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Review | Omega Quintet

by on April 21, 2015
 

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One genre that the PlayStation 4 has been severely lacking is JRPGs. In general, one could even argue that the entire first year of the console’s life was marked with a lack of notable titles from Japan, though it was heavily embraced by western developers. Finally, Japanese games are flooding the console, with recent releases such as Bloodborne, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, and the first non-MMO Final Fantasy title, but none of these really fill the otaku’s longing for a JRPG.

Omega Quintet is the first title on the system to settle into that niche, and may either receive the brunt of criticism for this reason or be eagerly embraced for it. Checking out other reviews certainly seems to support this, as the ones we’ve read tend to vary wildly, ranging from 5/10 to 4.5/5 (9/10), and each reviewer makes their fair point. But what do we think of the title?

Culture parody

First, it’s important to understand what Omega Quintet is. The new IP from Compile Heart and Idea Factory, Omega Quintet is thematically similar to the Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise. Where Hyperdimension Neptunia parodies the video games industry, however, Omega Quintet takes its shot at parodying the idol culture in Japan, with the thematic cross-overs being quite noticeable.

Due to it being a parody of the idol culture, it’s also somewhat important to understand the culture, at least a bit. Japan’s idol culture, perhaps best known through the group AKB48, is carefully constructed to pander to the obsessives. AKB48 is a music group which changes on a yearly basis as members of the 48 are “graduated” and replaced. Fans, for the most part, support this group for the carefully constructed “virginal-but-sexy image”, as one reviewer put it, the girls in the group are each carefully constructed to epitomize, with people purchasing merchandise and CDs for the sole reason to gain tickets to the events.

These idol groups put even more pressure on the members with strict rules of behavior. One example is the strict “No dating” rule, which has caused several controversies over the years and cumulated with a girl shaving her head in shame for being caught violating this rule and dating a boy. Girls in the groups are even ranked each year through a fan voting system, which leads to fans buying several of the same CD just to attempt to ensure their favorite girl wins.

This culture, as we mentioned before, is precisely what Omega Quintet decides to parody through its narrative, repeatedly jabbing at the idol culture, the fans, and the expectations placed upon the girls. This tone is set immediately as you are placed in control of a young girl by the name of Otoha and her male friend, Takt. Otoha dreams of becoming a Verse Maiden, one of the rare few with a gift for magical music that grants them the power to fight back against the Blare (in text, during scenes, when characters say it, it comes out as “beep”), monsters that have attacked humans and driven them to the point of insanity.

These Verse Maidens have become heroes to the people, and crowds will even regularly risk their lives for the honor of seeing them perform (fight) against the Blare. Upon learning that she’s one of the few with the power to fight, Otoha joins up with a small group of other idols, who go about solving quests and protecting people from the Blare.

Parodying the idol culture, jokes are frequently made at the expense of poor Takt, questioning whether it’s appropriate for him to be living in the same hotel/base of operations as the group of teen girls. Takt is even threatened on a few occasions, with the manager of the former Verse Maiden spelling out exactly what will happen to him if he even thinks about trying to date one of the girls.

Takt’s troubles aside, the narrative is actually fairly standard, as the girls grow from battling creatures as weak as rats to taking out the most powerful beings.

On the note of Takt, he is quickly thrust into the background. Oh, you’ll control him in the hotel, and can pair him up with one of the five girls so that he can support her in various ways, from defending her during attacks to following up an assault with one of his own, pushing the enemy back in turn, which tends to lend more strategy to the battles, which we’ll touch on in more detail later. Overall, however, he is simply a catalyst, with the focus being on the girls, each one having a personality distinct from another (though if you’ve played Compile Heart titles in the past, you likely know at least a bit of what to expect from them).

Admittedly, the game’s humor can veer towards being tasteless, especially when you take into account the reality of the idol lifestyle, however, the game’s narrative is, for the most part, charming. Many gamers, including myself when I began playing, may not get the humor, as, unlike the Neptunia series, the context of the humor is somewhat vague in the west, since the idol culture doesn’t exist here. These gamers will still find the standard humor that they’ve come to expect, but only those who understand the idol culture in Japan will realize exactly how satirical it is. Compile Heart does a good job at passing light criticism on this culture without attacking it outright in Omega Quintet.

Battle

Omega Quintet’s battle system seems like typical JRPG turn-based fare, but there are a number of things to consider each turn. Enemies and the Verse Maidens are arranged on opposite sides of a battlefield and take turns striking each other, with weapons and special abilities having an ideal range. This range means they’ll deal out more damage if the enemy is on that line, but less if they’re either too close or too far away.

