There’s a fair amount of talk about how the JRPG genre is dying due to a lack of innovation. I can see where this is coming from to some extent; it’s a genre that’s stuck to its guns for quite some time, though I’d argue that these days we’re seeing more unique JRPGs localized on a regular basis. One great example of how JRPGs haven’t completely stagnated is Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines, a new title for the PlayStation Vita that just might renew your faith in RPGs from the East.
After a set of holy artifacts used in religious festivals are stolen, people want to see someone pay for their loss. The blame falls on the clans meant to protect the artifacts; one of those is your clan, and the blame takes the form of complete annihilation. You’re given another chance, though, to return from the dead and find the man who did the deed – the villainous sorceror Abe no Seimei. There’s a catch, though: even being dead isn’t enough to break the curse, so it’ll be hanging over your head during your quest for revenge.
Things aren’t as simple as “go into dungeons, level up, beat up evil sorceror,” though. Remember that part about your clan being cursed? That curse manifests in two ways: first, nobody in the clan will live longer than two years, and that’s usually a generous estimate with the average lifespan being around 20 months. Second, clan members may only reproduce with gods or members of other cursed clans. This means that even the most badass warrior is going to pass away before long, and you’ll want to use the Rite of Divine Union to pass along his badassery to the next generation.
Before you ask, this is all handled with as much dignity as one could expect from a video game. It comes off as more symbolic than anything, really. What’s not symbolic are the children that result – children that possess genetics from both their mortal and divine parents. Choosing mates and keeping the clan going is perhaps the most vital part of Oreshika, especially given the nasty sting of losing your best fighter to old age.
New clan members are young, of course, and they aren’t ready to take the field and battle Oni with your fighters just yet. Instead, for the first few months they’ll study on their own; alternatively, you can assign other clan members to train them, which results in higher stat gains. This means you also have to think about who’ll train the newbies, who’ll go on adventures and so on.
When you’ve got a team together, it’s time to hit the dungeons. The Rite isn’t free, after all; you’ll need to spend Devotion earned from slaying Oni to attract some divine attention. You’ll send parties of four into a dungeon to rustle up that Devotion via turn-based JRPG combat, which is a snappy affair focused on combining your team’s strengths and effective positioning to take down your foes.
Even combat’s got an innovation or two: for instance, at the start of every battle you’re told what items you’ll earn for victory. By defeating the enemy leader, you’ll obtain these spoils…and the battle will promptly end, leaving you with only the experience and Devotion from that one kill. To earn the most from a battle, then, you’ll need to clear the field, but enemy leaders tend to flee from combat, particularly when they’re carrying rare or valuable goods. You’ll need to weigh the importance of character development against the value of the items the Oni are carrying.
Also, it’s not like time stops in a dungeon. As mentioned, your clan members only have so long to live, and a trip into a dungeon will take at least a month. This ticks down over real time, including in combat, and staying too long will result in a stat loss. Efficient delving is key to success here.
If all of that sounds like an absolute terror to manage, well, that’s because it is. Thankfully, Oreshika offers a helping hand in the form of the weasel-girl Kōchin, essentially a personal assistant who’s there to simplify the particulars of running your clan. Mashing your face against the circle button will have Kōchin automatically set you up with a quest, some healing and attack items and the proper gear for the job. She’ll handle town investments, battle positioning and even the marriage of your clan members if you want her to.
The best part? She only does as much of this as you ask; if you’d rather handle shopping, investments, or the Rite of Divine Union yourself, for instance, you can do so without issue. Kōchin is generally pretty good about keeping things running smoothly, though I found she was a little loose with the clan’s purse and switched to buying my own items early on.
What this all amounts to is that victories against Seimei and his forces feel surprisingly personal, particularly in later generations. You’ll briefly get to know your new clan members…and then they’ll be gone, passing on the torch to a new generation. At a certain point you’ll be guiding most of their development yourself, so losses start to feel a bit more real and the grudge your guys bear against Seimei starts to feel a little more close to home. It’s good stuff.
Tying all this together is a fantastic art style based on Japanese watercolor paintings. The scenery in the various dreamlike dungeons is absolutely fantastic – and the game is certainly aware of this, as most dungeons have photo op spots where your team can pose for a screenshot. Even in combat, all the enemies look like they’re ripped straight from one of those paintings.
It’s a little sad that even today, games like Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines can fly completely under the radar. If you own a Vita and enjoy RPGs even a little, you owe it to yourself to pay the pittance being asked for this game – around $20 as of this writing – because you’re going to love it to death. The amount of content and high quality of gameplay here make Oreshika one of the best games available for the system and perhaps one of the best RPGs around.