The following review reflects the PlayStation 4 version of the game at launch. AOne Games provided Shoryuken with a copy of the game for this review.
Omen of Sorrow is officially out! Indie developer AOne Games have put out an ambitious horror-themed fighter that plays to both to the FGC tournament scene and casual fans of snarly monsters and gothic overtones. Let’s take a look and see if this werewolf has real bite, or if it’s just all bark…
For months we’ve been led to believe, both from visuals and from developer interviews, that OoS was something of a indie love letter to NRS-style games. If that’s the case, I think most people that play it will be surprised to find a game much closer to a traditional Street Fighter or Killer Instinct. There’s no guard button, running isn’t tied to any sort of gauge, etc. That’s a very basic take, but I think it’s an important note: just because OoS is gloomy and dark, does not mean it’s Mortal Kombat. With a few exceptions, links and 2-in-1’s dominate the combos in this game for most characters until you start spending meter, and only then will you start to find some NRS-flavored juggles.
Dr. Hyde and Quasimodo — the game’s tallest and shortest characters — on the training stage.
Something that will be an almost instant make-or-break for players is the size of the battlefield. Your characters are relatively small in battle: Stages are unbelievably massive, and might be the largest 2D-fighter stages I’ve seen in any game I’ve played. When I first started playing, I genuinely thought this game was going to have endlessly scrolling stages à la Galaxy Fight.
Though the corner may be a few miles away, it may not matter in the long run — a large portion of the cast is designed to get in and maintain pressure, and it’s not terribly difficult to do that when each character has access to a run mechanic. Because of how sticky and stunted backdash generally feels, you’re going to find yourself wanting to run — particularly since some characters have excellent tools that can only be done while running. Combine this with the fact that running gives you meter (and backdashing drains meter), and the game kind of forces you to move forward anyways, lest you fall victim to the “Doomed” mechanic, described further down.
Bold Cancels, simply put, are ways to cancel normals into specials (or specials into specials) that you otherwise couldn’t cancel. It costs 2/3rds of Fortune meter to perform, and it’s the source of most of your combo damage and pressure in this game.
I like the idea of Bold Cancels on paper, but there’s quite a few caveats that make this mechanic both unwieldy and counter-intuitive for new players. There are no rules as to what type of normals can and cannot be BC’d, and it’s different for every character and move type. They aren’t clearly marked in the movelist, either, so you’ll be spending a lot of time in training mode figuring out what each normal’s individual cancels are. This isn’t “bad”, but it is a barrier to improvement for some.
Grappler Adam might be the worst example of this: his c.LK seems like a good footsie normal, as it is special cancelable only on hit and allows you to set up his Samurai Shodown‘s Hanzo-esque bouncing projectile. But if your c.LK is blocked, you’ll accidentally bold cancel if you have enough meter to do so — essentially wasting 2/3rds of your bar when all you wanted to do was keep pressuring going off a minor poke. Adam is still a good character despite this, but it’s a strange choice that highlights OoS’s learning curve since many other characters aren’t limited by Bold Canceling like this on similar tools. Learning curves aren’t bad. Inconsistency and obfuscation is.
Blessed / Doomed
There are two meters in this game you need to be aware of outside of your health bar: your super meter, which works exactly how you would expect (it’s divided in two, supers and EX moves cost one section) and the Fate/Fortune meter. When your Fate/Fortune meter either maxes out or depletes completely, you get a powered up/down state that corresponds to your meter. They are, respectively, “Blessed” and “Doomed”.
“Blessed”, which is activated by double tapping the EX button, allows you to Bold Cancel consecutive special moves, and to cancel normals into each other. The highest damage in the game, including touch-of-death combos, hide in “Blessed” mode. Combo maker fanatics will have hours of fun delving into this, and I think this is truly one of the most fun things to play around with in OoS. “Doomed”, meanwhile, is a truly cursed state: you can get guard crushed if you block certain moves, and you cannot grab while in this state.
Since most retreat options in the game put you closer to”Doomed”, and considering how heavily momentum-based the game is, it’s a lot more likely you’ll see “Doomed” than “Blessed”. Ultimately, you’re a lot less likely to be “stealing” rounds with Blessed than you are simple securing a round you’ve already had real momentum in, and even then, you sacrifice using Bold Cancels (a vital part of damage in this game) in order to get to “Blessed”. Is it worth it to save up for “Blessed”? I’m not so sure, but I like that it’s there if for no other reason that you can close out a round in a very show-off sort of way. Flex on ’em, but, like, gothically. Goth on ’em. Speaking of…
Cast and Visuals
Omen of Sorrow‘s cast looks like it was designed by a goth highschooler in the ’90s. This is either a plus or minus depending upon your tastes towards that type of aesthetic — While I think I’m probably the target audience for this cast (I’m a sucker for a monster character, and that’s half the roster here!), even I found it hard to look past how safe these designs looked. When you have a genre as potentially wild and weird as the world of horror, it seems like a failure of the imagination to make a bland Saberwulf knockoff. That’s the feeling you walk away from when looking at this game — that it wants to be a love letter to “Horror”, but it doesn’t want to do anything too crazy with it, despite crazy being the entire point of the genre.
However, the problem with the OoS looks isn’t entirely the designers fault. Look at this phenomenal promotional art by character designer and illustrator Genzoman:
Pretty incredible, right? Hell yeah, I want to play that game. Unfortunately, this slick, stylized energy in no way translates to the muddy final project:
Vladislav’s crouching animation ventures into Liefeld levels of baffling proportion and contortion.
