Oni (Windows)

Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
User Score
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze (589)
Written on  :  Jul 16, 2003
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

4 out of 5 people found this review helpful

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Probably the most entertaining game I ever played

The Good

This game is just great. Why, you ask?
Well it's certainly not the graphics, or the music, or the sound... I just don't know. Oni is cool, and that's it. It's like the Fonz.

Oni is a 3rd person perspective action game with a strong influence of 'oriental-pop' aestethics (namely, manga/anime). We play the role of a purple-haired girl called Konoko, the top-of-the-notch special agent for a law enforcement organization called the TCTF, with genetically enhaced physiscal abilities and all.
Every city in the world is enclosed in a 'bubble' inside which gigantic atmosphere processors create a safe environment for human beings, since the 'world outside' has become a deadly poisonous place.
The game starts with a brief training course, after which Konoko's first-ever field mission takes place: the hot pursuit of the leader of the terrorist organization known as The Syndicate, a mysterious man called Muro. Throughout the fast-paced pursuit, Konoko will get to uncover the secret plans of Muro, as well as his origin, his true nature, and some other dirty secrets that will give place to a few —hopefully surprising— plot twists, involving even her own nature and little-known past.

Gameplay-wise I would say Oni places somewhere inbetween the likes of BLOOD OMEN 2 and MAX PAYNE —which has been by the way developed by the same people, Gathering Of Developers (GOD).
Now, the first of those games is strictly a close-hand combat game, while the second is more of a shooter kind of game. Oni has both combat options, and that's where its greatness begins, we have the option to choose in which way we get to dispose Konoko's enemies, whether from a distance, or getting our hands dirty.
However, although Oni might be played as a shooter game, it's pretty clear from the very beginning that the idea is to use close-hand combat. In this aspect, the games succeeds brilliantly, implementing the most smart and user-friendly combat interface I've ever seen.
We've got two attack keys —punch and kick—, and the possibility to combine them in a lot of different ways, in order to perform a large number of combos. Not only that, but combining the two attack buttons with any of the movement keys, we get to perform a lot of other attack/evasion moves; some moves even are a combination of attack AND evasion.
We could think of Oni as a 3rd person perspective action game, in which the combat sequences have the complexity level of games such as Street Fighter...
OK, maybe it's not THAT complex, but it's certainly pretty close, for a 3rd person perspective game. And it's cool because the fights in Oni can involve as much characters as we bump into in a certain area. Sometimes there even will be one or two that will actually be fighting in our side.

So, the combat sequences are undoubtly one of the things that make this game stick out notably. Even when I had learned a LOT of moves, every now and then I would pull out this OTHER move that I even wasn't aware was possible!
What's more, throughout the game Konoko will keep learning new moves to add to her combat 'portfolio', which will surely keep renewing the fighting.

Related to this, I must say that I LOVED the control interface. The implementation of the mouse in Oni's control interface is one of the 2 best I've seen in a PC game. I didn't even need to finish the complete training to get really comfortable with the controls, and never got an issue to report about this. Pretty soon I was confident enough to perform all kind of circus numbers with this agile heroine.
For some people it might take longer to get used, specially to the combat moves and the combos, but once you manage to; you have to agree that Oni's control interface is as smooth as it gets.

Next, the difficulty level. I'm 27 years old as of June 2003, and I've been a videogame player for about 16 years. I don't know if that has something to do or what, but I noticed that videogames are so STUPIDLY EASY nowadays. The only thing to spice things up is the implementation of a 'hard' mode, which more often than not consists of ridiculous things like requiring 300 hits to kill a boos, taking a good half hour to win the final fight. This way, 'hard' difficulty level in most games doesn't win you out of difficulty, but because you simply get bored of hitting keys/buttons for that long.
I readed some guides/walkthroughs to games such as SILENT HILL 2, in which the author strongly advices to avoid fighting the enemies, and I wonder why should anyone do that? They are SO easy to beat! And this happens over and over again, with almost every game on the market today.
Oni, however, has the most balanced difficulty level I experienced in a long time. It's hard enough to put a true challenge, but not too hard as to get you frustrated.
In Oni, we don't have the freedom of saving at will, but the game will do it upon reaching certain areas, and you know what? I think that is a good thing. The savepoints are far enough from one another as to keep with the difficulty level, but not as far as to make you replay a too long stage. It's not frustrating, and it eliminates this 'kill one guy, quicksave; oops, got hit, quickload' sickness so common nowadays.
We are too spoiled by 'quicksave', and we're getting too lazy.

Another thing I liked a lot is the lenght of the game. There are about 13 main levels, and each one is divided in 4~5 sub-levels. Combined with the difficulty level that every now and then makes you replay a given stage 3 or 4 times, the game can take a good 2 or 3 weeks of intense gameplay to reach the ending. That's 'bang for the buck', I say.
Every level varies enough in its appearance from one another as to make sure you won't get bored with the views. In every new level there is at least one new type of enemy with a particular fighting technique that you have to learn in order to successfully combat, which adds a lot to the variety of the game. Hell, even Konoko changes clothes every second level or so.

The storyline is nothing to write home about, but it's pretty interesting for this kind of game, even featuring a few plot twists (nothing TOO surprising, though).

The graphics are not brilliant, but they are quite correct, specially character design. The manga/anime influence is very strong, and we all know how good are those guys designing uniforms, weapons, and armours.
And girls, of course :P

The game offers an interesting deal of replayability, since, once you have beaten it, you get to unlock a number of 'cheats' that range from the all-famous 'god' mode to the ability to choose the character to play among almost any character that appeared in the game.

The Bad

Although I said the graphics are good, they could certainly be better. The textures specially need a lot of work, and the backgrounds are pretty poor. There are a number of cutscenes made with in-game graphics that take place in the city, and the buildings look really awful. You can certainly tell that they didn't put any effort in the city design.
In fact, (not counting the excellent control interface) the whole game gives a pretty low-profile impression, from a technical point of view. There isn't even the slightest work in facial expressions, for example. Not even any kind of lip-synch.

The cutscenes are made with in-game graphics, except for the intro and outro sequences, which are 2D-animated. These two I didn't like at all. They are poor in every aspect, and specially the drawing of Konoko is not good, she doesn't even look like the in-game Konoko, or the one in the conversation shots, or the one in the main menu background, or the one in any of the publicitary shots, wallpapers, et cetera.

There is one last pretty serious issue, which is the lack of an option to redefine controls.
In fact, the 'readme' file points out one way to do this, which is MANUALLY EDITING a certain file with a text editor. I don't think I have EVER seen such a lame thing, not to mention little serious.

The Bottom Line

Oni for sure doesn't have anything to make history nor anything for the like, but it's certainly a game that has been unfairly underrated. You have to go past that low-profile general looks, and give it a 15-minute gameplay try. I bet you'll like it.
With a fine manga/anime influenced atmosphere, extremely smooth controls, a really extense gameplay, lots of different enemies with their own combat techniques, and a huge variety of close-hand combat options; Oni is certainly a GREAT 3rd person perspective action game.

Personally, I dare to say that this is one of the top 3 most entertaining games I've had the pleasure to play. And as I've said before, if a game is fun enough as to keep you playing all the way to the end, and even make you want to replay it, what else can you want?