Up and down
As you will remember (and should certainly do now we have taken the time to repost the link), we were desperately underwhelmed by Oni when we saw it at ECTS. It was, we thought, a missed opportunity. We challenged Bungie back then, hoping whimsically that in the space of the few months left leading up to the game's release they would take steps to remedy the problems we had found. And looking at the latest build of the PlayStation 2 version, it's clear that they have come on leaps and bounds. For example, the main issues we voiced concern over were the rather boring fight sequences, graphical glitches and unfortunate animation issues. In this latest version, each area has received attention, and the in-house Rockstar development team to whom Bungie handed the production off have even managed to improve the framerate somewhat. Konoko, the game's central character, is a complex woman, and as you progress, you learn with her. There is a basic training mission to help newcomers, but the whole first section of the game is essentially an advanced training course, teaching the gamer how to make the best use of Konoko's vast array of talents.
Unlike the pre-beta version that we encountered at ECTS, Oni allows you to engage in combat from multiple directions. Most games force you to swivel on an axis to face your opponent before you start kicking their head in, but as any action movie fan will testify, that ain't how it happens in the real world, sucker. Konoko feels the same way, and regularly engages in battles on the side and behind her, every direction of the D-Pad in fact.
Throughout the game she learns new techniques including suplexes, some truly absurd slams, as well as neck, back and any other appendage-breaking manoeuvres. Using the shoulder buttons is the only way to go, and they have allowed the developers to map all sorts of different moves to them, even using them in combination. The Dual Shock sticks also see a lot of use to angle Konoko's attacks and control the camera. Konoko can do all sorts of things, like running, jumping, double-flips, and mid-air somersaults whilst simultaneously using weapons.
Yes, she can still use weapons, but as they say "the pen is mightier than the sword", or in this case the fist and foot are mightier than the pistol. Even so, there are rocket launchers and other obscenely powerful weapons of mass destruction to play around with.
The game has been rounded off nicely since we last chanced upon it, with a more consistent framerate, proper transition frames between animations, and the fateful 'see through walls' bug was harder to simulate using the in-game camera. It is not a feature, ingrate!
Although those keen on Japanese anime (to the extent that they shun all other styles) may find Oni rather too derivative to truly be its own game, the style is actually a nice mixture, with some distinctly Japanese areas, but also with some nice Westernisms. Another section I am fond of is the cutscenes, which weren't all present in the build that we saw before. As a game it's much more appreciable with cutscenes to outline the story, which as you will remember is one of righting injustice and other such clichés. Seeing a game shape up so nicely after a rather mediocre outing at the world's most important gaming trade shows is very satisfying, and we are now actually looking forward to the PlayStation 2 version. Roll on, January 2001.
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