Everything that could drive someone away from this game can be summed up in one character: Vladislav. This guy is Dr. Strange as designed by Anne Rice, and any of the power he has in the illustration above gets lost in awful animations and flat, muddy textures. His legs and head are horribly proportioned with each other. His crouching stance… is… truly something special to behold. If it wasn’t for his hilarious standing jab, a series of back-and-forth slaps that can combo into itself, I would think OoS would be a better as a game overall if he was just deleted entirely from the roster. It probably doesn’t help any that he’s a fireball-rekka character, both mechanics of which are covered by more interesting (and better-looking) characters in the cast. Don’t think I didn’t notice that he has Slayer’s stomp, either, OoS. (Incredibly obvious move “inspiration” is something that haunts a lot of the cast in OoS, to be fair, but I think there are new indie fighters out there that are slightly worse about it than this game is.)
Luckily, it’s in the mechanics that a lot of the cast shines, and most of them (Vladislav excluded) play in an interesting way. While there are your typical versatile shotos (Gabriel) and the ever popular flying rushdown vampire chick (Radegonda — play her if you like jump cancels), there’s some truly unique styles to be found in this cast. The best example of this is almost certainly the Egyptian God Imhotep. Though he may look like a low budget version of Killer Instinct‘s Kan-Ra, he has one of the craziest mechanics I’ve seen in the 2D genre — his “normal jump” separates his body in half, putting his torso high in the air while his lower half remains stationed on the ground. This allows him to lean forward and take up most of the screen with zoning — how good or bad this is in the long run remains to be seen, but it’s fascinating, if nothing else.
There are two unlockable characters in this game — the headless swordsman Arctorious and final boss Thalessa. At the time of my writing this, the parameters to unlock these characters were unknown, and that’s a shame — I think both of these characters (Arctorious in particular) are among OoS’s finest-looking characters, both in design and in game models. OoS should have kept these designs at the forefront during promotion of the game instead of burying them in a gimmicky nostalgia-tinged unlock.
For me, Training Mode is the most important part of a fighting game. It is with this fact that I regret to inform you: Omen of Sorrow‘s Training Mode is awful, far below the standards of even most indie fighters, and is the single biggest reason why this game will struggle to keep players.
There are almost no features, and the features that do exist, such as “Guard after first hit”, etc., do not work consistently. There’s no frame data, no record function, no way at all to figure out how things actually work on block or hit. Move lists contain almost no information on properties, and in general won’t tell you much of anything other than inputs for specials and command normals. If you enjoy knowing how your own moves work and don’t have a second person to test data, I can’t recommend this game to you for this fact alone.
The only filter option is whether you search the world or your friends list.
I found it incredibly difficult to find matches online, but when I did, they were typically very good, connection wise. OoS uses GGPO and it is easily the biggest selling point of the game. The problem here, of course, is that you have to find people to play it with — I found two in about an hour of play, and though one of them did that have that classic GGPO teleportation, it was nothing that I wasn’t already used to from other GGPO-using games. If you like GGPO, you’ll like playing this online. If you don’t, you won’t.
I was only ever able to find matches via either entering a lobby or setting up my own. No one played Ranked, which may be for the best since there’s no filtering for location/connection that I could find.
Easily the least-polished aspect of OoS is its sound design and execution. In both story mode and versus mode there are several glitches that replay sound effects and voice clips when it’s not supposed to, and there are bugs in some moves that don’t play sound at all when they should. Caleb’s EX Rekka, for example, will only play its sound effects if you use the EX Button to complete the Rekka — you can still complete it if you use the punch buttons, but you get this weird, soundless version that also sometimes has no block stun. That is, unfortunately, one example of many, and since Caleb has been in several builds at this point, it leaves one to wonder how badly-implemented other characters are.
[NOTE: AOne Games has already put out a patch that fixed Story Mode’s SFX loop glitch. It did not, however, correct the Caleb EX Rekka SFX glitch.]
I’ll keep this brief — Story Mode is bad, but very funny. If you can think of any mealy-mouthed, overly dramatic narrator you’ve heard in a B-movie, then you probably have an idea of how the writing of the “plot” is for this game. The bar for fighting game stories is low and OoS, instead of trying to keep the experience lean, chose to ham it up with a snarling voice actress who reads the most overwrought, meaningless poetry at the player over CGI-shots of inanimate objects, moody scenery, etc. I kind of love it because I can almost picture Kevin McDonald’s The Kids in the Hall character in “The Pit of Ultimate Darkness” skit saying all of the lines. Its lack of self-awareness is its own charm.
Sadly, in-between these hammy scenes, you’re forced to fight the AI in incredibly repetitive battles, and sometimes you’ll fight the same character multiple times in a row with no advancement in the plot having taken place between them. It’s fairly shameless padding for no reason, and I struggle to call this “content”. It also doesn’t unlock anything meaningful as far as I can tell, so aside from laughing at the narrator, I feel like I wasted my time playing this.
Omen of Sorrow is not a bad game at its heart, it’s a rushed game. It has genuinely good ideas in terms of gameplay, but it’s marred by a Triple-A price tag it has not earned, a complete lack of graphical polish, a worthless training mode, and laughably bad writing/plot. It likely needs a round of quality-of-life patches before it should be taken too seriously, but I don’t think it should be ignored in the long run. If nothing else, it should be learned from — AOne Games has a future in this business, even if OoS isn’t the breakout hit for them.
That being said, I do hope it does well enough that they give it some much needed support. I applaud any indie company that took on as big of a project as a fighting game — and it is clear to me that there was a lot of heart put into this game. But if the company moves on to another project with the same swiftness they took to put this out there, it wouldn’t surprise me. Whatever happens with OoS or AOne Games, they should spend a little more time on the finer details in the future — and maybe read (or re-read) Richard William’s “The Animator’s Survival Kit”.
If you can overlook its many UI and graphical flaws, there is a gem here buried beneath the grime.