Omen of Sorrow is something that 18-year-old me would have found so totally cool. Drenched in gothic grim darkness, it’s an effort to bring together vampires, werewolves, dark angels, succubi, mummies and… well, Elizabeth Bathory, into a game that looks and feels like an emo kid’s “black-as-their-soul” poetry. While I’d like to think that my sense of aesthetics is a little more nuanced now (though given I can’t stop watching Babylon, perhaps it’s not so much evolved as it is shifted), I do very much love the presentation of the game. If only the Switch port wasn’t crippled by one technical issue.
Related reading: As a fighting game it’s nowhere near as good, but Fight of Gods is MUCH more transgressive than Omen of Sorrow is. You can fight as Jesus Christ, and you can bet that went down well with a certain group. Our review.
Perhaps the best way to describe Omen of Sorrow, as far as how it functions as a fighting game, is “Mortal Kombat adjacent.” As with Mortal Kombat, it features 3D characters fighting on a 2D plane, and its approach to a combo system is similar in quality. Each character feels nice and distinct to play with, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call the combat graceful, like you might see in a BlazBlue or Guilty Gear title (it wasn’t graceful in Mortal Kombat either), there’s a nice crunchiness and visceral impact to attacks which helps to give battles weight.
However, it’s nowhere near as violent as Mortal Kombat, and this was both surprising and, frankly, disappointing. Elizabeth Bathory can summon a giant blood dragon to bite down on her opponent but… I mean, it’s Elizabeth Bathory. I was expecting fountains of blood and screams of agony as she slowly slashed pieces of flesh off her opponent. And it almost completely ignores the other half of gothic horror. This is an intensely sexual genre, as far back as Dracula and The Monk, and while a couple of characters are wearing skimpy clothing, there’s very little of the dark eroticism going on. It has a Dracula figure… but he’s very limp.
To be a little more serious, I did expect Omen of Sorrow to be a more extreme experience than it is. Whether it’s deeply sexual characters (seriously, succubi and Dracula are defined by this trait), or creatures renowned for extreme violence, it does seem like the game developers let their concept down a little by playing it far too safe and missing core character qualities from just about every entity in the roster. Meanwhile on the violence side of things, to reflect the adult and brutal nature of the gothic and horror genres, it does have Mortal Kombat-like finishers! But they are bloodless, X-ray-free, and the enemy body is left intact at the end of it. Disappointing.
The combat itself is nice, however, with each of the 12 characters having their own unique moveset and style that is appropriate to the character, and whatever book or mythology they were drawn from. As usual, I personally prefer the characters that have a bit of speed in their movement, even if that comes at the expense of power and range, but despite that preference (let’s call it the “Marie Rose/Talim/Sakura/Athena/Noel” taste in characters), I was still able to guide the heavier, slower characters well enough to get through the story stages where it was necessary. If I can struggle through the heavy character sections, I usually find that to be a good indicator that the game is well enough balanced that you can choose a character without wondering if they’ll be totally useless.
Speaking of the narrative, it’s entertaining enough for what it is. Again the developers seem to have been inspired by the Mortal Kombat team at NetherRealm, because the narrative in this game most reminded me of Injustice, in the way the fights are set up, and the fact you’re playing famous antiheroes pitched against one another in totally arbitrary but fun ways. The writing does struggle a little to establish why we would care about these characters – it’s much more interested in having its words drip with dark gothic potency – but the aesthetic works for it, and it’s always fun to ask the question “who would win between Dracula and Mr Hyde?”
In addition to that story mode, which will last you a while, there’s a more traditional arcade mode, a survival mode, and the usual bevvy of multiplayer and one-off battle options. As such, Omen of Sorrow checks the boxes without going above and beyond to give players something unique. I found the AI at the higher levels to be far too spammy in the attacks they’d use, and this was disappointing, but it’s largely playable and, as is usually the case with fighting games, better with a friend anyway. While we’re on the topic of content, the roster is “just” 12 fighters strong. Now, I happen to think that’s plenty, especially when it’s an all-new fighting game property and each of those characters offers something genuine and different to the roster, but there are people that flip out at anything less than two dozen fighters these days. Give the indie team some slack, though, because it’s not easy to create expansive rosters, especially the first time out. If this is a dealbreaker for you, though, consider that Omen of Sorrow retails for vastly less than a full-priced fighting game, and you never know what you might get via a sequel if the game does well enough to justify one.
There’s just one big problem with Omen of Sorrow, really, and it may well be exclusive to the Nintendo Switch version: the loading times are absolutely horrible. It can take upwards of a minute to load in a stage (particularly in the story mode), and for a genre that is all about getting into the action quickly and playing a lot of these levels in a sequence, these constant pauses to look at a loading screen quickly undermine the arcade action quality of the game. My wife and I like to play fighting games together, and while she did enjoy the mechanics of this one, there was too much downtime and I suspect that will result in it being low on the rotation going forward. Once things do load, the framerate is consistent, and I can’t remember any instances where frame drops disrupted my combos and the like. The aesthetics look fine and atmospheric, too, though the typical “fuzziness” that comes from the Unreal Engine on Switch is present. It really is just those loading times that let the overall package down.
Omen of Sorrow is a missed opportunity. It should have been more extreme and followed Mortal Kombat in dancing with taboo. The Switch version also needed optimisation, because loading times are a killer to the fighter genre. Because it plays things too safe, this won’t be remembered as an all-time great example of the genre, however, it is still a bit of fun fantasy dark gothic action and, should there be a sequel, I would expect a more confident development outfit to really deliver on to the excellent potential this fledgling property has.