A review of OneShot (PC)

Yeah, I’m late again, aren’t I? OneShot was making the rounds back in 2016/2017, and here I am about two years after the party ended as usual.  But I’ve finally played it. This RPG Maker game was originally a free title released in 2014, but it got a massive overhaul along with a completely new chapter near the end of 2016. This is the version that’s been put up for sale on Steam, and it’s the version I played.

So, uh. How to approach this one. This game isn’t that easy to review for reasons that will hopefully become apparent. OneShot is the story of Niko, a child with cat-like features (big yellow cat eyes and fangs and whiskers – not a cat, though, as we’ll learn later on) who wakes up in a creepy dark house alone. Well, he’s not quite alone – you, the player, are with him.* After finding a mysterious self-lighting light bulb, Niko finds his way out of the house into a strange fantasy world totally different from his own. There, Niko finds a robot dressed like a holy man, who calls him “Savior” and tells him the light bulb he found is this world’s new sun and that his mission is to bring it to the top of a massive tower to restore light to the world, replacing the old sun that broke one day without warning. This world contains independent light and power sources, but they’re finite, and once they’re exhausted, the world will be shrouded in darkness.

I mean no pressure or anything, you know

The robot also instructs Niko to contact you. Yes, you, the player. So Niko closes his eyes and tries talking to you… and you respond to him. Through predetermined dialogue options and dialogue trees, but you do respond to him. Holy robot man tells the amazed Niko that that’s god talking to him and that god (i.e. you) will be guiding him throughout his quest.

I played Contact a long time ago, a DS JRPG that broke the fourth wall. I also played Undertale, the game that OneShot always seems to be compared with, and that game broke the fourth wall as well. OneShot doesn’t just break the fourth wall – it demolishes the damn thing, 1989 Berlin Wall style. You, the player sitting behind the screen, are one of the main characters in OneShot, and everyone in the world knows you exist… including the game itself.  I can’t elaborate on what that means without spoiling parts of the game, so I’ll leave it at that.

As you guide Niko through this strange world, you’ll have to help him solve puzzles, typically by finding, trading, using, and combining items in your inventory. There’s no combat, no boss battles, nothing like that. That’s not to say Niko’s not in any danger – the world he’s meant to save is collapsing bit by bit for reasons that remain unknown to its residents.

Industrial equipment also poses a danger to Niko (not really, though.)

Along the way, Niko meets some of the residents of the world who decide to help him out, partly because they recognize him as the savior (some of them even address him as Messiah) who will return their sun to the tower and save the world.  Well, maybe save the world.  There seems to be disagreement among the world’s citizens as to whether restoring the sun will stop the strange instances of corruption and decay that have been occurring, eating up the land and swallowing it into a void.  Even so, they’re putting all their hopes on you and Niko to do your best to save them.

Well shit, thanks for telling us that now.

While Niko finds friends throughout his journey, the most important character relationship in OneShot is the one between Niko and the player.  Niko will sometimes talk to you when you direct him to make certain decisions, and there are a few points in the game where he opens up about the world he comes from and asks about you and your world.  It’s easy to imagine the writer screwing this up by making Niko irritating, but he’s not.  Niko is a pretty smart kid, but he’s not annoyingly precocious; he takes the challenges presented to him in stride, but he still misses his mom and the rest of his family and friends in his village and wants to go home.  This desire becomes evident if you decide to let Niko take a nap in one of the few usable beds scattered around the game world.  When you put Niko to bed, the game saves and closes, and upon opening it again you’ll get to witness Niko having a dream about being back home before he wakes up and continues his journey.

Niko dreams of pancakes.

Niko’s characterization is one of the greatest strengths of OneShot.  Your first run of the game will probably take about three to five hours to complete, so you don’t really spend that much time with Niko, but the writer used that time very effectively.  By the end of that first run, I wanted to protect Niko at all costs, because he’s a good kid and he deserves to go back home, damn it.  People often compare OneShot to Undertale, but if there’s one big difference between them, it’s that while Undertale made me care about the world of the game, OneShot made me care about its protagonist.

