Omega Quintet was a welcome addition to the PlayStation 4 library when it first came out in 2014. At the time, Japanese developers were only just warming up to the PS4, so it lacked the sort of bright, colourful JRPGs that have always found a home on Sony’s consoles. Then Omega Quintet came along and opened that door.
Fast-forward a few years, and the PS4 is a cornucopia of such games, with everything from a couple of Ateliers to the likes of Ys VIII. And yet, Omega Quintet still holds a special place in that line-up, thanks to its unique premise and the way it combines JRPG and idol simulation elements. Now, PC players can also join in on the fun, thanks a PC release courtesy of Ghostlight Games.
Like many a game, Omega Quintet takes place in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by monsters. The difference here is that the select few people able to fight back aren’t burly demon hunters or gun-toting soldiers; they’re idols, who fight with weaponised mics. Known as Verse Maidens, these girls are supported by throngs of manic fans, their popularity is the source of their power, and their enemies are “Blare”—noise brought to monstrous life.
It’s the perfect setting for the sort of comedy-fuelled anime antics that Compile Heart specialises in. At the same time, it opens the door to some playful but pointed criticism of idol culture. Idols are, well, idolised—and while there are certainly privileges that come with that, there’s a dark side to the industry as well.
Related reading: Mary Skelter: Nightmares is another great Compile Heart RPG, released on PS Vita last year. Read our review.
Otoha, like a lot of Japanese girls, dreams of becoming an idol—or, in this case, a Verse Maiden. Then an encounter with a Blare awakens a hidden power within her, and before long, her dream comes true. As it turns out, the famous Verse Maiden Momoka has grown weak with old age (though she still looks like a teenager), and Otoha gets to be the one to replace her.
What transpires from there is, in a lot of ways, a very by-the-numbers JRPG coming of age story. Supported by friends, fans, and other Verse Maidens—with whom she eventually forms the eponymous pop group—Otoha grows from awkward newbie to world-saving hero. Your role in all this comes through Takt, a childhood friend of Otoha who ends up serving as the group’s reluctant manager.
Yes, it’s a familiar tale, and the characters fall neatly into common anime tropes. But that doesn’t stop it from being a lot of fun, thanks to humorous dialogue and great performances from the voice cast. Even with their clichés, the cast is a delightful and endearing bunch, for the most part. Takt is probably the weakest of the lot; he seems to exist solely to be a player stand-in for an assumed male audience, and as a catalyst for the usual harem anime jokes. I honestly think the story would be better served without Takt there, or at least with him in a secondary role.
Beneath that superficial narrative is something far more interesting, though: Omega Quintet‘s commentary on idol culture. To be an idol is to belong to the fans in an almost literal way, to the point that artists are often banned from dating—because their apparent availability is part of the fantasy that’s packaged and sold to fans. As soon as an idol loses popularity or gets “too old”—which might be mid-20s—their career is pretty much over.
In Omega Quintet, the Verse Maidens are powered by their popularity, and, popular or not, those powers decline rapidly with age. This is the backbone of at least a couple of characters’ stories, and you can see the stress and even the danger of living that kind of life through their actions.
Idol fans can be an obsessive lot, and you see that in the game too. They’re just regular people with no how of fighting against the Blare, yet they come out in droves to dangerous places to watch their favourite Verse Maidens fight—or perform, if you prefer.
All that said, Omega Quintet does show the good side of idol culture, too. The Verse Maidens serve as inspiration to the wider populace to maintain hope despite the apocalyptic state of the world. They find camaraderie in one another, and excitement in performing—be it for the world, for their friends, or for themselves.
Which brings us to the combat system. Omega Quintet uses a standard turn-based setup, but a variety of different mechanics add to the idea that the Verse Maidens are performing for fans as much as fighting monsters. Most significant is Live Concert mode, which, when activated, turns the battlefield into a stage, dials up the party atmosphere, and boosts the whole party’s stats for a few turns.
Then there’s the Harmonics system, which let’s you adjust the turn order to your liking and string attacks together. Using the right moves in the right sequence leads to the girls teaming for a powerful, unified assault—or harmonising, if you prefer. There are a lot of superficial elements that help sell the image of an idol gig, too. Most of the special moves have music-inspired names, and the animations are all very “dancey”. Even the battlefield layout looks a bit like a stave (as my friend @ginnywoes pointed out in her review).
In true Compile Heart style, Omega Quintet‘s battle system has a lot of different mechanics at play. Also in true Compile Heart style, there are a lot of wordy tutorials in the first few hours of the game, and it can be hard to keep up with all the information being thrown at you. That said, once it all clicks together, it’s a rather deep system with a lot of tactical options, and a lot of different ways to chain attacks together for some impressive combos.
Everything else is pretty typical JRPG fare. There’s a crafting system, a handful of different zones to explore with the aid of the Verse Maidens’ field skills, and plenty of NPCs demanding your help with fetch quests.
The PC port is serviceable—not bad, but not great either. It’s pretty much a direct port of the PS4 version, so the whole UI is designed with gamepads in mind; you can play with mouse and keyboard, but don’t do is a tad awkward. Graphics options are limited to resolution and a couple of binary settings for things like shadows, so don’t expect to be able to fine-tune the experience. That said, it still looks good and has aged well—such is the benefit of a cartoon art style. The higher resolutions available allow the 2D assets in particular to really shine.
More importantly, the PC port of Omega Quintet brings one of Compile Heart’s lesser known but thoroughly enjoyable games to a whole new audience. It’s not a groundbreaking game, but its music-themed take on JRPG standards and it’s commentary on the idol industry are enough to give Omega Quintet it’s own little place in Steam’s library.
Omega Quintet is developed by Compile Heart and published by Idea Factory/Ghostlight Games. It’s available now for PC (reviewed) and PS4.
A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.