Content notification on discussions of depression, anxiety and self-harm.
From the moment I opened OMORI, I knew something wasn’t right. The game’s titular protagonist, Omori, appears in grayscale hues that contrast against his vibrant, blue-haired friends. He lingers alone in the background of group photos. He stares blankly as confetti surrounds him after defeating a foe.
Over six years after its vibrant, chaotic trailer took hold of people’s hearts, OMORI was released on Dec. 25. The game mainly follows Omori, a young shut-in, and his three friends, Aubrey, Kel and Hero, on their journey to find their friend Basil. On its surface, it seems like a wholesome pixel game that takes just enough inspiration from 2010s Tumblr pastel aesthetics. Beneath its layers, however, lies an incredible psychological horror RPG — and an even more fleshed-out depiction of mental illness.
As the game begins, the player is introduced to White Space, a blank room where Omori has “been living here for as long as you can remember.” White Space has no walls, ceiling; only a pitch black lightbulb, a door, and the bare essentials for a depressive episode: a laptop that displays unsettlingly repetitive digital journal entries, a sketchbook with disconcerting drawings, a box of tissues for “wiping your sorrows away,” and a cat. It’s clear from the very beginning that Omori is depressed — White Space is a room solely created as a form of escapism from the real world. It seems that Omori is desperately attempting to distance himself from the harshness of reality. Why? It’s unclear to both Omori and the player until the very end.
Upon leaving White Space for the first time, Omori enters Headspace, a dreamlike, pastel landscape. As he traverses through this world in search of Basil, he comes across countless landmarks — a paleontology dig, an underwater highway and the castle of the self-obsessed Sweetheart, to name a few. Between its quirky enemies, dreamy soundscapes and bright colors, it’s apparent that this world isn’t real — it’s a dream. This becomes even clearer as the game weaves in and out between the dream world and the real world, a suburb called Faraway Town where his real name is revealed to be Sunny, over the span of a few in-game days leading up to a move away from home.
As Sunny and his team of friends encounter the game’s different areas, both in the real world and in the dream world, in traditional turn-based RPG style, they have to fight a variety of foes to advance. The game deviates, however, in its addition of an emotion system. During battles, each character in the central friend group has an emotion, with the main emotions being different degrees of happy, angry or sad. OMORI’s use of emotions is an excellent vehicle for character development. Hero, for example, deals with arachnophobia and becomes afraid when battling foes that bear any sort of resemblance to spiders.
These phobias really come into play when looking at Sunny. From the beginning of the game, it’s apparent that he is impeded by some form of anxiety. His fear of heights prevents him from climbing up a tall ladder; his fear of the ocean prevents him from swimming; his fear of spiders prevents him from trekking through a foggy forest. However, to advance through the dream world and find Basil, Sunny must overcome his fears while in the real world. In Faraway Town, he’s faced with a number of petrifying situations based on his fears and must take deep breaths and persist throughout these encounters if he wants to overcome them. Playing through these situations is an excellent example of overcoming anxiety and phobias. Although the phrase “take deep breaths” is probably the last bit of advice anybody wants to hear when dealing with anxiety, it’s true. Playing as Sunny as he works through his fears by concentrating and taking deep breaths is so simple, yet it’s one of the most accurate and honest depictions of anxiety I’ve ever seen in a video game.
However, outside of these fears, there is something else going on. Whether in the dream world as Omori or in the real world as his true self, Sunny is consistently stalked by Something, a floating creature that seems to be a vertical eyeball surrounded by shadows. It springs up at random times, appearing behind Sunny’s reflection in the mirror, over the ocean and above tree stumps. As the game progresses, we learn that Something is a representation of his trauma, which he represses by entering Headspace.
