With Darkstalkers currently in a coffin in some haunted castle, there is a huge gap in the market for a horror-themed fighting game. Mortal Kombat X was filled with movie monsters and Killer Instinct has its fair share of werewolves and vampires, but no one has stepped up to make a true horror fighting game in ages. Hoping to fill that tombstone-shaped hole in the FGC, AOne Games’ Omen of Sorrow certainly fits the horror billing — with vampire hunters, mad scientists, and succubi gearing for a fight — but does its combat delight, or incite true terror?
Before this preview goes any further, one myth needs to be dispelled about Omen of Sorrow. If you look at the comments for any stories or trailers about this game, Killer Instinct is the first game people compare it to. Being a Killer Instinct player, I had to say I went into Omen of Sorrow expecting a similar combo system. In reality, it’s nothing like KI. My guess is that this comparison has only stuck because people saw Omen of Sorrow’s werewolf character, thought it was an homage to Sabrewulf, and then reckoned that OoS was a KI clone. Having played it for a good few hours, the series Omen of Sorrow is closest to is The King of Fighters, with some Guilty Gear-esque meter mechanics thrown in for good measure.
This only became clear after about an hour’s worth of play though, as Omen of Sorrow doesn’t do itself any favors in explaining its mechanics. The demo itself came with no control explanation, meaning that it took me a while just to figure out how to do EX moves — as pressing two attack buttons at the same time did nothing. Omen of Sorrow uses four attack buttons, much like KOF (LP/LK/HP/HK), along with a grab and an EX button. There were two characters playable in the demo: a cursed monster hunter named Gabriel, and his angelic counterpart Zafkiel — with the full game promising ultimately 12 playable characters. Almost every special move in the game (besides Gabriel’s anti-air special) was performed with either a QCF or QCB motion, so don’t expect Omen of Sorrow to borrow some of KOF’s more joystick-twsting input commands.
You have to keep track of two meters in Omen of Sorrow: one which is dedicated to EX moves, and supers and another which is tied to OoS’s unique Blessed and Doomed mechanic. The best way to describe this mechanic is as a mix between The King of Fighters’ Max Mode and Guilty Gear’s Tension Gauge, with players building meter by moving forward and landing special moves. When you have two or more stocks of this “Blessed” gauge, players can perform a Bold Cancel, which allows you to cancel any special (and certain normals) into another special move. You can also perform a Retreat — think of a KOF Guard Cancel Roll — by holding down the EX button and performing a back dash. Use too much of the Blessed gauge and you’ll enter the Doomed state, where you cannot use grabs or specials until the debuff wears off. Should you build enough Blessed meter, and if the character sigil by the Blessed gauge starts glowing, you can enter Blessed Mode — which allows you to Bold Cancel consecutive special moves. Activating Blessed Mode when you have a single stock of Blessed Meter is a bad call, but you can really go on a tear should you activate with two stocks or more.
There is certainly the opportunity for combo fiends to go wild with both the EX and Blessed gauges in Omen of Sorrow; the problem right now is that you simply don’t gain enough meter. Even playing against the CPU, I was lucky to get a single stock of the two-stock EX meter in an entire round, while your Blessed meter resets back to one and a half stocks at the start of each new round. The current design of the Blessed meter also makes it difficult to see how much meter you have, leading to many accidental Bold Cancels or players overspending on meter.
This issue of conveyance stretches to the way health is managed, as Omen of Sorrow seems to have several different ways of measuring lost health. You have your core red health bar, orange health — which acts like Killer Instinct’s potential damage — and then grey health, which is where your red health can then regenerate up to. If you’re already confused by this description, I can tell you it’s no easier to understand while playing. The main problem is that you never really know how much damage a combo has done, as the orange health reading only gives you a rough guide as to how damage you’ve done to your opponent’s overall health bar. Red health regeneration happens quickly, meaning that the average pace of a match is pretty slow, but that can also be attributed to how little people know about Omen of Sorrow’s systems.
As for the two playable characters in the build, I feel AOne had to sacrifice showing some of their coolest designs to make Omen of Sorrow not too intimidating for novices. With moves inspired by Guile, Terry Bogard, Kyo Kusanagi, and even Captain Commando, Gabriel feels like the jack-of-all-trades for Omen of Sorrow. From my short time with the demo, much of Gabriel’s damage came from Bold Canceling his Burn Knuckle-esque dash punch into either another punch or his heavy energy javelin projectile. He can reset airborne opponents with his jumping overhead kick special, his crouching medium kick is a great poking tool, and both the light and heavy versions of his energy javelin assert massive amounts of horizontal screen control. It’s unfortunate then that Gabriel’s Level 1 super is atrocious, having a year’s worth of start-up before it fires. This full-screen energy pulse can be fired either horizontally or diagonally, but each version can be crouched and there is no way to cancel its long start-up, meaning there’s no reason to use this super over the EX version of Gabriel’s energy javelin. His Atgeir special is a weird one too, being performed with a down-down motion, and acting like Captain Commando’s Captain Corridor. Its narrow vertical hitbox means that it’s not the greatest anti-air and it’s quite difficult to link into, but its launch properties mean that it is a great move to Bold Cancel from. Overall, Gabriel is function over form, a solid character but nothing to write home about.
Zafkiel is the flashier of the two, being an acrobatic demon hunter who happens to be part angel as well. She’s got DNA from Kolin, Decapre, and Sonya Blade, with her high mobility making her perfect for rushdown players. Her heavy flip kick can be Bold Canceled into her diving stab special, while her Drill Rush is perfect for pushing opponents into the corner. She’s got a forward and backward command dash and a side-switching command grab that can you can Bold Cancel into, meaning that Zafkiel has the tools to be a setup/mix-up machine. The lack of a standard projectile does hurt her in the neutral, but her fast-moving projectile super is great for covering her aerial approaches. For Zafkiel being all about mobility, the decision to give her a slow-acting counter baffles me. The move has her frozen in place for about a second, making it super-punishable by throws, with only the heavy version dealing damage upon success. It may be useful as a hard read against opponents who constantly push buttons on wake-up, but I can’t see it having much utility past that.
It is still rough ’round the edges — and AOne Games need to really work on explaining its systems to the player — but Omen of Sorrow’s core combat has the potential to be super fun to play around with. Finding out Bold Cancel routes is satisfying, and while the demo characters didn’t light my candle, the other characters I have seen in trailers look to have the right tools to make the most out of OoS’s systems. With some more time in the oven, Omen of Sorrow will be a fighter to keep your eye on in 2018.