OneShot confounded my expectations. Within the first half hour, what seemed a fairly straightforward story had taken several unexpected turns, in both plot and mechanics – and it kept me gripped right to the end.
As a vaguely ‘meta’ adventure-RPG with an earnest and melancholy tone, the game certainly invites a few comparisons (cough cough, Undertale), but OneShot takes enough risks to stand out.
The protagonist, Niko – a cat-like girl who insists she isn’t a cat – wakes up in a strange, barren land where the sun has gone out and the few remaining inhabitants huddle together in disintegrating cities.
These inhabitants – from rusted, half-sentient robots to desperate human survivors – are convinced Niko is the Messiah, sent to restore the sun. For her part, Niko hopes that by doing so, she can return to her own world, home and family.
But soon, an unknown entity within the game starts addressing you, the player, directly – and it clearly has an agenda. Meanwhile, Niko becomes aware of your existence in a way that’s genuinely surprising.
To say too much would ruin the story. But while the plot is drawn with light strokes, I truly found myself caring for Niko, choosing my dialogue options carefully and doing my best to protect her.
Not that there’s too much to protect from: there’s no combat in this game. The challenge largely comes from item-based puzzles, but these aren’t too difficult. Far more interesting are sections that’ll have you looking outside the game itself for answers – but I won’t spoil these by saying more.
The plot covers some well-worn themes, like robotic sentience and the relationship between game creators and their players, but the path it takes is offbeat and surprising. It avoids outright cliches, and avoids simple answers. There’s actually a refreshing degree of ambiguity about what’s really going on.
As the game reaches its well-signposted final stages, it ramps up the emotional intensity – and converges on a stark binary choice for the player.
For me, this is always a little disappointing. There’s room in games for shades of grey. But at least the choice didn’t seem arbitrary; indeed, it weighed heavily, given serious impact by the relationships I’d built with the game’s characters.
That this is all achieved through simple dialogue and a stripped-back aesthetic is a testament to the developers’ skill and precision. It’s a small-scale game in many ways, but it also feels intimate, even personal. And that makes OneShot one of the most interesting and successful story-focused games I’ve played in ages.
Drawbacks? The biggest for me was a slightly fiddly interface, typical of its RPG Maker heritage. There’s also a degree of ‘find the item’, which might frustrate less patient players. The tone might also strike some as overly sentimental, and it’s less leavened with humour than something like Undertale.
But none of this held me back, and the game’s impressive heart won me over. The whole package was wrapped up in three short hours – but there’s a strong incentive to go back for a tweaked ‘new game plus’.
Here, you get a chance to revisit some of your choices, see strange echoes of your previous visit and, just maybe, find a better ending for Niko and co. It’s a brilliant addition – and, as much as the first playthrough, is well worth your time.