Fortune Cookie say…
Oni is a peculiar one. It's driven by a powerful leading lady, it has bags of class and it infuses Anime art into an action adventure. Unfortunately though, Konoko is treading on uneven ground. Her dashing good looks, human proportions and martial arts supremacy aren't enough to carry Oni the whole way, and it seems like the initial prognosis we made at ECTS last year was correct - Oni is more underwhelming than it should be. The story is pretty average Anime fair too - Konoko is an agent for the Tech Crimes Task Force and is up against pseudo-cyberpunk Mafioso types, who frame her for a crime she did not commit, neatly setting the whole world against her instead of just the Japanese Mafia. Ouch. The word "Oni" itself means "ghost" or "spectre" and that's a fair indication of how the game treats young Konoko, and how she has to act if she wants to survive. Despite the spooky premise though (pun intended), the already weak plot develops in ways that 10-year-old children find clichéd when watching cartoons at 9am on a Saturday morning, and it's flanked by animated cutscenes which vary in quality. However most of the details of Konoko's plight are related to the player via pop-ups at computer terminals, and in-game dialogue sections. The scripted sequences are well set out, but despite the dubbed voice-overs the characters' mouths remain stock and still. Oh, and as for the voice acting; I hope someone, someday recognises that nobody in the real world talks like this and sorts it out. If this sort of tripe appears in the sequel God help them, I'll go on a rampage. They could at least have put in Japanese voices with subtitles - that would at least have created some sort of likeable cultural crossfire.
So the game has a rather feeble storyline to back it up - what really makes the game enjoyable is the action sequences. From a third person view, you control Konoko as she darts all over the shop, legs and arms flailing as you hammer the controls and enemies remain where they fall. The control system is fine mapped to either keyboard or gamepad, which will be a relief to those handling the PlayStation 2 version no doubt, and makes execution of Konoko's arsenal of kicks and punches easy as pie. She is also capable of energy draining combination moves, where she uses deadly kicks, punches, thrusts, flips and such; chained together to exact maximum damage upon incoming hostiles. The martial arts aren't exactly Jackie Chan, but the "mainstreaming" steps Bungie have taken are more to do with playability than the abandonment of authenticity. Konoko isn't inhibited by her use of the martial arts either. If those attacking her decide to try and use ranged and projectile devices, once the fellows are dispatched she can quite happily pick up their former weapons and put them to use against more of the same. Konoko can only carry one weapon and the ammunition is pretty limited, but those available offer a decent mix. Pistols, shotguns, and bizarre laser-style weapons are collectable, and once you are out of ammo the weapon doubles up as a useful object with which to dash people's brains out. The sequence where I first realised the implications of this advanced capability was hilarious. I first shot a couple of guards, then in a last gasp attempt to take them with me, I legged it up to them, jumped into the air and expecting to clatter down in front of them, found myself clubbing their heads in mid-air with the butt of my pistol. Marvellous!
The Bad Guys
All this sparring and general mayhem brings me smartly to the subject of challenge. Oni definitely has its moments, as four or more opponents close in on your position, making effective use of your arsenal imperative. The third person view helps you keep track of all your attackers thanks to the extra peripheral vision, but it's still very tooth and claw at times. Oni also boasts something of a first brainy henchmen. Unlike the mobsters you may have seen in Hollywood, these guys possess their own distinct fighting styles and tactical AI. They don't adapt particularly well when you are swinging round a bloke's neck to kick an approaching villain in the jaw, but on the whole they offer varied opposition and rarely become a chore to dispatch - enough to necessitate replaying of the middle and later stages of the game plenty of times. There's certainly no harm in this, and the console-style repetition is nothing Quake fans haven't been doing for years. Replaying is definitely something of a necessity though, because the gaps between saves in Oni are fundamentally too large. The difficulty level fluctuates at times thanks to this, because despite falling to desperately low levels of health, you may still be some way from the next checkpoint. Frustrating.
As for the length of the game as a whole, it's long enough, made up of some 15 stages, each hosting several sub-objectives. The levels are very large at times too, but not always terribly well designed, with some rather shoddy texture work in areas. Japanese minimalism may be popular, but untextured areas don't really achieve this! On the whole though the graphics, while at times slumping a touch, do maintain a reasonable level of consistency throughout. At times it feels like you're a rat in a maze rather than a sophisticated law-enforcement agent in a technically advanced nerve centre though. The other side of the coin is the technical aspects of the game. Control is simple and adjustable, but mouse sensitivity is not, and feels far too sluggish. There is a distinct lack of options for the PC gamer - the option of a higher-resolution texture set would have been nice, for example. Although with the clipping the way it is right now, I doubt that would have helped much. The absence of multiplayer modes is rather ominous, too.
On the whole, Oni is a mixed bag. It's very playable, with quite a nice engine and a strong leading lady, but the storyline is a touch frail, the game is severely limited by its lack of multiplayer and the long gaps between save points make certain sections almost too challenging. Hopefully Bungie will have a better idea of what they want to do next time, and will be in a position to build on Konoko's strengths instead of relying on them. Oni in its current state hits just a bit wide of the target.