Indiewatch: Omori is a painful emotional work of art

Every so often an indie game comes along that connects with you in a deep and emotional way. Everyone remembers how Undertale took the world by storm, but fans of the RPG indie scene can quote plenty of games that shook them, disturbed them, and even made them cry. Lisa, Off, One Shot, Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass, heck if we really want to go back to the early days of indie development we can mention Yume Nikki.

Omori is the next in this line of RPGs with a powerful emotional message, but it feels unique because it feels like it has learned from every title that has come before it. It’s just not another Earthbound-­alike that aims to make you cower in primordial dread and cry in a ball shortly thereafter. It is a game that is custom-made to be a representative of every successful narrative device used by the biggest sprite indies of this decade. It has certainly used its six years of development well.

So what is Omori? It’s the tale of a young boy who is living a bit of a depressing life. It's a few days before he moves out of his town and he has been left at home alone. Having cut himself off from the outside world, he spends most of his time inside his own head, navigating through the abstract landscape that is his dreams.

Already you see the Yume Nikki influence, and the game doesn’t hesitate to throw more at you as you navigate a mysterious void called White Space, dodging creatures that will teleport you to random locations. You’ll notice even more inspiration as the game continues, such as jumpscares for examining certain objects several times accompanied by shaking plot revelations.

But this isn’t just a Yume Nikki style dream simulator. This is a full-blown RPG. There are people to talk to enemies to fight and dungeons to explore… in your head at least. The major theme of this game is the duality between your perceptions of the world, and what the world really is. In real life, you are just a kid. The most you can do is talk to people and prepare for your move. You might be able to fight monsters and roam dungeons in your dream world, but does it even matter if it isn’t real.

Even if it doesn’t matter it sure is fun. Exploring the dream world takes you through many different spaces, from brightly colored pastel playgrounds to pink sandy beaches. At the beginning of the game, everything is well and good. You get to hang out with your friends in the dream world and push away the realities of the real world.

Of course, this doesn’t laugh. Our inner worlds always reflect our outer worlds and as the moving day comes… and yet more traumatic events happen in reality, the dream world starts to change. Your romps through happy safe areas meant to cushion you from your darker thoughts start to warp and twist. Things become more grotesque. The landscape becomes corrupted. Paths open up deeper into your mind to reveal secrets that you might not want to uncover. In that way, it feels a lot like Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass, rewarding your curiosity with a deep and ever-present feeling of fear.

Omori also has a brilliant combat system that makes use of “emotional state” status effects. You, or the enemy, can become happy, sad, or angry, and can even have those states heightened to states like manic, depressed, or furious. Each emotional state changes your character’s properties. Happy characters are reckless crit machines, missing most of their attacks but dealing a ton of damage when they do hit. Angry characters sacrifice defense for base damage upgrade across the board. Sad characters become tanks, heavily increasing their defense and even shrugging off a portion of their damage to their MP or “juice” as Omori calls it. These emotional states form a sort of weapon triangle, with happy characters able to one-shot angry characters, angry characters able to out damage sad characters, and sad characters able to tank the crits from happy characters. I guess you can add Fire Emblem and Super Princess Peach to the list of inspirations.

There’s also a really neat follow-up system. Every time you take a hit you gain a unit of energy, and you can spend three to have any of your party members follow up an attack with a bonus action. If you manage to hit 10 energy, you can use a Persona style all-out attack. Add to this a number of interesting enemies with special status effects and strategies needed to defeat them, and you get a combat system that is incredibly deep and rewarding.

But the most compelling thing about Omori is that it uses every indie-game trick in the book. Major decisions that change your entire route and gameplay experience? Yep. Actions you can accidentally stumble into that reveal major bits of the plot. Sure. Force closing your game and breaking the fourth wall. Absolutely. You’ll get jump scares that use discordant art styles, full animated cutscenes, complete meta mini-games, and much more. It even has some of its own new tricks to throw at you that I would be remiss to spoil.

This whole time I’ve danced around something that is simultaneously a spoiler but also very important to know. Omori is about depression. It’s not about depression in the way that every indie game these days is about depression. It tackles very real issues of mental illness in both a direct and metaphorical way. Playing just the first hour hit me with a representation of deep depression and detachment that resonated with me so hard I had to put the game down. Much like Lisa, Omori is painful to play, but not because it pushes you into fantastical situations filled with difficult choices, but because it’s real, and it’s that realness that makes it terrifying.

I want to tell everyone to play Omori, but I do want to warn you. This can trigger you, hard. It can dig up emotions even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s a game that sometimes you have to bite your lip and force yourself to get through, and that might not be for everyone. It is tagged as a psychological horror for a reason.

But for the people who can get through it, I have to honestly say that Omori is one of the greatest indie-RPGs on the market, and even one of the best that came out this decade. Heck, if it didn’t come out so recently, I might have even put it on my RPG of the year list. This is a genuine emotional work of art, and it shouldn’t be ignored.