There's a lot riding on Omega Quintet. Not only is this the first true PS4-exclusive JRPG, but it's also a chance for Compile Heart to step up and knock us dead.
Despite being infamous for their unashamedly kinky moe content, they're an undeniably talented studio with a flair for great battle systems and eyecatching art, yet they often settle for the bare minimum when it comes to level design, structure and story. Thankfully they've been on a hot streak recently with the Re;Birth series and Fairy Fencer F. The jump to a new console generation is a golden opportunity to push boundaries and set up a new franchise in the process.
We'll get to that in due to time. For now, what you need to know is that Omega Quintet is a game about sexy pop stars clobbering aliens to death.
Our story begins in a shattered post-apocalyptic world as the last few surviving humans have been forced into enclaves by ravenous monsters. Known as the Blare, these alien hordes can appear and attack at any time. Thankfully hope remains in the form of Verse Maidens, female pop idols who also mysteriously happen to be capable of defeating the Blare while putting on a show. Because of course of they can. Don't question it.
With the old guard getting too long in the tooth, cynical lad Takt and his childhood friend Otoha find themselves at the mercy of the Blare, who bring out Otoha's latent abilities as a potential Verse Maiden herself. Joining a cast of new recruits, they put a new Idol Group together and set to saving the world with advanced weaponry, singing, dancing and little cheesecake to keep things interesting. Meanwhile Takt becomes our avatar and their manager in order to set up a fan-pleasing if largely unnecessary harem dynamic.
The premise is fresh and interesting, the plot is surprisingly well constructed despite a slightly-too-obvious twist, but more importantly the characters are well-defined and likeable. Though they all subscribe to fairly tired moe archetypes, from a Tsundere to a sporty tomboy, demure yet slightly warped gunslinger and the klutzy yet adorable Otoha, their dialogue is bubbly and unpredictable. Various optional events and flashbacks help to round out the cast, making their relationships feel earnest and genuine. Compile Heart have also restrained themselves admirably when it comes to the fanservice with just a few cheeky images and lines of dialogue. After all, the costumes are actually fairly modest compared to some of the excesses of real idol culture!
Unfortunately Takt is an intensely dislikeable protagonist. Dismissive, infeasibly ignorant, joyless and lacking a shred of empathy, he's difficult to to like let alone relate to. His treatment of his codependent childhood friend Otoha is especially appalling, constantly undermining her confidence in private and belittling her in public, doing his best to crush her lifelong dream of becoming a Verse Maiden in an uncomfortably domineering way. Still, thankfully most of the plot focuses on the Verse Maidens themselves and their relationships with each other, while Takt is frequently used to parody some of the more bizarre aspects of Idol culture.
On the subject of parody, Compile Heart have once again tried their hand at satire. Omega Quintet's main target is naturally Japanese Idol groups, which it ends up skewering with success. It brilliantly nails the obsessive relationship between fans and the girls, as well as the ruthless business practices at work behind the scenes, but sometimes pulls its punches to avoid offending its otaku target audience.
Sadly Omega Quintet misses its second target: censorship. The Blare were originally known as the "Beep" in the Japanese version, a reference to the bleep censor, while its appearance as pink fog is a dig at the similar effect used to cover up nudity in localised Japanese games such as Criminal Girls: Invite Only. This is a hot button issue for Western fans, yet ends up being disappointingly sidelined. The localisation team deserve a dressing down seeing as just referring to the Blare as the "bleep" or even using the bleep sound effect would have made this much more effective.
All annoying missteps, but a fan of both the genre and Compile Heart's niche within it, I really enjoyed what Omega Quintet had to offer.
Its structure is familiar if you've played any of the Hyperdimension or Mugen Souls games. Starting out in an HQ (which you can walk around freely to talk to the cast, construct new gear using an in-depth crafting system and activate some visual novel events), you'll take on various story missions and subquests from the townsfolk. Objectives locked in, you'll make sorties into various field maps to locate event markers, destroy your target or accrue the items you need, which makes for a simple and effective loop of exploration, upgrades and downtime.
