni, ghosts, puppets, shamans, and bosses. There isn’t a ton of enemy variety, but the game does manage to mix up the types of encounters and combinations of foes to keep the challenges somewhat varied. Some of these battles will require you to take out demons while also protecting the character Zenisuke as well, adding an additional goal.

    Perspective can shift during these missions too, from the standard behind the back action camera to overhead, or to a 2D-style presentation. The action in these segments doesn’t change, but the shift in perspective often accompanies a certain arrangement of opponents to clobber, giving you a better vantage point for the respective challenge.

    Keeping the combat from being too one note is Kuuta’s spirit friend Kazemaru. Kazemaru can be controlled separately but simultaneously with Kuuta, allowing for multitasking and a few interesting combinations of actions. Kazemaru can stun enemies, pull out their spirit so that it can then be attacked, restore the player’s HP, and later in the game, allow Kuuta to do a small teleport. While not too chatty, Kazemaru also provides invaluable information during battle too, like if there’s a single enemy remaining, or if the wave you’re about to encounter is the last.

    You also have special abilities that are incredibly powerful, though only one of them is particularly spectacular. These slowly build up in battle, and then once used, aren’t available again until you wait for them to recharge. Strategic use of these abilities isn’t required to beat most of ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni‘s missions but is a fun way to speed up these battles and efficiently down multiple foes or do big damage to bosses.

    Training Montage Please

    A battle from one of the missions in ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni against the backdrop of a sunset.
    The wave of fire enabled by a particular club for Kuuta is especially useful in 2D-style mission segments.

    ONI‘s combat is serviceable enough and even has some inspired mechanics, but there’s simply too much of it and not enough variety in the game’s many missions. Kuuta only has a single combo at his disposal at a time (determined by the currently equipped weapon) and even with the incorporation of Kazemaru’s abilities and special attacks, after about 15 missions – which is less than half the game – things just feel monotonous.

    Having a single combo at your disposal wouldn’t be too big a deal (many beat ’em up characters have a single full combo) if so many of the enemies in the game didn’t have such huge pools of health, requiring you to spam your one attack string repeatedly. ONI‘s puppet enemies take many full combos to down, and their defeat only summons their master, who’s similarly spongey and teleports around the battlefield.

    Many battles feel excessively drawn out and don’t allow much creative use of your few combat tools. The battles I enjoyed the most were the fights against the weakest opponents and the bosses. The cannon fodder fights were where Kazemaru had the most utility and ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni‘s kill-chain system shined. The boss battles required the most careful dodging and resource management of both special attacks and Kazemaru’s energy for healing and teleporting. It’s the missions that weren’t these that felt like a chore, and unfortunately, they’re the bulk of the game. If the developers meant to hammer home how tedious “training” often is, they successfully nailed the feeling that Kuuta perhaps felt.

    Kisejima Island Blues

    When outside of combat trials, players are free to roam about Kisejima Island. Some areas are walled off by a forcefield, and these will dissolve as players progress through the missions. Around the island, memos and mushrooms are scattered. Memos provide context to the situation ONI‘s characters find themselves in and establish the world’s lore. Many of them are sad tales of previous inhabitants of the island, and along with the game’s moving soundtrack, they set a gloomy tone as you wander around the mostly empty island from one arduous battle to another.

    Mushrooms are ONI: Road to be the Strongest Oni‘s currency and can be used to purchase things from the small merchant Zenisuke. He sells healing items for battle, new weapons, and new pants. Each weapon has a different combo for Kuuta, and pants change Kuuta’s appearance and also boost his health.

    Treasure chests are also scattered around the island, but all you’ll find in any of the regular chests are large sums of mushrooms. This saves you the time of slowly collecting small batches of them around the island, but it was also disappointing that nearly all but the chests that didn’t unlock until the game was finished only had more currency in them rather than rewarding players with unique items for exploring.

    Wandering Spirit

    Kuuta and Kanna talk in a field on Kisejima in ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni
    Kanna’s memory slowly comes to her over the course of the game, and we learn more about her in the game’s few story segments.

    Another activity players can engage in to set themselves up for success is to gather lost spirits around Kisejima and bring them back to save point statues. Collecting four of these will grant Kuuta an extra heart. These spirits are invisible, but a visual indicator and haptic feedback from the PS5’s DualSense controller will alert you to their presence, making the process easier and more enjoyable than it sounds. Regrettably, after you’ve successfully captured one, that’s where the problem arises.

    If you’ve collected two spirits at a time, sometimes only one, a giant demon will appear who you aren’t able to battle. Your only option is to run from wherever you are on the map to the nearest statue while avoiding this huge creature’s swift assault. These monsters are so fast that they’ll immediately catch up to you and lock you into a chain of walking for a few seconds, then slowly dodging, and then repeating the process until you reach your destination. If you’re near a different type of statue landmark you can have the creature temporarily lose sight of you, but this will only buy you around five seconds of free running before it’s right back at your heels.

    Not to mention I’ve had instances of two of these monsters spawning at a time, locking me into a cycle of having to dodge repeatedly, turning my advance to safety into a turtle crawl. This mechanic makes collecting spirits frustrating and slow. To make matters worse, at certain points of the game, you’ll need a certain amount of hearts to begin missions, meaning that you’re forced to engage with this system and go gather spirits.

