Any given JRPG usually ends with your party of four (sometimes less, sometimes more) saving the damned world from a crisis born of one ultra-bad (maybe misguided?) person (or thing!) bent on world destruction. Somewhere along that epic adventure to the end game, there would be a lot of familiar tropes your party members would encounter. From stealing monster's hard-earned money to visiting villages or towns, to meeting the bubbly character with the sordid secret past; we've all been there and done that.
It's the trope of visiting the local Weapon shop to upgrade your arsenal that Weapon Shop de Omasse focuses on. The game, from Level-5's Nintendo eShop Guild01 series and written by Japanese comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai, is self-aware in its humor as it rips the generic JRPG tropes apart. In the game, you play as the young apprentice Yuhan, son to a Weapons Specialist Craftsman, Oyaji. Being an entrepreneur in a time of (short-lived) peace, Yuhan comes up with a business risk: renting weapons to various heroes on various quests to turn a profit. If the weapons break during their quest, the Weapon Shop would not get the rental fee while being short one weapon.
Is it solely a game with a system of renting? Well, not quite. It's actually more a very simple rhythm game. As an apprentice, Yuhan is in training to make the weapons unique to the preferences of his customers while also factoring in monsters' weaknesses on specific quests. And of course, everyone knows a great weapon can only be made through rhythm and hammer beats while forging a blade in the fires of music.
Beyond that, Weapon Shop de Omasse is a game that is more a sitcom than anything else. There's less focus on gameplay, and much more of a focus on the multiple jokes that can be made of JRPGs' most recognizable tropes.
When I played Dragon Quest IV some years ago, I was fascinated by the character Torneko Taloon, a merchant and eventual Weapons shop owner by trade. For a small portion of the game, the player got to experience his role as just that: selling weapons to customers in an in-game day period to get that precious money. It was a weird dynamic of being on the other side of the JRPG world — essentially playing an NPC — and it was something I thoroughly enjoyed as mundane as that was. Later, Torneko set off to find items to sell to fund a start-up shop of his own. I was a tad sad when Torneko became just another fighting party member, going off on his own adventure but it was a brilliant thing all the same. His adventure began as a self-serving endeavor which was a story that was a welcome change for being so odd.
Omasse takes this idea of giving you the role of the merchant, and proceeds to poke fun and the living hell out of all those adventurers that find themselves in your shop.
Weapon Shop Owner by Day! And Into the Night, Too.
As dull as that could seem, it's sort of refreshing to craft weapons. Unlike Torneko, Yuhan never leaves the shop. Instead of leveling your character up, you send others to do your dirty work for you to level up your weapons. If they are successful, and depending on how many weapons you made and rented out within the game's in-game day cycle, your shop's popularity also levels up allowing you to unlock the ability to forge higher-level weapons. So, alright...It can get to be quite dull, for sure, thanks to its simplicity but a couple of things help stave off the very simple mechanics.
There's a very basic joy in making a successful weapon that nets you a profit. And while that portion of the game some may argue to be hardly 'excellent' (more on that later), I could appreciate the execution of being a shop owner — meeting and engaging with ridiculous characters as the other side of importance in questing. It's the side of giving the usual one-line Shopkeeper more interactions and seeing the world through his perspective. It's a neat idea! In this game then, the heroes become the NPCs and Yuhan still gets the joy of partaking in their adventures without actually going out there. Which is the subject of the true excellent portion of the game...
Look, we all love our heroes with their complicated back stories and personality quirks. We also love going out and exploring the beauty of the world. Omasse keeps you locked up in your weapon shop. For completing mini goals, you will be rewarded with items that will dress up the shop - usually furniture fixtures or odd knickknacks. But how to make any of that stagnant life in a weapon shop interesting? That's where Yoshiyuki Hirai's writing and humor takes center stage in the form of The GrindCast.
While you level up in the most non-traditional way ever (as a non-traditional hero), all those customers with the stereotype JRPG trope personalities go on similar stereotyped adventures. The adventures are broadcast back to your shop in the equivalent of constant Facebook feeds or Twitter updates. There's a lot of reading involved, with the action going on in the background as you do your daily chores of making and polishing weapons.
Familiar phrases will read out over the Grindcast with NPCs saying things you would expect of them but of course, in the most meta of ways: WHAT? YOU'RE HERE? followed by an "Elf Appears". Or an OMG! SO CUTE! and then a "HellGoat appears" notification. It's those silly things that players of these types of games will recognize. Hardly anyone goes into battle without anything but the sole intent of killing creatures you meet in a normal JRPG, but we all think some of those monsters are pretty cute but hardly ever get to say it in-game. Omasse's NPCs will then attempt to slay the beast but their outbursts are far more hilarious because they are far from serious.
The Grindcast in its nature, is the joke we all know. But at the very least, Yuhan is an indirect participant: he is spared actually having the endless annoying random encounters for grinding. Or trying to figure out where to go and what to do next while having moments of frustration. As a spectator, he gets to peek into those moments instead.
It's like putting yourself in the position of being the friend who always looked in from the outside with curiosity at watching you play. We have those friends and family members, don't we? As Yuhan, you become the friend who always wondered why JRPG gaming was so fascinating. Of course, as a well-seasoned JRPG player, the meta-humor to that and identifying with all the tropes will make this game much more enjoyable. It's about not taking yourself - as a JRPG gamer- so seriously and being able to have a laugh at your own expense.
The Humor - Oh, You'll Get It
Humor is, of course, subjective. The type here, as stated before, makes fun of the grand plots of JRPGs in every way possible. It's the type we see all the time but I still found it amusing. It pokes fun at the lack of motivation of the main villains, and types of persona you may have encountered during any of your own adventures in other games.
You'll recognize stupid things like fighting off legions of monsters to save the one you love. You'll recognize the noble samurai traveling from the east and having an honorable samurai outlook on life. They're all here. The white knights, comedy acts in heroes, feuding sisters and more.
While their stories are over the top and try to beat you over the head to represent exactly the kind of party member you could meet in any given JRPG (even lesser known NPCs are labeled just that - NPC A to NPC G as their names etc), the ridiculousness in how their tales unfold is what makes them brilliant. The heroes of Omasse have twists to every single one of their designated roles. A minor spoiler, if I may, to illustrate this point - the knight is not actually very heroic or much of a ladies' man. He's actually quite cowardly and anything but dashing.
That's the sort of reversal of the expected tropes you can find in Omasse that is revealed during the course of the game over the aforementioned Grindcast.
It's a lot more interesting as the writing is strong. The characters' stories progress from the foolish to even more so, and the jokes can be quite clever. I found myself chuckling quite the bit. For a game based heavily on comedy, it struck all the right keys for me to identify the sillier aspects of the JRPG.
Even Though Ridiculous, There's Also Surprising Character Development and Story. Kinda.
But then, not all the characters are so black and white to be used in the most comedic way as possible. There's also a sad, and heart-warming tale to a Warrior, Grandma Snow. She is probably one of the more interesting characters in the story since she actually has some sort of role that's not really poked at, and could easily make a great protagonist in a 'normal' JRPG. What does that say about the humor then? Well, it's still funny overall but the writing can also handle something a bit more serious too sometimes. There is still fun poked at the things that happen in her story, but Grandma Snow the character was less the subject of the joke unlike all of the other characters.
There's also something really interesting about everyone's individual tales that happens a bit near the end. Not to give it away but what happens pushes against everything a JRPG stands for by being so selfish and human. I honestly thought the game would do something to go in a different direction because I was stuck in the mind of still following those tropes. Good twist there, Omasse.
The Laugh Track
As previously mentioned, Omasse mostly feels less of a game and more of a sitcom. In addition to the writing, the laugh track adds even more layer to that feeling. As a character enters the shop, depending on who it is and the conversation had with Yuhan, an unseen audience will laugh. They'll boo at poor situations in which less than admirable truths are revealed. They'll also gasp at appropriate moments. It's sort of weird and sometimes funny, but again, when playing this game for close to 10 hours or so, these things just sort of fizzle out in the background. Yes, we get it. Now stop being so predictable.
The tracks here are nothing to write home about but they will be memorable to you as you play the game, and only when you play the game. You'll recognize each character's theme and the songs do well to herald their coming, while adding to their personalities. But other than that, forgettable is what the soundtrack will become to you.
Similar sentiments may be said about the weapon-making music. Some of them are fun and you'll tap it out while head bobbing but when it's over, there's no ear worm lingering.
