Being on something of a Shirow kick reminded me that I had plans to put out a playthrough of Oni on Playstation 2, and so, here we are.
This is a perculiar release. Put out early in the life of Sony’s new game system (9th March 2001 in Western Europe), it holds the distinction of being Bungie’s first foray into the world of sixth generation gaming. Yes… Oni was made by the very same Bungie that nearly a year later would release Halo: Combat Evolved to the world.
I mentioned Shirow earlier on and that is because Oni takes elements from Ghost in the Shell, Applessed and Dominion as liberally as they come, complete with anime-esque presentation. Oni’s setting takes us into a decaying, dystopian world where terrorist syndicates threaten the remnants of civilisation. Our lead is a spunky, purple haired lady by the name of Konoko who’s regular quips and ability to kick ass, whether bare-handed or with a full arsenal of guns, might even put a certain Major Kusangai to shame.
The reason it works however is that, like Bungie’s other works, Oni has a surprisingly refined approach to combat. Hand-to-hand fighting is the bread and butter in this third person shooter, and whether tackling multiple bad guys at once, or breaking your way through the deadly laserwires, you rely on Konoko’s athleticism to best each level of Oni. It really shocks how well this all works as keying in combos, or timing strikes to land hits perfectly make all the difference in defining Oni’s style of play.
Sadly though, It was Rockstar Games that managed to translate the experience of Oni onto PS2. While it plays primarily the same, performance issues and glitches hurt the overall polish of this release in all. You see, Oni already had loose controls on PC, but this is only exacerbated by the analogue nature of the Dual Shock 2 controller. It is easier to misplace jumps because of the controller, easier to accidentally move a step too far and plummet to your death. Even the button layout is a bit odd, such as having R3 to unsheaf your weapon, a button you could very easily press while adjusting your camera in the heat of combat. Quick reaction times are pivotal to the Oni experience and sadly Rockstar did not recognise this properly. These issues are no doubt made more infuriating by Oni’s inconsistent frame-rate which can move anywhere between 15-30FPS at the best of times yet, as you shall see on level 7 in particular, it can become far worse as more activity hits the screen – becoming nigh on unplayable.
I personally have never been a big fan of Bungie’s approach to level design in their action games, and Oni proves to be no exception. It is a corridor heavy experience, with an almost monotonous approach to the environments. At times, things can appear almost sterile as they are decorated with simple textures and with little animation either yet there definitely is attention to detail in that it rewards player exploration, with hidden areas that dish out their own series of rewards to the player.
While hand-to-hand combat feels similarly rewarding, gunplay is incredibly clunky, and for how infrequent they are to find in the game experience, pistols and machine guns do limited damage and are difficult to control. Ofcourse, depending on how you play, it would not take long to realise that fighting with your fists and your wits do far more to better your run on Oni. While there are few boss fights, they do keep the dynamic of fighting fresh when the game runs the risk of growing stale, or frustrating.
There is plenty of challenge to be found in Oni and certainly, despite its flaws, I am appreciative of the time I spent besting its levels. I have already touched on the presentation of Oni, but I must also commend the Michael Salvatori soundtrack in that it is typically Salvatori in quality, with breakbeat sounds and ambient tracks that feel very much part of Oni’s game world.
So mixed feelings in all when it comes to Oni. I would suggest playing it however better that it is played on PC rather than PS2, given its problems, and definitely now, given the amount of modable content that is available on computers too.
A LEGAL NOTICE:
Any copyrighted footage I use is covered under fair use laws, or more specifically those listed under Section 30(1) of the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1989 and under section 107 of US Copyright Act 1976. This video exists purely for the purpose of research and criticism. I do not make a profit from any uploaded content, nor do I intend to. Thank you for watching.
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