I’m sure this game won’t present me with a dilemma that plays on the fact that I want to protect this kid

I like the game’s art style.  You can tell it’s an RPG Maker game, but the character designs are great, the character portraits are nice and expressive, and I love some of the weird little details included in the game’s settings.  The world itself isn’t very big for a game of this kind, but it’s got quite a bit to explore, with a lot of flavor dialogue and descriptive text and a few secrets to reward the obsessive completionist who has to talk to everyone and find every available item.  It’s certainly possible to speed through OneShot if you’re good at working out logic puzzles, but a lot of the game’s charm comes from wandering around and talking to everyone you and Niko can find.  The game’s background music adds to the experience – none of the tracks jumped out to me as amazing, but they’re all perfectly fitting if that makes sense.

If there’s one criticism I can make of OneShot, it’s that the other characters in the story aren’t all that fleshed out.  Not that they couldn’t be – most of them seem interesting, but it feels like you and Niko just kind of fly by them on your way to the ending.  You do get to revisit these characters in the game’s new final chapter, though.

Not a cat, not a Persona 5 reference

Time to give this game a score, I guess.  How about a 6 out of 7?  Yeah, that fits.  OneShot might just be an RPG Maker game, but like Yume Nikki, it manages to do something special with a relatively limited program.  The highest praise I can give OneShot is that it surprised me and kept me guessing all the way to the end of the final chapter.  It’s well worth buying.  As for the older free version, it’s still available to play, but it doesn’t contain the final chapter of the game, and it requires the player to play through without quitting the game except at the beds.  This is apparently why the game was titled OneShot – it only gave you one shot to beat it.  Kind of a harsh restriction, though.  Check it out if you feel like it, but this Steam version seems to be the definitive one.

Okay, I’m tired.  Two posts in the span of 48 hours is a lot for me.  Maybe I’ll go to bed and dream of pancakes. 𒀭

 

* I know Niko’s gender is never addressed in the game, but I always thought of Niko as a boy for some reason, and so I refer to him. Niko just as easily might be thought of as a girl.  It doesn’t really matter.

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11 thoughts on “A review of OneShot (PC)

  1. You see, whenever I make a case for the medium’s storytelling potential, I tend to point to things like OneShot over, say, Naughty Dog’s output starting with Uncharted. Whether it’s storytelling or gameplay, the medium is always at its best when it embraces what makes it so fascinatingly bizarre rather than conform to the mainstream standards by taking cues from Hollywood. Plus, attempting to take cues from present-day Hollywood would be like cheating off the class clown’s exam; you’d be better off guessing.

    I can’t think of that many games that managed to leave me speechless with one of its early lines (“You only have one shot”) and continue to impress from there. What these guys made is light years ahead of what most storytellers (in any medium) have been doing this decade, and the fact that gaming critics barely gave it the time of day is a total shame. Like Undertale, this is another case in which the gamers themselves were ahead of the curve; giving it buzz was precisely what caused me to become interested in it – the journalists had nothing to do with it.

    • I wonder if the professional critics are always trying so hard to stay on the big publishers’ good sides that they only focus on the big-name titles and ignore independent games from unknown creators like this one. They might latch onto that kind of game once it’s gotten popular to get those clicks and ad views, but not before. That’s how it seems to me, anyway. I don’t know anyone who generally trusts the word of the writers at Kotaku, Polygon, RPS, etc.

      I like games that screw with me like this one did. Very happy I went into OneShot blind – it wouldn’t have had the same impact otherwise. I felt the same about Undertale, but OneShot felt more personal somehow.

      • Yeah, I suspect that is indeed the case myself. With the publishers having so much sway in what journalists write, they’re hesitant to point out a big-budget title’s flaws and when an avant-garde indie title is released, they often have no idea what to do with it. It’s interesting comparing the gaming critical circle with that of films because I believe them to have the exact opposite problems. The gaming critical circle is what happens when they’re too close to publishers; you get very little support for the indie scene when that’s where a majority of the creativity comes from (Nintendo can’t be everywhere at once, sadly). Meanwhile, the film critical circle is what happens when critics are more or less entirely unfettered. They held it together for some time, but in recent years, they let their egos get the better of them and now they’re mostly praising stuff that agrees with their viewpoints while lashing at their audience when they dare criticize their darlings.
        Just like their gaming counterparts, when something is sold entirely on its story or in some way does not play by their rules, they have no idea what to do with it. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened with Leave No Trace – it was an incredibly good film released in 2018 that got little buzz from critics (even if they all praised it), ensuring most people didn’t see it (I myself had to go to distant theater to see it).

        Indeed, considering how Polygon praised Gone Home as a quiet triumph in storytelling (it wasn’t, but that’s beside the point), I was taken aback when I learned they didn’t even bother to review Undertale or OneShot (or if they did, I can’t find them). For a community that touts themselves as high-minded gamers, that’s a shockingly large oversight. It’s a bit of a stretch, but it would be like if a community that had a lot of sway in film critiques declared Avatar the greatest film ever made while refusing to acknowledge the existence of City of God.

        One commonality between Undertale and OneShot is that the player is a major character, which is something I enjoy when it’s done well (for an example of it done poorly, see Spec Ops: The Line). OneShot is slightly more personal, though Undertale I feel is the better overall product. Then again, we’re talking a difference between a 9/10 and a 10/10 from me, so the defeat is a nominal one. It also showcases just how different the storytelling rulebook is in video games than it is in other mediums; breaking the fourth wall is primarily used for comedy in films whereas in video games, there are so many other directions you can go with it because the player, whether the narrative acknowledges it or not, is a part of the experience.

      • Yeah, that closeness to publishers is exactly why I can’t trust the judgments of critics at Polygon and the other major game journalism sites. There’s also the fact that many of them seem perfectly happy to make wild claims about games without any real justification. The Kotaku UK debacle of last week was just one example of how disconnected these people seem to be from the audience, and even from reality. I’d be shocked if they weren’t getting most of their revenue now from articles with provocative titles that have next to nothing in the way of research or substance.

        I really liked Undertale as well, but I think I prefer OneShot. As you say, it’s a close call. Undertale definitely has a better soundtrack – still one of my favorite game soundtracks, in fact. And the world of Undertale and its residents feel a lot more fleshed out than OneShot’s. But OneShot is one of the few games that went for my heart and actually succeeded at that. Speaking of Undertale, I should check out Deltarune.

      • By Kotaku UK debacle, do you mean when they falsely accused a lyric of making fun of disabled people? I want to make it clear that I never did, nor will I ever, condone Gamergate or anything it represents, but you’d think that after that scandal, journalists would make sure they do their research before penning any kind of article. Sadly, if anything, it arguably made things worse because now they have an excuse not to take criticism. If the audience doesn’t agree with what they say, they must be a Gater or other kind of degenerate. Too many journalists have a hostile attitude toward their audience, and they shouldn’t expect any long-term success when they decide their audience doesn’t matter. Though film journalists are pretty dire themselves, gaming journalists don’t even respect their own medium.

        I should check out Deltarune myself. I did briefly, though I didn’t actually finish the chapter for some reason.

      • Yeah, that is exactly the article I mean. That hostile attitude you mention was borne out in this case when Kotaku refused to make a real retraction or correction. I guess that’s the real way to get success – instead of writing honestly like we do, write disingenuous, provocative garbage and rake in the hateclicks.

        It’s a shame that politics has gotten so mixed up with gaming. I certainly hate censorship in my games, but that doesn’t have anything to do with my politics, and I don’t see why it should.

  2. It sounds pretty cool. Any game that draws comparisons to Undertale is at least worth checking out as far as I am concerned, and visually it looks pretty great too.

    • Yeah, if you liked Undertale I highly recommend OneShot. I look forward to playing the creators’ next game if they decide to follow it up.

  3. Oneshot is really, really marvelous. The plot itself is so thoughtfully built, deep without being dense, dark without being dour, moving in a lot of surprising directions that make total sense. The logic puzzles are really engaging, and seemed to hit just the right level of difficulty for me. But you’re right, it’s the character of Niko that really makes this game. The dude/tte felt more true than most any other character in a game I’ve played recently. It is hard to write endearing children, and very few get it correct, but they really knocked it out of the park with Oneshot.

    • It’s definitely hard to write a child character that’s not annoying. Niko is a really well-written character, and I like pretty much all the other characters in the game as well, though it would have been nice to have spent more time with some of them. But for plot reasons I guess that wasn’t really feasible.

  4. Pingback: April 2019 in Summary: Endings and Beginnings | Extra Life

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