Oni (PlayStation 2)

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Written by  :  Pixelspeech (1006)
Written on  :  May 28, 2013
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  1.8 Stars1.8 Stars1.8 Stars1.8 Stars1.8 Stars

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Interacting with terminals: the game!

The Good

It's a creative idea.

I found myself taking a liking to the hand-to-hand combat.

Dialogue is reliably entertaining.

The Bad

Graphics are very "meh".

There is not a whole lot of anime to be found in this game.

Guns are absolute ass.

As are the rest of the controls.

Story is not very engaging.

Quality and the style of the drawings is very inconsistent.

The Bottom Line

Oni is one of the first games ever created by Bungie, back before they grew popular with the Halo series. It has been on my radar for a while, not just because it is a Bungie game, which as a studio usually produces pretty good shooters, but also because it was advertised as an "anime action game". I like to pretend that I am immune to hype, but when those three words are named in one sentence, even my jaded hearth suddenly jumps back to life.

It sounded to good to be true and sadly it was. Oni is a game, I can confirm that. It also has a decent amount of action in it, though I'd argue that the majority of the gameplay consists of pressing X in front of computer screens. However, the anime influences are somewhat difficult to trace down. Aside from a pretty nice animated opening, the game relies mostly on in-game graphics, which aren't very stylized or colorful at all. In fact, most of the levels seemed to have been made in the Doom Builder, considering all the gray walls and perfectly square rooms. The only real anime influences I can detect are related to the design of the characters (which all have unnaturally colored hair) and the fact that enemies tend to scream the name of their attack. Apparently the brainstorming sessions consisted of a Digimon marathon and a collection of Tenchi Muyo fanart.

Of course visual design isn't the only element that makes an anime; the story is also important. The story of this game is heavily inspired by Ghost in the Shell, since both works are about a special task-force operating in a cyberpunk city. Players take on the role of Konoko, a female agent, who is fresh from the academy. She is tasked with taking out an evil syndicate that specialize in cyber-crime and contraband. That is the extent of the plot that I could decipher, since the game is written in medias res and I couldn't be bothered playing it for more than three hours.

Konoko and the rest of the cast I was introduced too were actually pretty entertaining and some of the dialogue had me smiling. Voice-acting is also pretty good and I would have continued playing the game if I could.

The real problem with the game is the gameplay. It boasts that the player is free to choose between fighting enemies with hand-to-hand combat or guns. This is true, but I dare you to run up to an enemy and punch him in the face when that enemy wields a freaking rocket launcher. Ammo is also very scarce, so you are encouraged to save it up for when you really need it, so there is not really a choice at all. Deus Ex did this way better, allowing the player to sneak up on enemies and knock them unconscious very easily. You can sneak in Oni, but you lack the means to take out a guard stealthily, so once you're behind him, all you can do is start punching him anyway, which will instantly attract all other nearby guards as well.

The worst part, however, are the legendarily poor controls. I am not lying when I say that this is the most uncontrollable game I've ever played, it far surpasses the likes of Conker's Bad Fur Day. Let me give you an example, a very basic one: In most games you run as fast as you can by pressing the analog stick all the way forward, but in Oni you press it all the way forward two times. Yes, it has three states of movement speed; walking, running and dashing.

The controls also tend to fail you at the worst possible times. Stuff like grabs, sliding or even just moving forward glitch out at the worst possible times. Pulling off grabs is especially random and I lost count of how often I desperately needed one to happen, but couldn't trigger it no matter how hard I tried.

Gunplay is equally useless, praise the lord for the auto-target, because it would be impossible to hit anything otherwise. There are two types of guns, pistols and rifles, whose only real differences are that one uses red ammo and the other green ammo. There is no point in devising a strategy of any sorts, since you'll always be using whatever weapon you happen to find ammo for, which itself is a rare occurrence. The scarcity of the ammunition saps all satisfaction out of the shooting mechanics, because you will always find yourself running out and having to make do without for long periods of time. Also lovely are the many times when the game gives you green ammo while you are wielding a red gun or vice versa. Especially when you then finally find a damn green gun, but can't pick it up, because the "Press R3 to pick up" prompt doesn't show up.

Oni is a game that had so much potential to be mind-blowing, but it's ultimately crippled by some very amateur design. From controls that assign important functions to unreliable buttons like R3 to boxy and colorless level-design, Oni reeks of incompetence. In a world where anime games are almost exclusively dominated by overly long RPGs and fighting games, Oni had a chance to introduce a new sub-genre, perfect for people like me who have too little time for RPGs and are terrible at tournament fighters. A failure of this magnitude must have set off a lot of alarms, because no similar games have been released since, or at least that I know if. If I am wrong, then by all means, please send me a pm.