Oni review
Oni as in one redeeming feature?


I'm such a sucker for anything related to anime, and video games are no exception. I purchased a minigame collection on the GBA because it featured Cardcaptor Sakura, and I picked up a third person shooter for the PS2 solely because it revolved around Ghost in the Shell. Now I've picked up Oni mainly because it's anime styled and I thought it might be good. However, it appears my impulse anime-themed purchases may have finally hit a patch of bad luck. While the first two acquisitions turned out to be fairly good choices at the least, Oni is a game that leaves a lot to be desired.

While first impressions would put Oni as a third person shooter I think it's more accurate to call it an action adventure with shooter elements. The player controls Konoko as she takes on a variety of missions to get to the root of the criminal activity. Her specific role in law enforcement is to prevent crimes committed using high tech means, but in typical anime fashion she eventually starts to question who she can trust. It provides a very nice backstory and provides some incentive for seeing the missions through.

Unfortunately, the story impact is partly hindered by the delivery. It's not terrible, but the cutscenes tend not to really do much other than convey objectives. Large portions of the backstory are instead pushed in through computer terminals scattered throughout the levels, which is a rather boring way to go about it.

Graphically it could use with some improvement. It's like a mix between PS1 and PS2 levels with the character models looked a little flat and not quite so smooth. Perhaps I'm spoiled by other titles provided more intricate characters. That said, I do like the style the team aimed for, really hitting the anime theme with the central character's wild hair and the android partner and animation for things like flailing attacks looks pretty good. The levels look quite bland though with little in the way of interesting features and there is this terrible insistence of being very dark in places.

For the audio the soundtrack is just simply forgettable and uninteresting. I seriously don't pay attention to the music when I'm dashing through the levels and certainly don't recall it afterwards. It's pleasing to hear voice clips in full force, as I have no qualms about the quality and it helps improve the atmosphere.

Core gameplay in Oni is split between third person beam 'em up and shoot 'em up, and this goes some way to prove itself a jack of all trades and master of none. First, the shooter elements. Konoko can pick up and use various weapons that she finds in different levels. Aiming is done entirely with the right analogue stick and a handy lasersight and/or crosshair (weapon depedent) appears onscreen to give you an idea of where you're aiming. There's a healthy selection of weapons from the bog standard pistols and machine guns to the more extreme options like missile launchers. The game will also affect Konoko's movement if she has a weapon in her hands or holstered, like being unable to run when weighed down.

So far it sounds quite ideal but Oni's attempt at super realism drowns out the fun that could be had from this. The single problem comes down to ammo. Despite the fact that there are only a few different types of ammo and thus multiple weapons share ammo types, you'll still find you don't have anywhere near enough to take on all the enemies around. First of all is that guns have a fairly low capacity to begin with. Then enemies will almost always have depleted their entire ammo supply before you manage to kill them, severely limiting opportunities to restock. Not that it would matter much, because even for enemies you do kill before they drain their weapon you'll find that you can't simply add their ammo to your current weapon but only switch them, even if it is the exact same gun. Oh, and did I mention that you can only carry one weapon at a time?

So what happens when using a gun is not an option? Close combat comes into play, which is a system far more broken than the guns setup. Konoko can punch and kick when not armed and can produce combo attacks with varying presses. Additionally her attacking direction is not limited to forward, as she can do things like swing her elbow back or do a backwards flip kick in order to catch opponents that might try to come at her from behind or the side. As you progress through the game more combos are unlocked.

...and that's where the good stuff ends. The biggest problem here is that Konoko fights like a drunk, often completely missing targets standing right next to her. It's extremely frustrating to try and launch a swift combo on someone standing in front of you only for Konoko to gracefully kick the crap out of the air next to the enemy who, assumedly quite amused by the spectacle, knocks you to the floor. It gets even worse when trying to hit someone behind or to the side as nine times out of ten she will miss completely.

What could be worse than that? How about a blocking system that doesn't work. To block melee attacks in Oni you're supposed to face the enemy and not press anything (because, you know, assigning this to a button would have made far too much sense). Alas, the game is very picky about what constitutes facing the enemy and so the block will often fail, making fights all that more difficult quite needlessly.

Bad controls just seems to be Oni's trademark, as there are some very strange choices with other aspects. To run you're supposed to double tap up, which never registers with the analogue stick. The default layout is also not ideal for playing and, despite the training level, I still opted to change the layout to something that didn't suck.

Now let's move onto the enemies. Controlling Konoko results is quite a mess but it is apparent that the computer has no difficulties there. With guns you'll find that enemies will shoot you with alarming accuracy from halfway across an airfield, as well as timing shots perfectly so they open fire exactly as you dive out of cover to hit you. Go for it up close with combat skills and watch the enemy dance gracefully around you and perform attacks that connect worryingly well to knock you out of any foolish attempt to actually hit them. It really doesn't help that these guys take a load of punishment to permanently down them. On easy mode. No, no, this is not the good kind of challenging. It's just outright frustrating.

The difficulty has some other nasty issues to contend with. The game is quite happy to spread checkpoints out a good distance apart and tends to end some sections with some instant kill potential, like getting blown off walkways. The one saving grace is that hypo sprays (that restore some health) are scattered about here and there, which can help to reduce the risk of the control pad mysteriously ending up planted in your tv screen.

I do have some praise for Oni, but it doesn't really extend beyond the level design. The objectives thrown in each stage rarely go beyond "kill enemies" or "go here" but the levels are good settings to fulfill those objectives. Various objects are scattered about that can be used as cover and rooms can have multiple entrances. You can be faced in some more interesting puzzle elements at times as well, like security laser traps that must be bypassed and rescuing civilians to receive help. To avoid too much confusion the game also provides a compass system that helpfully points you in the right direction.

Unfortunately, that's not really enough to save it. When I purchased Oni I was seriously expecting something as good as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. This game doesn't even come close. It's shooting elements are half-assed and the fighting is terribly broken, and then more problems are sprinkled on top. Best avoided as there are better games to fulfill its role.

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