To say that Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines flies under the radar is an understatement. This little gem is pure, unadulterated JRPG and it prides itself on slowing these down and letting the player immerse themselves with the game’s features. Though slightly generic in certain regards and a few missteps here and there, Oreshika filled a void on the Vita that I didn’t necessarily know I was missing. RPG games are sparse on the platform and those who have invested in the system have made this disappointment a well-known issue. What initially appeared to be a band-aid on the gaping wound that is the Vita’s monotonous line-up has proven itself to be a much welcomed remedy.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
The story of Oreshika is more of an overarching premise than a traditional narrative. Set in feudal Japan, you control a clan that has been framed for stealing a number of significant, mystical items and then subsequently put to death and then cursed to have a limited lineage — hence the title. There are few NPC’s that you’ll encounter and the game offers only a handful of predetermined plot points, but this is one of the main factors why I enjoyed this game and why it succeeds as an RPG. Oreshika returns to an older style of RPG similar to Dungeons and Dragons where the characters’ appearances, personalities and actions are left up to player. There’s plenty of room for the player’s imagination to fill in the gaps and turn the story into something of their own invention to a certain degree. This isn’t done through dialogue trees or branching paths, but rather through a style of broad presentation. Child after child, each one is blank slate to paint your own picture of who this clan is and where they’re journey of revenge will take them, which is a refreshing notion that has currently fallen to the wayside.
And speaking of painting, the game’s beautiful Japanese watercolor style blends seamlessly with the setting of the game. Everything, minus a few pre-rendered cutscenes, is translated into this art style, giving each and every spell, enemy, character, dungeon and backdrop an exotic lightness to it. For a fairly small game on a handheld device, there’s a lot of detail and precision in terms of the aesthetics; the game delivers a delight with each crisp animation that turned the game into a visual treat. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the generic visuals of the character models. Taking away all the player entered personality, each model isn’t striking or interesting in terms of appearance options or style. But this is purely visual and it does little to deter the gorgeous art that fills the world.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Oreshika comes with the full array of standard, turn-based JRPG components: turn-based combat, a multitude of items and equipment to collect, skills to earn and learn, and a team of party members to customize as you choose. It’s all presented plainly, but instead of coming off as a rehashed, generic jumble of tropes, each individual element is strong enough to stand on its own. What Oreshika shows is that using traditional RPG mechanics and systems in a well-paced and rewarding manner still delivers a satisfying experience, even if the level of innovation is slim to none. The only major setback I found while exploring these dungeons is the overuse of random chance throughout the game. While a select number of the game’s elements are different though each playthrough, there is also an emphasis on blind luck when it comes to item acquisition. Slots will spin before each battle to determine the loot, but this system detracts from a sense of earning; beating battle after battle does little to improve getting better equipment unless you factor in the increasing odds with each new attempt. That being said, this was a minor nuisance to fantastically solid experience that kept me hungry for what came next.
Outside of dungeons, you’ll be spending a lot of time customizing your characters, town and… your children? The main mechanic of Oreshika — as suggested by the game’s subtitle — is to keep breeding more and more party members, continually evolving and growing your squad based on how you choose to conceive them. With it, of course, comes the inevitable cycle of death, the other side of the proverbial coin. Each new generation brings with it the promise of progression and the game does a great job of enforcing this concept. Before I knew it, my family tree boasted a multitude of strong branches that eventually formed a whole new unit to continue on the legacy of my clan. It’s unique, enjoyable and highly flexible, giving me enough room to diversify and try out faster characters or stronger characters or characters more attuned to magic. I would describe the concept as fairly simple, but difficult to master, especially when the finicky notion of luck comes into play.
Though Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines is a comparatively more compact JRPG than its big name peers, it still delivers a compelling, robust experience that thrives on a single, highly unique mechanic. Elements of random progression along with the generic look of the main characters fade far into the background as Oreshika dazzles with a beautiful Japanese painting visual aesthetic along with some common, yet well executed dungeon crawling. The game roots itself in traditional JRPG fare, yet expands upon and refines many of the components of the genre from its battle system to the way the characters grow. I would highly recommend Oreshika to those who are looking for something to fill their Vita’s screen, especially if they like Japanese culture or just JRPGs in general. At a starting price of $20, this small blip on the game market scene is a project that deserves much more recognition than it has received.
Final Score: 8 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood