Oneshot

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What’s this, Aether? Yet another RPG Maker-created indie adventurish game? And this one doesn’t even seem that spooky. You’ve been on a real kick with those, haven’t you, Aether?

Well, sort of. Thanks to my friend and yours, Red Metal, I had the chance to try this game out. I hadn’t heard of this game before. Knew absolutely nothing about it. Yet it ended up being the kind of thing that absolutely vibes with what I look for and enjoy about video games. This is an experience.

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In a sentence, Oneshot is a game with the art style of Cave Story set in an Undertale-esque world mired in the tone from Dark Souls’ Firelink Shrine as played through an RPG Maker puzzle adventure, with a fun and unique twist. And it all comes together, and it works, and it’s good. The game feels like something special, like a real labor of love.

So the big selling point behind Oneshot, the headlining factor that makes it stand out from the rest of the market, is that Oneshot is a game that does its best to make you believe it’s not really a game. You play as yourself, an incredibly sexy warbeast named Aether (or, you know, whoever you are, although I don’t know why you’d want to play as anyone else), who has discovered a piece of software on your computer that allows you to interact with and guide a single catperson, Niko, themselves a stranger in a dying world. You are revered as a deity in that world, much as I am in this one, while Niko turns out to be a sort of messiah, tasked with delivering a light bulb that illuminates whenever he touches it to a tower, where it will serve as the worlds new sun after the last one burned out a while ago.

This game will mess with your computer, and you’ll need to look outside the game itself to solve some of the challenges it presents you with. Puzzle solutions will wind up in your documents, on your desktop, in mysterious programs you don’t remember putting on your computer, etc. The game says in the beginning it’s best played in windowed mode, and that’s true, because sometimes you’ll need to play around with something on your computer or the game window itself to figure out something or other.

That’s the gimmick, and it’s used really creatively throughout, but rarely in a way that you’ll be lost without outside help. After you’ve got the logic of how the game works down, you can usually follow along pretty easily.

It’s not just that alone that comes into play, though, as far as the immersion factor goes. You’re constantly referred to, Niko will chat with you and you have your own dialogue options, and a few characters will bypass Niko and address you directly. If you’re into immersion, few can match this game.

Of course, all the immersion in the world doesn’t matter if the game itself isn’t good. And Oneshot is good. It’s the type of good that’s completely reliant on characterization and storytelling and a lot of things that are way more subjective than the already subjective gameplay-mechanics, so of course, your mileage may vary, but if you’re into the types of things I’ll be talking about here, you’ll probably find the game very solid as well.

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Characterization is really strong, here. Niko, the character you interact with this world through, is one of the few that’s around long enough to get any real depth to them, but he/she is quite interesting. A child, passed from a happy life into a world seeing its sunset years and tasked with being its one ray of hope, they often get overwhelmed, or don’t know how to handle the situations before them, but keep trucking on. They’re decidedly human, as well. They have very understandable desires and impulses, and though they are childlike and a catperson, they’re very relatable.

The other characters you come across are a little different. It’s clear from the outset that you and Niko are very different from the rest of them. And although you can easily find plenty of characters who go beyond the shallow level, you always get the feeling that there’s something a bit off about them. That they’re playing by a set of rules you can barely penetrate and have no hope of ever fully understanding. There’s a point to that. You and Niko both may be one of a billion in your world (unless you’re playing as me, in which case even then, you stand apart), but here, you are something completely unique. The plot takes it from there, but the ways all the characters interact with you keep hammering the point home.

There are puzzles in this game. Again, no real stumpers, even though they do require a lot of outside the box thinking. I think there was one I needed to consult a guide on, and a few I needed to get some mental distance on, take some time away and come back to, but most of the rest I just cruised through easily. It does occasionally work on cartoon physics, but when you get used to how they work, they’ll work pretty well. This would be a very individualized experience, but for me, they generally hit the sweet spot where it takes a bit of thought but not so much that you’re getting frustrated or wasting a lot of your precious gametime retracing steps over and over again.

The plot is one of the stronger parts of the game. It’s one of those good indie-style plots, not a lot of moving parts but what is there is well done and thought provoking. I love a story that lies to you, and Oneshot is playing off your expectations from the moment it drops that title. Even with that in place, though, the story is simple enough to be relatable, and peppered with enough Earthbound-esque surreal humor to keep the dark story from going full on sad. It controls the tension, the bits you may remember from the classic Freytag’s pyramid, very well, going on a slow burn through most of the opening, reaching the climax and having a good denouement, then breaking out the intensity once you’re on the path to the true ending.

Oneshot feels like a special experience. I find myself staying vague with quite a bit of things about it, just because it’s the type of game that’s really best experienced in a vacuum, in a quiet room by yourself. I don’t think it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea. But if it’s yours, it delivers like none other. If this sounds like it’s up your alley, give it a try. I know I haven’t found much else quite like it.