Weapon Shop de Omasse review: Dull Blades, Sharp Jokes

Where would Cloud Strife be without his Buster Sword? Sora without the Keyblade? Link without his shield and Master Sword? Stuck on Level 1, that's where. Thank goodness there are talented weapon smiths to forge these legendary weapons of power for our RPG heroes.

In Weapon Shop de Omasse for 3DS, you can be the helping hand that pushes such heroes to greatness. No, you are not the special snowflake destined to save the world. Instead, you are Yuhan, apprentice to master blacksmith Oyaji. Your shop has taken on a new business model, renting weapons rather than selling them outright, and it's your job to make sure that every customer's needs are met – those needs usually being some variation on "come back alive from the Orc fortress."

Omasse is a collaborative effort between Japanese comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai and Level 5, the studio behind Ni No Kuni and the Professor Layton series, though it's Hirai's pedigree that shows more in the execution.

Core gameplay is divided into three jobs for Yuhan: forging weapons in the workshop, polishing returns and managing the store's materials inventory. Players polish weapons by rubbing the stylus across a weapon using the 3DS' touchscreen, while ordering materials is a simple matter of making sure you can afford what you need. Forging is where the bulk of time will be spent, and it also happens to be where a game about RPG tropes and heroes turns into rhythm game.

To forge a weapon, players tap on a chunk of hot metal to the beat of Omasse's original soundtrack. The more in-sync you are with the beat, the better your weapon's stats. The goal is to chip away the excess metal until the weapon you're working on matches its ideal shape, no extra lumps or bumps. You can't just hammer the same point repeatedly – you'll need to vary the placement of your strikes to forge the best weapons.

Thankfully, you can flip, drag and rotate pieces as you work on them. This becomes necessary as weapon designs get larger – some are so enormous they can't fit on-screen. It also helps when you're dealing with a particularly complex weapon. That decorative crossguard on the sword you're working on? Probably best you attack it from above and below to get the optimal angle.

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There's also a heat meter to keep track of as you forge. Weapons gradually cool as you work on them, so if you're hammering away for a particularly long amount of time or you miss too many strikes, you may need to re-heat the metal before you can finish. You only have a limited amount of coal per forging though, and the less you use, the better the weapon's durability.

Between heat management, rhythmic tapping and moving raw metal around, there's a lot to manage, which will keep you on your toes. Things start out simply with daggers and axe blades, but soon you'll be creating unique masterpieces for the colorful cast of characters that enter your shop.

From unlucky samurai who speak as though they've traveled from "olden" times to Frenchmen who base their armor and weapon choices off their favorite manga comic book, each regular customer has a unique story, personality and quest. Better yet, they're all funny and amusing to interact with, providing plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes poking fun at RPG stereotypes and fourth-wall humor.

One customer describes himself as someone "here to play the stereotypical adventurer that are a dime a dozen now." Yuhan asks if he's being blackmailed into the role. The customer responds, "Not exactly. It's more like I was made for the sole purpose of renting a weapon to fight with. I'm supposed to ask for an axe." Yuhan explains that he needs time to craft the axe, so the customer leaves saying that he's off to find out if the NPCs around town say anything different. That kind of humor - the kind that generally plays to a laugh track but still makes you smile - is what you'll be dealing with in Omasse.

The would-be heroes aren't in your shop to make small talk, though. They'll come to you with specific weapon requests and details of their adventures. By reviewing this information, you can forge them the ideal weapon before they return to pick up the merchandise. A pair of acrobat twins, for example, favor the dao - single-bladed Chinese weapons. Looking at their quest, you might see that this particular adventure's enemies will be weak against bludgeoning weapons. Forge them a club-dao, and they'll be happy and more likely to succeed. Forge them anything else, even a weapon that's effective against their enemy but not in tune with their preferences, and that likelihood drops considerably. Failure's not just bad news for the customer, it's bad for business; if the customer fails or the weapon breaks, the shop doesn't make any money from the rental.

You can follow a hero's progress on their quest thanks to what Omasse calls "Grindcast," sort of a high fantasy version of Twitter. Pop-ups inform Yuhan of his customers' lives, complete with hashtags. You'll encounter gems like "OMG, I slept for 78 hours and I'm still tired. #whatislife" and "Seriously! The cast time on this revival spell is RE-DIC." There's no way to create Grindcast posts of your own, so it's Omasse's least-interactive feature. Thanks to the humor, however, it's one of the most fun to observe.

As your regulars continue to rent from you, they'll gain experience and require higher-level gear. There are also random NPCs – their names are literally "NPC" with a letter behind it – who show up from time to time and need a weapon right away. This means you can't just sit on your heels and wait around; you'll need to be proactive and constantly forge new weapons if you want to stay afloat. Unfortunately, that can get old pretty fast.

There are dozens upon dozens of weapons to craft, and I always crafted at least two of every weapon so that I would have one to rent out and another in case an NPC customer came calling. That means a lot of tapping to the beat of Omasse's soundtrack, which is very limited. The songs are catchy enough, but there's only a handful of them to enjoy, and tapping in time never becomes very challenging.

Because of this, Weapon Shop de Omasse's gameplay feels more like a tedious chore, an obstacle to be overcome. Forging and polishing kills the time between customers, which are Omasse's real highlight. I didn't really want to craft; I wanted Grandma Snow - a sweet, chubby old woman - to return and tell me more stories about how she gave the smackdown to a clan of orcs. It might be appropriate for a blacksmith's life to be full of grinding, but that doesn't make it any more fun.

Thankfully, even when the blades are dull, the writing is sharp. Even so, many jokes are of the family-friendly sitcom variety, and play off of RPG tropes. If you've never laughed at the convoluted plots, overdramatic heroes or NPC behavior seen so often in the role-playing genre, this weapon may not be for you.

This review is based on an eShop download Weapon Shop de Omasse, provided by Nintendo.

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