Call it superstition, but I always like my first review of a new year to be somewhat indicative of that year. That’s one of the reasons I had intended Omega Quintet to be that first review—to say that I’m out of my element here is an understatement, as this isn’t only a game heavily inspired by anime (which I’ve never been into outside of the token Cowboy Bebops and Ghost in the Shells), but also one that has heavy visual novel elements. Pushing outside of my comfort zone wasn’t the only reason playing through Omega Quintet was so appealing, though. Actually, I went around looking for reviews to see if it was worth my time, only to discover a vast canyon separating those who enjoy the game and those who hate it. Some people were sanctimoniously finger-wagging, of course, while others more familiar with the niche spoke favorably of it because of course they did. Lost in all of that noise was the answer to the single nagging question I had: is Omega Quintet actually a good game or not? Having now played through it for myself, I can confidently answer that question with a “sometimes yes, sometimes no.” There are truly enjoyable parts to this game, ones that have nothing to do with the unabashed fan service, but the fact that I managed to play through and review a different game as the first of this year because of the sheer amount of busywork standing between prospective players and the real ending makes it difficult to recommend. Still, I walked away from Omega Quintet’s practically unprecedented tedium with a lot of positive feelings intact, and that’s unheard of given how much emphasis I put on pacing. The game is just too adorably lighthearted and unashamed of itself to possibly hold a grudge against it.
Humor doesn’t require a coherent plot
Omega Quintet’s story is that in the past, some foggy stuff called Blare showed up and started messing with people’s minds and turning them into monsters called MAD who couldn’t be defeated with conventional weaponry. Nations continuously fell to the threat until just a single city remained. At some point, though, people realized that a bunch of young girls acting as pop stars called Verse Maidens had the unique ability to fight back against the Blare while wielding microphone weapons. These girls became more powerful with the support of their fans through mechanisms no one understands, so fighting back against the MAD became a televised production in order to inspire the kind of rabid fanaticism that better allows the girls to fight. Don’t expect any answers about what the Blare are, why they showed up, how the support of random jagoffs in the city increases the Verse Maiden’s fighting prowess, or basically anything else. None of this matters, really. The back story is only window dressing for the core of the game, which is sending a bunch of airheaded pop stars into bad situations so that they can succeed or fail in humorous ways.
The characters drive the plot
I don’t know why I like the characters in this game, but I do. There’s Otoha, the biggest airhead and a childhood friend of Takt, the main character (technically) who becomes the quintet’s manager. Then there are Kanadeko and Nene, who make up the brash and shy parts of the group, respectively. Kyouka shows up not long after that, seeing the other girls as rivals and pretty much being the token tsundere one. Finally, there’s Aria, who had parts of her personality absorbed by a Blare and has become vaguely Malkavian as a result. The interactions between all five of them are chaotic, and dialogue tends to be full of meaningless distractions that ultimately mean nothing as they play off of each other, but this nevertheless ensures that Omega Quintet never strays into self-seriousness. It’s the avoidance of seriousness that keeps all of the plot holes and premise stupidity from becoming a problem. It should also be mentioned that there’s occasional fan service that doesn’t even bother being thinly veiled, and this becomes incredibly uncomfortable when you find out that you’re dealing with a bunch of 15-16 year-old girls, but you know. Japan. If you can brush that stuff aside with a sigh and focus on the less cringe-inducing parts of the game, the likable stupidity of it all can really start to suck you in.
I hope you like tutorials
If I had to estimate, I’d say that Omega Quintet has about 9 million tutorial screens. Possibly more. That’s how it feels, at least—even after playing for hours and hours, I was still being barraged by tutorial prompts teaching me various things. This isn’t a very effective way of teaching you how to play the game; there are a lot of systems that overlap with each other here, and it’s easy to forget the finer points of a system brought up in a tutorial five hours earlier. The end result of all of this is that you try desperately to absorb dozens upon dozens of tutorial screens full of information, only to be left to figure out how things work on your own for the most part.
There are so many moving parts here
Gameplay has tons of systems working together, and that makes explaining how anything works in this game incredibly daunting. Going into any meaningful depth would require a crushing wall of text full of terminology, and to be perfectly honest, I still don’t understand everything about this game. For example, character stats are given weird names like “Divinity” and “Song Power” that don’t correlate to familiar RPG stats like strength and defense (which probably isn’t what they translate to), and I don’t remember any of the million tutorials ever covering what these terms actually mean. As another example, there are several different weapon types, and these level up along with the girls as they use them. I had to figure out for myself that their proficiency with a weapon affected how many attacks they could perform per turn, because by the time that became useful information, the tutorial that talked about it was long gone. At least, I assume that it was mentioned at some point.