The way both his fears and trauma are represented is incredibly true to the spontaneity of anxiety. Growing up with anxiety, even mundane locations like my own bedroom or a classroom could give way to completely irrational anxious thoughts. OMORI mirrors the feeling of this flawlessly. During my playthrough, I found myself traversing a seemingly harmless forest one minute and watching a manifestation of Sunny’s fears plague him the next. To Sunny, even minute details become significant. The sound of a fist knocking on a door, for example, becomes a harrowing ordeal. As I played OMORI, it felt that I was not simply watching Sunny — seeing and hearing these physical manifestations of his fears and trauma helped me become him, in a way. Every single representation of his fears is chilling, which allowed me to feel the exact same panicked feelings of hopelessness that he feels through the course of his story.
And as we deal with these fears alongside Sunny, we also uncover his story as well, something he essentially has to rediscover for himself after years of heavy repression. Confronting the past turns out to be a much grimier task. Sunny is so strikingly removed from his past and present life that even he, alongside the player, doesn’t even fully comprehend it. However, as tensions in both Headspace and Faraway Town escalate while his trauma, in the form of Something, leeches into his daily life, Sunny is forced to confront his past much on a much deeper level than he did with his fears.
Sunny’s past is a brutal truth. It’s uncovered in fragmented bits and pieces, representing the chaos of his traumatized mind. And it’s terrifying. While White Space signifies the complete repression and avoidance of trauma, Black Space is the opposite. It’s everything all at once: a pit at the bottom of Sunny’s psyche where his darkest fears and regrets have been festering untouched for years. In a Yume Nikki-esque exploration of various dream sequences hidden behind doors, exploring Sunny’s truth takes the player through disjointed manifestations of Sunny’s guilt, all of which are equally disturbing and heart wrenching. In the end of the game’s main route, the truth comes to light through an array of photographs of Sunny’s trauma, and we must choose between Omori — isolation and repression — and Sunny — acceptance and growth.
Experiencing Sunny’s story alongside him connected me to him in a way I thought wasn’t possible for video games to accomplish. Although he only speaks a few words throughout the game’s roughly 20-hour long timeline, it is so difficult for anybody who has had any experience with mental illness to not relate to him. While the catalyst for his depression and self-isolation is eventually revealed to be his guilt for a situation that most people don’t have to go through, the symptoms Sunny experiences are so brutally well-presented that, as much as I wish I couldn’t say this, I saw bits and pieces of my own life reflected inside of him. I’ve been there — I’ve felt removed from my own past. I’ve sat idly around in the back of social gatherings. I’ve hidden away in the comfort of my own version of White Space.
OMORI wastes no time urging the player to feel these feelings alongside Sunny. One of the most troubling aspects of the game is the heavy implication of self-harm. Throughout the game, both Omori and Sunny use knives as their primary weapon. The other characters’ weapons, which are simple items like stuffed animals and frying pans, can be swapped out, but Sunny’s can’t. There’s something chilling about knowing that he’s somehow bound to this knife. Even worse, at some points, he can only escape the repression of White Space by stabbing himself. Just watching Omori’s few pixels lifelessly sit there after stabbing himself is just so disconcerting, yet unavoidable when progressing.
But while being an incredibly saddening and disturbing game to play through, it does an incredible job at touching on the sensitive subject of mental illness. To me, one of the most positive aspects of the game is how Sunny’s friends never leave him. Of course, they’re all dealing with similar trauma in their own ways, something that makes them all feel multidimensional. But Sunny is the most removed, refusing to even acknowledge what happened. However, it seems that all of his problems fade from existence when he’s with his friends. Throughout the game, when he meets up with his friends, a warm, inviting piano theme plays. It hit me the most when the friend group reconnects their memories in a photo album just before Sunnny moves — despite his reclusiveness, the memories they had are the same, even if they’re “a little sad now.”
To play OMORI is to endure an incredibly realistic depiction of anxiety and depression. And for those who have had their own experiences with mental illness, it hits right in the heart. It’s painful, and my playthrough had me contemplating the state of my own brain more than anything. At times, I wanted to stop playing because it held too true to my own experiences. But, as OMORI taught me, facing trauma and anxiety head-on is the only true path to growth — for me, playing this game was a great start.