Digitial Furnace’s 2D side-scrolling beat ’em up, Onikira: Demon Killer, starts out promisingly enough. Set in a fantasy feudal Japan, where players assume the role of a samurai fighting to prevent the forces of the underworld from breaking through into the world of the living, the title introduces its backstory briefly in an artistically stylish fashion.
However, beneath this intriguing premise lays the placement of our bland protagonist Jiro, in a beautifully hand-drawn, yet also bland, fictional representation of feudal Japan. The environment lacks a variety of colour, painting its torn landscape with an overabundance of shades of red and black.
While this is suitable, considering the evil demons spawning consistently on your pathway, it also makes the world extremely dull and monotonous to navigate through. Due to a current bug (though we respect the fact that the title is still in early access), the slightly heavy rock background music, which shows considerable promise, completely ceases after you die; thus making dull treks even more monotonous. This also makes many battles – particularly those with monstrous bosses – underwhelming.
Enemies replicate the dreariness and absence of variety, with many of your foes appearing quite similar to one another. Even when we were faced with a giant hulking demon, any excitement we may, and should, have had was all but absent due to the monster seeming to lack character. Hopefully, with more development, the present environment can be improved upon with more background activity or with some sort of contrast. We need to see happiness before we’re plunged into despair, otherwise the effect of the darkness is mute.
Once Jiro starts to confront demons, the game begins to shift towards its main focus; the combat. Battles halt your progress by placing barriers that prevent escape, creating an arena where the only option is to defeat your foes in order to progress. For fans of hack-and-slash titles, the controls will come quickly – with the familiar aerial, heavy, and light attacks all finding their places.
Similar to the likes of Bayonetta, players are encouraged to experiment with different combos and weapons; hastened by the fact that Onikira’s combat is so challenging, with enemies dealing large amounts of damage.
You’re also given an abundance of samurai-related weapons quite early on. While this may take some getting used to and prove daunting to some players (particularly as the combat at this point hasn’t been firmly grasped), this near-instant access ultimately proves to be gratifying, and will soon have you flying around the screen attacking foes effortlessly – switching from a swift sword to a heavy tetsubo with ease.
We must remember that due to the game’s early access state, this is all subject to change – and weapons may be introduced at more spaced-out intervals in future updates. It seems that even the game’s strongest point, its combat, is still being left room to be fleshed out further. Hints of future features including a skill tree, soul absorption and interactive environments are present, and show signs of a much greater potential depth to Onikira.
Outside of the main story, there’s also a leaderboard and combat arena, which further highlight that dexterous weapon-play and score perfection are the bread and butter of the game. Thankfully for us, the leaderboard isn’t live yet; such features tend to come the inevitable discovery that we’re ranked number 343 on a level we believed we were particularly good at.
Hopefully, some of future combat additions will show more innovation that indie titles often live by, and that this creates some further uniqueness and enjoyment to Onikira’s gameplay. Fans of anime, Ninja Gaiden, and hack-and-slash titles will likely be looking forward to seeing the game as it grows; we’re particularly looking forward to the development of the game’s soundtrack. If the music is effective, it may help to brighten the somewhat dull atmosphere of the demonic, feudal Japan, and to elevate the game to a higher level. To drive the point home, can you imagine playing Metal Gear Rising or the classic Revenge of Shinobi without their fantastically complementary soundtracks?
Despite the criticisms we’ve outlined, we can’t be too harsh on Onikira; once again, it is only in alpha and there’s plenty of time for it to be worked on and added to. With some more work and polishing it could be an enjoyable, fun, and even great title. For now, we seem to have a decent foundation on which the developers can build; though for the moment it sadly lacks solid evidence of any real innovation.