Rhythm is quite important as well, as every action you take will push the character further down the turn order, displayed on the side of the screen. While you could simply blindly attack as many times as allowed every turn, and can likely clear most of the smaller enemies out fairly easily doing so, this isn’t the most efficient use of your characters at all. Buffs and debuffs will occur during certain points of the battle, and one of the key strategies in the game is to manipulate the turn order so that you’ll gain the buffs while the enemies are crippled by debuffs.

Turn order is also important for your skills and attacks as a whole. Each enemy has a defense gauge of sorts that deplenishes with every strike. Once you manage to dish out enough damage to empty this gauge, your attacks will deal even more damage, but you’ll need to be quick, as it replenishes to full every time the enemy’s turn comes around. You can even continue to dish out damage to already dead enemies, providing you’re still attacking them before your character’s turn ends, and if you manage to deal enough damage to refill the health bar completely (so a 1,000 HP enemy would need to be at -1,000), you’ll gain extra experience.

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Once you get the ability to make all of your consecutive characters on the turn order move at the same time, it becomes easier to break the shields and overkill enemies. Another aspect of the strategy comes into play here as, once you can do this, you can link your characters’ skills together, and certain combinations will turn your two separate attacks into a singular extra powerful attack. The first time I chained two “ultimate attacks” (as we’ll call them) together and they turned into one of these extra powerful assaults, I was stunned by the sheer amount of damage it dealt.  On the note of skills, each character (yes, even Takt) has a full, deep skill tree for you to grow as you level, and the girls each gain proficiency with a weapon as they utilize it more in battle.

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Overall, Compile Heart has managed to push the mechanics of turn-based combat quite far, resulting in a truly dynamic system that’s quite rewarding, both in-game and out, to master.

Of course, your characters are not invincible, and neither are their outfits. If they take too much damage, their outfits can tear, leaving them in nothing more than their underwear. This is both embarrassing for the girls (remember, they’re fighting/performing in front of people the entire time!) and severely decreases the chances of their survival.

torn outfit

Stages and mini-games

As the game advances, it becomes important to design dance routines for the quintet. Unfortunately this is rather poorly explained in the accompanying tutorial, but it is shockingly fun to create your own unique music video as you select facial expressions, dance maneuvers, character placement, camera angles, and more. It is quite deep, and is quite a change from the combat.

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With all the complexity offered by the rest of the game, some may find it a small mercy that the levels themselves tend to be small, straightforward, and quite easy to navigate. Oh, there are several areas that you’ll notice are blocked off in each stage, but the game is designed so that you’ll be able to access these areas when you need them. Some will require you to deal with some of the fetch quests, which will level up one of your character’s abilities before you can access them. For example, one character can move objects out of the way. You’ll soon come across objects that require her to have the second level of strength in order to move, which is obtained by completing a certain quest.

Admittedly, this can feel like an artificial contrivance, but the game’s level design never exactly tries to be organic anyway.

The bad

The typical Compile Heart complaints would apply to this title as does with their other games. The frame rates are not really under control, which many reviewers and fans will likely find off-putting. It honestly didn’t really bother me, and I would become absorbed in the gameplay to the point that I hardly noticed it at all.

Also, while not necessarily a “bad”/complaint from this reviewer, the graphics don’t exactly push the hardware. Omega Quintet looks to be a step ahead of what the developers achieved on the PlayStation 3, with better quality animation and cleaner, sharper lines during cut scenes,  but if you look at a blockbuster title like the Final Fantasy XV demo, you’ll definitely get that the title came from a smaller team with a much smaller budget. This can turn off several gamers who  have grown to care deeply for graphics and expect the absolute best on the PlayStation 4 in these terms.

Overall

Honestly, despite the technical issues and missing quite a bit of the satire at first, Omega Quintet fills the niche it aimed to quite nicely. It isn’t a blockbuster, but is, instead, an independent game from a small, creative team, so it’s not really fair to expect it to look as great as something as the aforementioned demo.

Considering what it is, Compile Heart has, once again, delivered a deep JRPG mixed with satire and humor. Despite some issues with tutorials not explaining as well as they could (music video section, I’m looking at you in particular), Omega Quintet is quite fun, and fans of Compile Heart will most likely enjoy the title. Just go in expecting to miss out on a lot of the jokes if you haven’t done any research on Japanese idol culture.

Final Score: 4/5

 

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