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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Rockstar Games / Bungie

Oni-PS2-Shot-1.jpg (2736 bytes)So what exactly is Oni? Years in development, a whole lot of talk, the showcase of a new system, Oni is the eclectic gamer’s dream that combines platform jumping, gunshooting, asskicking, and anime babes. Oni is the great videogame melting pot where nothing really melted that well. Oni is intense anime action in a lifeless boring world that’s literally painted gray more often than not. Oni features rich three dimensional combat with sub-par control and far too few control options. Oni is a very difficult and challenging game that’s stingy with the save and so discourages you from conquering those challenges.

Oni-PS2-Shot-12.jpg (3109 bytes)Oni is a futuristic anime adventure set in the strange distopia of the World Coalition Government, where a group of evil doers known as the Syndicate are plotting terrorism, world domination, and other insidiously unwholesome things. You play Konoko, a purple haired, machine gun packing, ninja fighting, back flipping, anime babe, who also happens to be a special agent investigating the Syndicate. In short, it has all the makings of a masterpiece. The gameplay, sadly, doesn’t always deliver.

Oni-PS2-Shot-16.jpg (4600 bytes)Let’s talk about the control first. During the first several hours of Oni, the control is bad. After you warm up to it a bit, it is upgraded to passable. There is a general lack of precision to movement that makes itself most apparent when undertaking delicate tasks such as jumping from boxes to other boxes. You just kind of have to go for it and hope for the best because any attempt to be precise by say, backing up to the edge of a ledge, is as likely to end up with you falling off as you reaching the desired position. The basic premise sounds attractive, the left joystick controls all movement, and the right stick controls the direction you face and the camera orientation. The combination is pretty good for general navigation, but pretty bad for hand to hand combat or aiming a gun. What really aggravated me was the lack of control options available. You are presented with the default settings of the controller, and a couple of other preset control options, each one featuring only slightly altered control schemes. Why not have programmable controls? It’s a relatively standard practice in many genres and it can make a world of difference. If for some reason the joystick control can’t be changed, then at least make the other eight buttons programmable. There is simply no reason to insist on a couple of different button configurations. It’ ridiculous.

Oni-PS2-Shot-20.jpg (3218 bytes)Combat breeds its own control issues as well. For starters, aiming a gun is damn hard. There is an auto aim, but it doesn’t work all that well. Even once you get your aim down, the gun jerks up sharply each time you fire it. I suppose this is very realistic and all, but that hardly should be the overriding concern in a sci-fi anime action game. Besides, gun’s sharp recoil may reflect reality, but having to shoot the bad guy six times in the face to get him to slow down doesn’t. Thus, "real life" is again not a good model to follow with an anime theme. There’s no problem with the fantastical: guns not recoiling and bad guys needing a whole lot of shooting to go down are inconsistencies that compliment each other rather well.

Oni-PS2-Shot-3.jpg (3439 bytes)I suspect that the real reason shooting is so difficult is to encourage lots of hand to hand combat. Konoko kicks a lot of butt, no question there. She has punches, kicks, combos, and several different throws. All of these combine to give Konoko a pretty decent arsenal. The fighting works well for combat with a single opponent, but much less so for multiple opponents. If you’re beating the crap out of someone, there’s a pretty good chance that someone else is beating the crap out of you. It is very difficult to change your orientation when fighting multiple opponents and the whole situation is just messy. As a final note on control, I should mention the less than perfect "double tap to run" set up. This doesn’t work that well, especially with jumping sequences. I thought this was why we had analog joysticks now.

Oni-PS2-Shot-6.jpg (3720 bytes)Graphically, Oni is a bit of a mixed bag as well. The graphics are basically solid, but suffer from a lack of detail and texture. The levels are fairly basic and include such locations as a warehouse, research lab, manufacturing plant and airport, but in all of the levels there is very little detail to suggest they are inhabited by people, and basically feel a lot like shells that have yet to be turned into completed levels. As for textures, there are very few and as a result the game levels have a dreary, boring look to them. The characters, however, are done well in a convincingly anime style. They display a wide range of movement and switch between actions fluidly and convincingly. The characters are varied in style and color, and Konoko even has multiple costumes and gear later in the game.

Oni-PS2-Shot-8.jpg (2256 bytes)The sound is done very well. The sound effects such as the gun-fire and explosions are high-quality. The music kicks in to heighten the tension when the situation requires it. This works well because the music is pretty good, and not having to listen to it all the time keeps it from growing stale.

Oni-Shot-36.jpg (4408 bytes)Although Oni can be a very difficult game, the excellent tutorial sets you on the right path. It is very detailed, and you are walked through everything from basic movement to advanced combat and marksmanship. Your missions require you to navigate through certain buildings and you are given an excellent compass to help you find your way. No matter what happens in Oni, you will know in what direction you have to go and approximately how far away it is. The save points are few and far between and this is more than a little exasperating. The inability to save conveniently makes the game longer and more frustrating. The repetition of doing the same level over and over again just to get the last few moments right needs to become a thing of the past. Many 3rd person action games, such as the Resident Evil series, make use of save points, and these games have the points arranged in such a way that you can always find somewhere to save if you really need to. In Oni, you simply have to push forward to the end of the level and hope for the best.

Oni-Shot-45.jpg (4799 bytes)Oni still has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s pretty fun despite its many shortcomings. It also succeeded in combining hand to hand combat and gun fighting better than it has ever been done before. Once the control issues have been worked out in Oni, particularly in regard to fighting multiple opponents at once, then the door will be open for brilliant new action games combining the best of both worlds. As it stands now, neither is as good as it could have been. It’s also important to remember that Konoko could whip Laura Croft’s ass any day of the week, and it’s about time someone did. Maybe I’ve been too hard on Oni, but only because I wanted it to be so much better. I wanted Oni to be the perfect game, and sadly this is not so. Still, there is something to be said for imperfection, and Oni will be a good time for those with the patience to play it. Fans of 3D action games such as Tomb Raider and Legacy of Kain will certainly want to give Oni a look, as will anime fans. Ultimately, however, Oni just doesn’t deliver in the way it should have.

Jeff Luther

Snapshot

Ups: Great character design; succeeds in combining weapons and hand-to-hand combat; cool dialogue and story;  something just catchy about it.

Downs: Several control issues; not enough save points; bland level design; did we mention control?

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2

 

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