However, Compile Heart have clearly taken feedback on board when it comes to the level design. I've criticized every game they've made (barring Sorcery Saga) for pathetically small dungeons and environments, but Omega Quintet's field maps are large sprawling affairs that encourage you to explore and poke about for hidden secrets and quest rewards tucked away in the darkest corners. Characters constantly learn new abilities that help you progress further into the levels, such as echolocation or the ability to kick down barriers, meaning that your horizons are constantly expanding as you return to earlier field maps to unlock new areas.
It's a huge step forward; Skyrim or Xenoblade Chronicles it ain't, but in mid-budget JRPG terms it sometimes gives the Tales series a run for its money. Assuming you've cultivated a tolerance for grind. Personally, I find it relaxing, especially since the challenge curve is also much smoother than we've seen from previous Idea Factory titles.
Field maps are full of enemies to engage or avoid at your own pace, and as always the combat is superb. Compile Heart don't get anywhere near enough credit for their talent at designing deep and engaging battle systems, evidenced once again by a fabulously complex interplay of overlapping mechanics. Favouring a side-by-side setup that harks back to the original Hyperdimension Neptunia, you'll access a constantly-growing stock of abilities and attacks that can debilitate enemies, chaining up combos to manipulate and abuse the turn order. Though overwhelming at first, Omega Quintet continually reveals compelling opportunities to specialise and experiment.
It's all supported by sensationally versatile skill trees, a deep and enjoyable crafting mechanic and even the ability to record your own promotional videos. Far from an afterthought, you're given access to a comprehensive editing suite with a host of songs, costumes, dance routines and even the option to use a PlayStation Move peripheral to get closer to the action! A fun and surprisingly addictive diversion that shows a developer trying to offer more bang for our buck.
So it's a shame that the visuals aren't up to par. Omega Quintet desperately needed a new engine, but it's clear that Compile Heart used their same ageing toolkit, resulting in a drab, low-fi and graphically primitive experience. Atrocious render distance and fuzzy texture work are the main offenders, exacerbated by a muted colour palette. The sensational soundtrack does a good job of setting the mood (thanks to some great songs that perfectly fit the situation, whether upbeat J-pop or mournful refrains that compliment the desolate world) and the visual novel portraits may be astonishingly crisp, but it's disappointing that the PS4's first JRPG might as well be running on PS3.
Ultimately Omega Quintet is a huge step forward for Compile Heart in many respects, but as a PS4 JRPG it's sadly lacking. There's more than enough here to recommend a purchase to like-minded fans, but unless you're already a fan of this particular sub-genre, you might be better off waiting for the likes of Persona 5. Or, if you own a Vita, Hyperdimension Neptuna Re;Birth 1.
- Fun premise and idol culture parody, likeable if somewhat predictable characters
- Sensational combat, expanded field maps encourage exploration
- Creating promotional videos is surprisingly deep and enjoyable
- Excellent and varied soundtrack
- Would have been significantly better without the terrible (yet thankfully sidelined) male lead
- Woefully lacklustre visuals, wastes its opportunity to parody censorship
- Lots of padding and inescapable grind
The Short Version: Omega Quintet boasts a unique idol premise, enjoyable exploration, quirky characters and a sensational combat system. Sadly the unlikeable protagonist, disappointing visuals and other issues make the PS4's first exclusive JRPG more difficult to recommend than it ought to be.
I enjoyed Omega Quintet immensely as a fan of Compile Heart's niche, but as a reviewer I can't overlook its flaws. Here's hoping that Compile Heart use this as a base to improve and refine their formula over the coming generation.
6 – CAPABLE: The key thing to remember here is always try before you buy. There'll likely be some rather glaring flaws or perhaps a distinct lack of imagination, but games that earn a 6 will generally be very capable indeed and probably still provide a good deal of fun to genre fans.
Platform: PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory