|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Alfa System|
|Release: March 3, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Blood, Crude Humor, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
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.
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.
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.
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.