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Oni

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Gathering
Developer: Bungie Software
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

Oni, unfortunately, is a very hit and miss title. This theme starts with the graphics, which alternate between smooth as silk and almost painfully repetitive. There are a few things in the graphics department that are quite stunning, but a lot of other stuff -- the level design, especially -- that leaves much to be desired.

Take Konoko, the main character. Every thing she does is a wonderfully fluid action. Want to jump-kick? No problem. Want to execute a four-move combo? Once you've learned it, it's amazingly simple. And it all looks very, very nice. Oni has some of the most fluid animation I've ever seen in a game, and with the large amount of hand-to-hand combat present in the game, it helps to make it look good.

But then there are the environments. Ever seen the inside of a warehouse? Now take away all the clutter, and you have most of the environments that Oni takes place in. It's numbing after a certain point, and you'll find yourself ignoring the environments in an attempt to get through the areas. I can only handle so much bland corridor-room-corridor before I look for something else to do, and Oni teeters dangerously on the brink of Dullsville.

The sound in Oni, on the other hand, is quite good. It's not particularly stunning, but the voice acting is much more solid than I expected, and the various sound effects are quite nice. There's nothing more enjoyable than being in a heavy fistfight and it actually sounding like you're there. Sweet. It won't be winning any awards in any categories, to be honest, but it certainly doesn't detract from the gameplay experience.


Gameplay:

And, while Oni is still hit and miss when it comes to gameplay, it fortunately has a good bit more ups than downs. Save points and control issues aside, Oni is a fresh look at a tired genre, and it may well usher in a new wave of action gaming.

You are Konoko, the requisite Purple-Haired Anime Chick, on a quest to save the world from the bad guys. The plot is straight out of 'bubblegum' anime, and won't particularly surprise anyone relatively familiar with the genre. That's not to say that it's terrible -- just that it's not particularly original.

The core conceit of Oni has Konoko running around in various environments, flipping switches and dodging laser beams, and wailing on the grunts that wander around. There's an occasional genuine challenge, where a little use of the grey matter is required, but for the most part, the game's structure is simple.

It would be painfully simple if it weren't for the sheer variety of moves that you can do. Yes, there are ranged weapons, but for the most part they are used before you close in for the kill. Ammo is frighteningly limited, and you'll find yourself often eschewing guns for fisticuffs. And there Oni really begins to shine.

You start off with a rather limited repertoire of actions, but as the game progresses you learn new combat moves. And moves can be combined into combos that deal even more damage than your standard attack. Not to mention, you have your throws and your disarm attacks. It's all done by the keyboard, and is quite difficult to get the hang of at first -- and some of the moves are almost impossible to get the hang of -- but simple enough once you've gotten used to the game.

Oni also offers a few other handy features. The on-screen display is minimalistic, but it shows a great deal of data at the same time. The 'objective compass' is quite useful (when you have it), showing you the general direction and distance of the next thing you need to do. The levels are usually simple enough to keep you from losing your way, however.

One of my major beefs with the game, however, is the lack of save-anywhere support. I don't particularly care if this game is also being released on various other systems that may or may not support said feature. Adding it in the PC game would make a world of difference, as some sequences are damn near impossible and it's not particularly fun to run through them six or seven times in a row.

Lack of multiplayer support also smarts. On the positive side, the inclusion of a solid training level really helps you get into the game without having to flip through an instruction book or learn a bunch of keystrokes outside of actual gameplay.


Difficulty:

Oni often gets quite challenging -- and sometimes it gets frustratingly so. Having to fight with both a sometimes-flaky control scheme and a save system that doesn't let you save anywhere can lead to periods of pure anger, as you try to tough your way past a particularly difficult point and get thrashed in the same spot every time. The fact that you can't handle too many guys at once also makes the game challenging -- although this can usually be circumvented by doing things the Right Way. Prepare to be reloading relatively frequently, though, especially as you get farther into the game. Near-perfect execution of special moves becomes a key to success.

Game Mechanics:

The controls in Oni are serviceable, but they're also unconfigurable from the game interface. Sure, you can edit some config files, but most gamers won't feel safe doing those sorts of things. A simple mouse sensitivity slider inside the game would have made me happy -- as confusing as the key set up may be, it's actually quite solid. The game itself plays quite well, and is actually a whole lot of fun in various places. The fact that enemies clip through walls when you kill them is unimpressive, but certainly not a show-stopper. And the menu -- such as it is -- is simple enough to navigate.

Oni is an enjoyable experience, but as you play the game you feel like Bungie was shooting for much, much more than what they delivered. As it is, it's one of the more enjoyable third-person action games I've played in a while, and it certainly does some things better than any other game -- hand-to-hand combat is often amazing -- but the casual gamer may want to rent it for their PS2 and make sure it's their cuppa.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win98/2K/Me, P2 266, 64MB RAM, 800MB HD Space, 2MB Accelerated Video Card, CD-ROM
 

Test System:



AMD K6-III 450 running Windows 98, 256 MB RAM, 6x/24x DVD-ROM, Sound Blaster Live!, Creative Labs TNT2 Ultra w/ 32 MB RAM

Windows The Nations Windows Operation Flashpoint

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated