Game Description: Set in the year 2032, Oni is the story of Konoko, an elite agent of the Tech Crimes Task Force who is on a quest to infiltrate and destroy a ruthless crime syndicate. The game puts the player in a world that can be imagined as a blend of action thrillers, such as La Femme Nikita, and classic anime, such as Ghost in the Shell. As the game progresses, Konoko wrestles with the terrible secrets of the underworld, confronts the frailty of her own identity, and discovers that she can trust no one.
The curse of being a game critic is that you have to play all games with as little prejudice as possible. As you can probably imagine, reviewing games you like is easy, but even covering games you despise isn't as hard as you might think. At least you know where you stand with the title and there's a sense of satisfaction you get from warning the public and extracting you're revenge for time wasted with a scathing review. What make this job tough are those games that are more middle-of-the-road—games with too many problems that keep you from loving it, but at the same time there are just enough good qualities for you not to hate it. The best way to describe these "gray" titles is you tolerate them, and that's largely how I felt about the highly touted and often delayed title, Oni by Bungie for the PlayStation 2.
When first announced to the public, Oni had no shortage of innovative ideas. Players are assigned to assume to role of Konoko, a hot heroine babe in a sci-fi setting. This was a game that was to be the ultimate hybrid. A game that combined all the intense action of a first-person shooter (FPS), the exploration aspects of a third-person game like Tomb Raider, and the hand-to-hand combat of a fighting game like Tekken. To top it off, the whole thing would be packaged in a hip and trendy anime theme. But somewhere during the course of its development, what sounded like a formula for success became a recipe for mediocrity.
Right from the start, I sensed something was wrong. I think in any game, if you find yourself dead within the first five minutes of playing, that's a bad sign. That's exactly what happened to me in Oni. Despite the wonderfully crafted training tutorial stage for players to get accustomed to the complex controls, the minute the actual in-game mission started, I still found myself ill-prepared and dying and restarting quite frequently. If the developers wanted to immerse me in its world early, it failed. Oni is a tough game to manage, and it certainly doesn't earn any kudos for progressive and intuitive design.
Presentation-wise, Oni isn't a knockout, either. Extensive background music is surprisingly absent. The game for the most part is musically silent with the exception of some key locations. Character models and stage architecture seem a bit too bland and unremarkable considering the PlayStation 2's renowned graphic capabilities. All and all, the visuals were passable, but not enough for me to lose myself in its beauty.
Still the main problem isn't its difficulty setting or its form. The main problem with Oni is that all the different parts of the game never leads to consistent and refreshing gameplay. The sum of its parts never quite equals a whole. The control scheme, lifted from the keyboard and mouse FPS standard, seems needlessly strenuous to master. I quickly wondered if a more unique or console-like control scheme would have been more effective. Mission designs reek of age-old conventions that date back to the earliest FPSs with little or no adjustment to the new concept. But perhaps the worst part is that the supposedly innovative hand-to-hand fighting just doesn't feel particularly special. One of the major problems with the fighting portion is that the distinctions between hand-to-hand and firearm combat isn't really apparent or even logical, which makes switching back and forth between them perplexing. You would think that hand-to-hand combat would be inappropriate against an enemy with a machine gun, but what I found was that most guns were ineffective at disposing of most enemies efficiently. Instead, I found myself using hand-to-hand tactics more often than not to disarm enemies rather than shooting it out. This didn't make much sense to me.
I think Oni has such discrepancies because this is a case of function following form rather than vice versa. The developers seem like they had an idea for an interesting game, but never came up with a game design that made sense and naturally exploited the concept. Instead, gameplay situations feel contrived as if they were intentionally setup just to take advantage of Konoko's unique abilities. Perhaps what would explain why some security guards are armed and while other others aren't.
I don't doubt that Oni is a game that has grand ambitions, but regardless of the writing on the wall, Oni feels more like a MOD; like a first-person shooter trying to grow past its original design. This title looks and plays more or less like what you would expect. There are simply no surprises. You can see the story, enemy AI, and mission layout coming a mile away. Oni doesn't defy expectations. It revels in them. That doesn't necessarily make Oni a bad game, but that doesn't make it a revolutionary or a good title, either.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.
Chi does a good job of covering most of the game's flaws, but I disagree about the curse of being a game critic. To me, the worst part of being a critic is actually having to play games like Oni. Nothing puts fear into my heart like the thought of being stuck playing bad games like this for hours at a time. I didn't have any prejudice when I started it, but I sure as hell did when I was finished with it. My verdict: Chi was definitely WAY too kind to this game.
First of all, the tutorial was extremely dull and long. While the controls are laid out much differently than the usual 3-D action game, I didn't find them difficult to learn, although they were very cumbersome to use. I'm not a big fan of the recent incarnations of Nintendo's Zelda series, but I will readily admit that "Z-Targeting" completely blows away a junky control setup like the one Oni employs. I also agree with Chi in saying that using the guns was not nearly as effective as just running up and putting a fist to someone's head or tossing them across a room. It's too tough to aim at times without auto-targeting to help out, especially on moving targets.
Once I got past the tutorial to the actual game, my jaw dropped. I don't know who Bungie thinks its kidding with the mindless, brainless, this-was-old-and-uninspired-years-ago type of simplistic FPS gameplay they've got here. Flipping switches and opening doors? Running up and punching bad guys is supposed to make the rest of this limp disc fun? Please. I did not buy a PlayStation 2 for this. Nothing good or original here.
Not only is the gameplay ridiculously dull, the graphics are just as drab. There's not a thing to show off to your friends since the themes are empty hallways, empty rooms, warehouses with crates and simple, non-interactive boxes of various shapes scattered about. Konoko herself is modeled fractionally better than something I'd expect on the PlayStation, and the other character models don't even look as good as she does. For a system as "powerful" as Sony is so fond of reminding us, this game is a serious underachiever. It takes absolutely no advantage of the hardware it's on.
As far as the other aspects of the game, I can't think of anything to praise, really. Some various "highlights" include the menu, which shows instructions and pictures for weapons you don't even have—confusing and lame at the same time. Also, there's a lot of polygon clipping, most often noticeable as some walls and doors disappear when walking close to them at angles. I don't even want to get started on how small and unreadable the type was for subtitles and menus.
Still, as anyone who has read some of my reviews knows, one of the things I enjoy most in games are strong characters and interesting plots. In my opinion, a mediocre game can often be saved by some excellent work in these areas. In the case of Oni, there is no redemption. While the opening anime cinema is actually fairly decent and looks like it was done in Japan, dialogue scenes during the game are laughably pathetic. The 3-D characters stand and move stiffly, and all you get are small accompanying character portraits in the corners with no animation! Most PlayStation games have more style and class than this. No, forget the PlayStation—most Genesis games have more style and class than this.
Great games grab a player from the start, hook them with interesting ideas and gameplay and don't let go. If a game can't be great, it can at least be good by offering something new, or by presenting a very solid and enjoyable package. Oni doesn't do any of those things. Games like this are a waste of my time and money, and I feel it's my duty to warn players against spending their hard-earned dollars on a product like this despite a real lack of quality titles to choose from on the PlayStation 2. However, the good news is that since it's now March, there are going to be a whole slew of better games coming soon to help me forget the time that I will never get back from playing Oni.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence
Parents, Oni is violent and has an edgier adult feel to it, but not so much so that it isn't approachable by kids. Oni never revels in any gratuitous amounts of violence or profanity and feels positively mild in comparison to some of today's top games that push the envelope of good taste.
Gamers, who were waiting a long time for Oni, will probably be disappointed. Despite boasting some innovative features on paper, the game doesn't look or play all that different from other games currently dominating the market.
Action game and first-person shooter fans that don't mind the monotony and sometimes laborious mission designs might find themselves enjoying the title for its anime trappings and dual combat styles.
Anime fans may also appreciate Oni as an interactive tribute to the animation style, but the story is generic beyond belief, and Oni never feels like an anime where it counts the most—in the gameplay.
Women gamers can at least appreciate the way the Konoko character is handled with grace and dignity. Konoko doesn't sport any incredibly skimpy outfits and her portrayal is far cry from the male-fantasized vixens that usually dominate the market.