Here’s the short version, then
Keeping in mind that I played on “normal,” which is the easiest available difficulty and might in fact be an easy mode in disguise (I greatly enjoyed steamrolling bosses), here’s all you really need to know. Have all five girls focus on the weapons they start off using, and make sure that they learn and equip a variety of spells and weapon attacks that they can use (giving a fan-using character a gun skill isn’t very helpful because they can’t use it unless they switch weapons). Eventually you’ll unlock Harmonics, which allows party members whose turns are consecutive to attack at once, and this often allows you to attack with four or five party members at the start of battle. If you’ve equipped a variety of attacks, they should have special Chain attacks that they can perform together (you can access the list by pressing X on an Xbox 360 controller), and using a few of these that knock enemies’ turns back followed by high-damage moves goes a long way toward defeating high-HP enemies. You likely won’t be able to use only Chain attacks, but you can follow up with individual attacks that attack the enemies’ elemental weakness for extra damage. It’s easy to run out of SP (which is basically MP) while doing all of these attacks, but there are items that restore it and equippables that increase the amount you have to work with. Basically, Harmonics + Chain attacking everything to death.
Sidequests are awful
I can forgive a lot of Omega Quintet’s flaws, but the sidequests here are beyond saving. None of them have any story value or involve compelling characters who later become factors in the story. Instead, it’s all fetch quests. Use a certain amount of crafting ingredient EP to automatically finish this quest! Go kill X amount of Y and Z enemies! Make a custom video! Perform a specific move in combat! Defeat a boss-type enemy! None of it has any purpose aside from wasting tens of hours of your time with meaningless filler. Worse, they’re timed, ensuring that you can’t kick them down the road to do them all at once toward the end. Progressing the story can cause you to fail many of them, and letting that happen is a very bad idea (I’ll explain why in the next paragraph). What’s so horrible is that some of these sidequests are designed in such a way that you need to be constantly referencing a guide in order to know what the hell the game’s asking you to do. Sometimes you have to run back and forth to respawn enemies until a rare mob carrying an enemy you need to defeat appears, and at one point you have to do so in an area that the game has yet to name and that you therefore have no way of actually locating. You can run through the entire level five times and never see this rare enemy even if you know to be looking for it, which you probably won’t unless you’ve already been following a guide. Sometimes bosses you have to defeat don’t even appear on the map for whatever reason, requiring finishing unrelated sidequests before allowing you to complete them. It’s a mess of soulless busywork that weighs Omega Quintet down.
But you have to do all of them
This is one of those games that has a normal ending and a “true” ending, but the normal ending is horrible and unsatisfying. Needless to say, you don’t want to get that one after 30+ hours of playing and have to start again trying to get the real one. The problem is that the only way to get the true ending is to fulfill a whole bunch of random conditions, and this requires doing sidequests. As in, all of them. Not only because some of them are required despite having zero significance or relevance to anything that happens in the true ending, but because you need to get some arbitrary approval numbers to reach a certain threshold, and sidequests are a pretty safe way to make sure that you hit that mark. I tend to be pretty on the fence about games that lock their endings behind a bunch of conditions, but that’s when the conditions make sense in the context of the story. Here, you can only get the real ending if you waste hours upon hours doing pointless busywork, and that’s not okay.
And now, crafting
Like so many of the mechanics, crafting is incredibly difficult to explain because of how much there is to it. The short version is that you have EP (earned in combat and from disassembling items) and Arcanium (earned only by disassembling items, as far as I can tell), and crafting items and equipment requires both of these in addition to specific components. All monsters drop different components, so you often find yourself in a situation where you have to scroll through the MAD encyclopedia looking for an ingredient so that you can go out and get it. This is really where the PC version of the game shines, though: this particular release comes with a lot of free DLC, including huge boosts to EP and Arcanium right off the bat in addition to a near-complete MAD encyclopedia. Without those things, you’d be doing a lot of grinding and wouldn’t be able to look up where to find certain ingredients if you hadn’t already beaten that particular monster. That would have been miserable.
The performance wasn’t as good as I hoped
The PC version is the definitive version of the game, then, though I had some truly weird performance. I did some comparing and thought that my GPU was around the recommended minimum, but nevertheless ended up with around 10-20 FPS when wandering around the field, especially later in the game when lots of enemies were roaming around everywhere. The combat and visual novel sections fared much better, thankfully, but my low frame rate highlighted some weird performance quirks. For example, the office hub area (which you often return to since it restores everyone’s HP and SP) was always a choppy experience for me until a later plot development caused all of the NPCs who usually stand around to be gone. That means that these random character models who do nothing but deliver one or two lines when spoken to are causing a massive performance hit for some reason.
It’s not like the graphics are cutting-edge
What’s so strange about the performance is that the visuals aren’t stunning or anything. Special attacks during combat can be pretty because of all of the colors and choreography that go into them (side note: you can skip attack animations, which is a very user-friendly inclusion for a jRPG), but the character models are very last-gen. However many frames per second you expect to get with this game just by looking at it, you’ll probably end up getting half that. For how “meh” the visuals are, however, the music is fantastic. I don’t mean the rarer J-pop stuff, though that did start to grow on me after awhile despite being far too cheery and generic for my tastes, but the actual game music. The game’s decent length means that many of the tracks repeat a lot, but I never found myself going, “ugh, not this song again.” I’ve even woken up on multiple occasions and still had some background music from this game stuck in my head. It’s the kind of music that betters the entire experience.
*A Steam review key for Omega Quintet was provided for the purpose of this review