Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines Review for PS Vita

Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines Review for PS Vita

Eugenics in Mythical Japan

2014 was a bad year for JRPGs. Although the occasional gem like Bravely Default appeared, mostly we saw an endless parade of games with poor stories, badly-designed combat systems, and obnoxious levels of fan-service. By the end of the year, I was desperate to at least see something different . Enter 2015 and Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines , a breath of fresh air that remembers to share the cooler parts of Japanese culture and mythology with its players.

Imagine you’re in a mythical version of ancient Japan in which gods, demons, and sorcerers play with the fate of humanity. Your clan has been framed, cursed, and slaughtered after the theft of a set of sacred instruments from the Emperor’s palace. Semi-fortunately for you, the gods themselves are offended by this theft, and decide to resurrect your clan so that you can find the real culprit and redeem your good name. The catch is that you’re still cursed. Your clan members only live for two years and you can’t reproduce in the normal way. You’ll have to join up with the gods to make increasingly-powerful new clan members as the generations roll by.

Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines Screenshot

If you’re getting shades of last year’s Conception , you can safely put that out of your mind. There are no awkward dating sim elements or “tee-hee” veiled sex scenes here. The gods don’t care if you like miso tuna and long walks on the beach. They care about gaining devoted followers and moving up in the political realm of the immortals, so reproduction scenes are purely ceremonial affairs. Oreshika keeps it classy as well as classic, mining ancient Japanese art and mythology for inspiration rather than the sexual predilections of a certain subset of modern gamers.

Because of the curse on your clan, Oreshika is primarily a game about time. Your play is split up into monthly chunks, during which you have to decide whether to brave the local dungeons to hunt demons (oni) or get to baby-makin’ in order to ensure your survival. Exploring dungeons and killing oni not only strengthens your characters and earns you new equipment, it gains you the devotion you’ll need to mate with the powerful gods instead of the small fry, strengthening rather than weakening your bloodline.

Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines Screenshot

Dungeon-running happens in real time, though battles are turn-based affairs. The month’s clock is always ticking down, and the accompanying cacophonous traditional music adds to that feeling of urgency. Trying to make it to the end of the dungeon before the month is over? You can run at the cost of your hit points, but of course that means you have to watch and monitor your characters’ health. Everything is a balancing act, from which fights you pick to how far you dare to delve. It can be stressful, but is certainly an interesting strategic challenge.

Combat itself is a strategic puzzle to solve. You’ll roll a slot machine that determines your loot at the beginning of each fight. Want the loot? Kill the enemy commander and end the fight immediately. Want to maximize your devotion? Try to kill everything before the commander flees and absconds with the loot. At the same time, you’ll need to manage your party members, who actually give you suggestions for what they should do with their turn rather than allowing you to pick from their full range of abilities. You can cancel them out and issue a direct order instead, but at the cost of their loyalty. Clan members who become too disloyal will run off, taking a share of your wealth (as well as their precious genetic heritage) along with them.

Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines Screenshot

If this sounds like a lot to manage, it only scratches the surface of the details you need to keep track of during the game. The sheer amount of variables you’re supposed to watch is nearly overwhelming at first. Fortunately, you have an adviser in the form of a cute weasel girl (in mythical Japanese fashion, she’s literally a weasel given human form by your patron deity). She’ll formulate a good plan for every month that you can choose to follow. I found her suggestions of when to mate and who to mate with particularly useful, as the game is pretty awful at providing a clear rundown of your statistical strengths and weaknesses.

Once you get into the rhythm of living month to month, earning devotion, building your wealth, and keeping your clan going as members are born and die, Oreshika becomes a fascinating and compelling experience. The story unfolds gradually as you confront the sorcerer who cursed you about once a year. In the meantime, you come to care for your clan as they live out their too-brief lives and deliver a heartfelt eulogy upon their deaths.

Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines Screenshot

The beautiful package in which Oreshika is wrapped helps with the feeling that you’re in a living Japanese epic. The graphics look like classical Japanese art come to life, from the architecture to the watercolor-style cutscenes to the bizarre demonic enemies. Traditional Japanese music makes up the score, and has been chosen well to represent the ebb and flow of the game’s energy. There is no English dub, but listening to the Japanese actors voice the lines just makes sense in Oreshika . They are unusually good at conveying character and emotion across language barriers, and I find it hard to imagine listening to English voices in this particular game.

If there’s one major negative to playing Oreshika , it’s that the game relies a bit too heavily on the random nature of the loot slot machines. In particular, getting special weapons that unlock new gods and unlocking new character classes for your clan members requires a great deal of luck at the slots. There’s nothing more frustrating than finally landing on one of these elusive items, only to have the enemy commander decide to scarper off on the second turn of the fight. Still, this is a game that is meant to be played over the long haul, (it even lets you tweak its speed and experience rates, but the fastest estimated playthrough time is thirty hours) so everything is likely to shake out in the end.

Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines is a welcome start to 2015’s lineup of Japanese RPGs. It’s something quite different from the usual fare that has come bouncing and giggling onto our shores lately. It’s a hard-core strategic and time-management RPG that also presents a sweeping heroic history of a doomed clan searching for redemption. That very hard-core nature, as well as the over-reliance on random loot roles, will undoubtedly turn off some players. For those who enjoy really digging into RPG systems or who love Japanese mythology, however, it’s a real treat.

Classical Japanese painting comes to life on the Vita screen. 3.5 Control
Gameplay has a compelling time-based ebb and flow to it, but be prepared to sort through lots of menus. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Traditional music fits the scene and tone perfectly. No English dub, but for once I think that enhances the game. 3.5 Play Value
This is a hardcore strategic and time-management RPG that requires you to stick around for the long haul. Players will either feel compelled to do just that or will want to bail after a few generations. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Guide your clan over multiple generations on an epic quest to lift a curse against your bloodline, battling cruel enemies and spectacular bosses in this turn-based RPG set in ancient Japan.
  • Unite with gods inspired by Japanese mythology to ensure each new generation is more powerful than the last.
  • Choose from 8 unique classes for the warriors of your clan, including Fencer, Martial Artist and Gunner.
  • Beautiful graphics deliver a rich world like a Japanese watercolor painting come to life
  • Use the PS Vita’s camera to take a picture of yourself and create a clan leader modeled after your own appearance who spawns generations of warriors throughout your quest.
  • Interact with your friends’ in-game lands to buy exotic items and encounter rare gods to aid you in your adventure.

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