Learning How to Wait with Omori

Back in the early 2010s after a day of class where the sun set at 4:45, I sat in the wooden chair of my admittedly way-too-toasty dorm room at Tierney Hall at Fordham University. Just days before, I had played and beaten Toby Fox’s UNDERTALE, a role-playing game that set the standard for what would be expected out of Indie-RPG’s, with its meme-creating-level of writing, a banging soundtrack, and approachable style of gameplay that kept itself engaging for the casual and the core. Having finished it, I browsed a message board to see if there was anything like that coming down the pipeline. Without even the idea of DELTA RUNE in anyone’s heads, gamers like me were looking for anything that could capture the same magic that UNDERTALE did, another game that could use its light and nutty facade to address dark and disturbing themes.

Then someone posted this link in the thread.

I was enchanted.

The colorful world, the malicious secrets that the trailer teased at, even Bo En’s slightly off-kilter Japanese musing made a remarkable impression on me that still lasts to this day. I would stare at the original Omori’s Story, textless panels of a monochrome kid in a world of color, trying to get whatever clue I could about the actual plot of the game. Before I knew that the period and comma could make Youtube videos move frame by frame, I would abuse the space bar, trying to pause so I could decode the trailer’s flashes of awkwardly arranged text.

“Anything fun is just a distraction from how much the world actually sucks.”

“The closest I’ve been to being happy is being asleep.”

Those words stuck with me in an eerie way as I made my way through college, finding parallels of my own life in the hikikomori brand of existence that the Omori cartoons and comics were depicting.

Omori as a name was meant to be an abbreviation of hikikomori, a word used to describe people in Japan who essentially withdrew themselves socially, shelling up like hermit crabs in tiny Tokyo apartments, with beds flanked by piles of manga books, and trash covering the floor.1 Though it has risen to a level of prevalence as a lifestyle in Japan, with an estimation of 1 million people taking part, causes for someone to be compelled to live this type of life are disputed.

During that time in my life, I found myself alone in the dorm for most of my days, whether it was my double room that my roommate vacated in Tierney, the cramped single in Conley Hall, or the cursed basement of Finlay where the school used to store its cadavers for surgery exams. Even my apartment in Japan was a solitary corner room, with the only ambient noise being the occasional rush from the train tracks that were laid right next to the building.

It was in those rooms that I consumed an inordinate amount of junk, from the food to the beverages, to whatever was on TV, with a lot of my interpersonal interactions coming from my laptop’s screen. Just like Omori, the game’s title-character, I would create these vast fantasy worlds in my own head that had all the magic that I wished was there in the parts of the world I routinely interacted with. I wanted friends with constant jovial banter, meaningful relationships, engaging objectives, rather than my disparate social circle that was growing harder to connect with thanks to the work grind.

One thing that unites those four places that I called home is that I waited for Omori to actually release in all of them.

From the time I saw that first trailer, I had a life-altering surgery, participated in three different NCAA D1 sports2, got into my first ever publication, graduated, worked my way through various jobs, one of which was on another side of the world, and dealt with an international pandemic. Friends would joke about Omori with me, making the game’s ever-elusive release date a substitute for the day pigs start flying. I literally grew too much as a person to project myself onto the Omori character by the time 2018 came around. Instead, I was beginning to empathize with the jaded Kickstarter backers who initially gave their support to the project, only to wonder where their money went, all as the developers tried to placate them with vague assurances that the team was actually working hard.

I would meet announcements of release dates with a chuckle instead of aspiration. The game’s entire reputation bordered on meme level, often being mentioned with Yandere Simulator as the symbol for over ambitious indie games that were locked in development hell. From 2016 through 2019, the game seemed about as real Omori’s own headspace fantasy land.

That was until, a Christmas miracle happened in 2020

No delays, no sudden takebacks, no major glitch, the game took up honest-to-God space on my hard drive. It was there; it wasn’t going anywhere.

The 25 hours I have sunk into the game on my first run were then spread over the next two years. Ironically, I would wait to burn through the game that made me wait. Just like Omocat’s team, things kept coming up that kept me at a distance from going back into gaming. It can sometimes be hard to enjoy a game about serious interpersonal problems when the world challenges you enough as it is.

Over those two years though, Omori was lauded with enough praise to finally even out all the hate it had gotten when it was in development. Just recently it sold its millionth copy across all platforms that it was released for3.

All that time didn’t make a difference on my end. The combat was still enjoyable. The visuals were just as mesmerizing as I know they could be, and Slime Girls delivered with a soundtrack that was equal parts bubbly and disturbing. Most importantly though, the writing made sure that the weight of every emotional moment hit in full, getting me to well up quite a few times.

What Omori, and to a similar extent, my play-through, reminded me, is that good things actually can take time, and if time is taken by a good thing, it’s time well spent. Because I’ve finished the game finally, I can interact with its community, and appreciate all the nuance that went into its art and story. All that time spent waiting is going to be equaled and surpassed by the time I spend enjoying this world that Omocat created, whether that’s through watching fan videos, playing the fanmade mods, or whatever new project in this line that Omocat is going to point herself toward. Having all this open up to me feels even more rewarding knowing how long I waited, and how much more I should have trusted the process.

When the right cooks are in the kitchen, the food may take a while, but it’ll be an unforgettable meal.


1 While not intended by the game’s creator, Omori is also the name of a Japanese suburb that I would pass threw on my commute to work. Its kanji characters translate it to, “big forest.” The name can also be seen as an abbreviation of momento mori, which would track well with the game’s themes about death and grief.

2 This is of course, only if you are of the mind that cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track actually count as separate sports.

3 Omori’s initial Kickstarter crowdfunding page had a reach goal insisting that they would port the game to the now defunct 3DS. This particular goal was a point of ridicule that my friends would hold over my head as proof that there was no way Omori would ever actually come out.

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