    Getting Off Track

    Kuuta in one of the game's many battles with other demons in ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni

    ONI: Road to be the Strongest Oni‘s soundtrack is an eclectic mix of sounds. There are sad and beautiful vocal tracks, some more like ballads and others like pop songs. There are electronic tracks that range from somber to things that you might hear in an obnoxious dance club. Though some of the later EDM sounds, especially the track that plays in the last group of missions, weren’t to my liking, I generally really enjoyed ONI‘s OST and thought it was a genuine strength that improved the game. The vocal tracks, specifically Seiakusetsu by Kanna, helped to add emotional weight to the story and define Kisejima as a land of sorrow.

    Unfortunately, the way the game’s open world handles this music lessens the impact of these powerful tracks by a large degree. Certain songs play in certain areas of the map. Now here’s the thing: Kisejima Island isn’t very large, and also, the game has very many missions that are loaded in and out of. This means every time you cross one of these invisible borders, you switch to the song for the other quadrant of Kisejima. This also means every time you go in and out of a mission, your current song begins again.

    The first song in the game is a somber vocal track that I was surprised and delighted to hear. I wandered around collecting memos and mushrooms until it ended because I didn’t want to do anything to interrupt it or cancel it out, seeing as this is probably my only chance to hear it (games don’t often bust out the vocals but every once in a while). Little did I know I would be hearing this same song, looped, stopped, restarted, and every combination of the three on repeat for the next hour and a half until I unlocked the next area of the island.

    By that time, the song had lost nearly all impact and I was more than happy to stop hearing it. Looking back on the game now, I still like the song, but while I was playing the game, I was bewildered by the choice to have it play constantly. Playing the vocal track once and then even using the same song but transitioning to the instrumental version would have done favors to all the game’s songs with vocals.

    A Mysterious Girl

    Kanna talks to Kuuta under the tree where they found the peach in ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni.

    In between a few of ONI‘s many missions, the story slowly unfolds. Through short but sweet cutscenes, Kuuta and Kanna communicate and learn more about one another, with Kanna seeming to slowly remember herself and Kuuta softening up by becoming her friend.

    These cutscenes see both characters animate as expected but are also highlighted by the addition of giant pieces of art that will appear in the background of scenes, and words that will appear and hang in the air. Even after the cutscenes end, these aspects persist for a short while, making them seem like lingering feelings that are here as part of the world. The story here is nothing too deep, but the beautiful music that accompanies these moments and the cute art help endear the characters to you and make these parts special. The words do sometimes crawl onto the screen incredibly slowly though, almost to the point of parody.

    It felt like there were too few of these scenes for the amount of gameplay there is. When I’d already grown tired of gathering spirits and trudging through ONI‘s combat, I was always looking forward to learning more about the characters or seeing them interact. These moments were few and far between, however, and it felt like the game would benefit from a more even balance of story and battles.

    Two Steps Back

    Kuuta approaches a peach on Kisejima Island under a large tree.

    ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni would be a great game if its pros weren’t so consistently undermined by its cons. It has fun beat ’em up combat that then made me sick of it as it asked me to wallop the same high-HP enemies over and over again ad nauseam. It has beautiful music that they then overplay until the impact of their inspired track choices has been lost. It’s capable of pretty particle effects as seen in battle, but for some reason applies a goofy screen filter of fireflies over the screen instead of having them populate the world. It has collectibles that are satisfying to nab and offer a worthy reward but punishes you with tedious chases for daring to gather them. It has a cute art style that feels like it balances being technically impressive without taxing the hardware but then has strange framerate issues.

    It’s certainly not without merit though; I genuinely enjoyed my first moments walking through a moody shaded forest while hearing ONI‘s beautiful songs for the first time, landing a 20+ chain-kill and watching Kuuta zoom from enemy to enemy literally crushing their spirit, seeing Kuuta and Kanna get to know each other, and winning a very satisfying final boss fight that has a super cool presentational flourish. While I look forward to whatever comes next from Kanei Design because of ONI‘s distinct style and unusual soundtrack, the number of bumps in the road in Kuuta’s journey make this title hard to recommend.

    Disclaimer: Clouded Leopard Entertainment provided Final Weapon with a copy of ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni for review purposes.


    Poignant but padded, ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni has charming art, beautiful music, and simple but fun gameplay. But for its every pro, there are two cons. Performance problems and a screen filter hinder the game's visual presentation, the overuse of vocal tracks diminishes their impact, and the too-many missions filled with spongey enemies lead to the combat feeling monotonous. There's a lot of heart and style here, but they're obfuscated by unfortunate design.
    BusterSwordBoy is a video game enthusiast who writes about them here, plays them live on Twitch, and talks about them endlessly to anyone who will listen. Subjectively believes that the PS2 is objectively the greatest console of all time, but also loves games from far older hardware, and new releases as well.

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    Poignant but padded, ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni has charming art, beautiful music, and simple but fun gameplay. But for its every pro, there are two cons. Performance problems and a screen filter hinder the game's visual presentation, the overuse of vocal tracks diminishes their impact, and the too-many missions filled with spongey enemies lead to the combat feeling monotonous. There's a lot of heart and style here, but they're obfuscated by unfortunate design.ONI: Road to be the Mightiest Oni Review - Tiresome Tearjerker