Some of Those Characterizations…
Save Snow, the characters are all just there to act as recognizable devices to mock. Their comical, nonsensical situations along with their familiar physical attributes and roles are at the forefront to sell the humor. I will say that the game's particular characterization of a certain character made me raise an eyebrow, and had me feeling uncomfortable upon introduction and at various points in the game.
Omasse had one Mr. Grape Kiss to fit the role of the cross-dressing, flamboyant character. While it made me unsettled at Yuhan's reaction to Mr. Grape Kiss first appearance (which was less than enthusiastic), or the fact that I could not initially shake the feeling as though the game was harshly making fun of Mr. Grape Kiss in the most horrendous way possible; it warmed me to know that Oyaji and Mr. Grape Kiss himself corrected Yuhan's poor attitude (and Mr. Kiss later beat the crap out of the main boss when he too tried to turn Mr. Grape Kiss into a one-dimensional joke yet again). In that sense and apart from Snow, Mr. Grape Kiss is heralded as a fantastic character by me.
It's the game's handling of his scenes at times, that felt less than acceptable. If there was humor there, it was lost on me.
As sucked in as I was for much of the game when I first started, due to how well it just flowed; as time went on, some of the game's mechanics frustrated me to no end.
The Weapon Making Mini-Game. Same Old Song and Forge
This is truly the only gameplay portion of the game, one could argue (really, making a successful weapon is the key to winning battles which in turn gets you money to buy materials - so it's quite limiting in terms of what actually constitutes gameplay). Since the game pretty much tells you which stats will kill whatever monster your questing parties will encounter next, it's hardly rocket science in what sort of stat boost you should give your forged weapon. You forge weapons by beating out a rhythm on a selected piece of metal, infusing up to three stat changing items into the weapon (such as adding a poison status for example) while tempering when necessary. It never gets so complicated that you'll find yourself stressing over making one.
It's the kind of mini-game you might find in a Warioware game and it works on a very simple level in the same way. It's addictive in the beginning and not a terrible mini-game in of itself.
Unfortunately, with the writing the real star of the game, Omasse overlooked the gameplay and it probably could have done so much more with it. It was a great idea but the lack of variety in the songs you hear to make the weapons makes Omasse sometimes feel like half an experience. Making weapons eventually felt like chores and lost its charm very early on due to that. Even if the focus on the game was the dialog for the most part, expanding the song library would have kept things fresh. It felt a sort of wasted opportunity.
Stop Interrupting Me!
While searching in a menu to start making a weapon, it was so frustrating to be automatically exited from it by customers coming into the shop at any given moment. One minute you're searching through the many weapons or items screen, when suddenly the game pulls you right out without warning. It was annoying, especially near the end when I was really trying to hurry up and finish up my requests for a final boss fight.
Something about the end left me bitter. The grinding that you were spared the entire time in theory, became a grind at the end. I do not wish to spoil it but while completely optional, once you finish the main quests, the game opens itself up to become a never-ending new game plus. There's no true incentive to want to keep playing because honestly, to me, it felt as though the game was promising something that never delivered. The finality of it sort of happens a bit before the end, so it was a weird way to extend what was going on. It may have been the biggest joke of all but to me, it was one that fell flat due to poor execution. It fizzled out for sure and there's nothing here that encourages me to pick it up again, even for fun or short bursts of play.
While I would love to give the full recommendation to Weapon Shop de Omasse, I think the experience could quickly becoming tiring during the fourth, fifth or sixth hour of gameplay. It may be a game best suited to short bursts of play but I found it hard to want to put it down as it became so addictive due to the Grindcast feed never-ending. Jumping back in after a prolonged absence took a little adjusting to, and by the time it was 'over', that was it for me. I quickly set it aside without much of an urge to want to play again as most 'time wasting' never-ending games are designed to do. There's a lot that can get old fast as the humor becomes expected, even though it is hysterical at how self-aware it is. There's also the issue that Omasse is not incredibly in-depth when it comes to gameplay. So as an honest opinion, the game was only half a game in that regard: an interactive sitcom with the interactive part becoming very much an after-thought very quickly.
It's a game where knowledge as to your typical JRPG tropes is needed to enjoy it to its full extent, or at least be able to relate to it.
That said, it's fun in its weird way but it's also not utterly fantastic. It's an odd little experiment that may work for fans of the JRPG genre (who don't mind having a laugh without actually expecting to go in playing a JRPG) but it also may not sit comfortably to fans of rhythm games since it barely scratches the surface of that mechanic.