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Before Master Chief, There was...Konoko
Oni is a third person action game developed by Bungie West, an early division of famed developer Bungie, for the Playstation 2, PC and Mac and released in 2001
Bungie is known for their partnership with Microsoft at the turn of the century, from which the famed Halo series was crafted. At the same time, however, a division was working on another one of Bungie’s gems - Oni. Demoed at the Macworld convention in 2000, Oni wowed with its blend of hand to hand combat and shooting action. It even won the Game Critics Award during development the previous year. As often happens in game development, though, some content was cut and didn’t make it into the final product. Among said content was online multiplayer, due to latency issues, and the “Iron Demon”, a mech featured in the trailer. Additionally, none of the weapons Konoko is shown holding on the cover are actually in the game.
Oni opens to a less than ideal future: 2032 Earth is governed by one central government, the World Coalition Government, surveillance is at near Orwellian proportions and the environment is in shambles. The de-facto police force, the Technology Crimes Task Force, fight crime but are more concerned with controlling access to technology and information that could undermine the WCG. Regardless, as a TCTF member, Konoko still has a responsibility to the public. So when the long time evil organization, the Syndicate, starts growing in power, Konoko takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of their new plot - even if it means defying the TCTF and learning some dark secrets about herself.
Needless to say, the cyberpunk was strong with this one. Ghost in the Shell was a big influence on this work and Oni’s Konoko and Griffin bear a strong resemblance to Motoko Kusanagi and Daisuke Aramaki.
Konoko will have to infiltrate various compounds around the city, delving through their computer systems for information on the Syndicate’s plot in the hopes of gaining some kind of upper hand. Other times Konoko and her fellow TCTF colleagues will be engaging in damage control in some area the Syndicate has already run amok in. Either scenario lends itself beautifully to the fights and set pieces an action game calls for.
The grand majority of enemies you’ll face in Oni are Syndicate affiliates. This will include strikers, ninjas, furies, elites and tankers.Strikers are the average Syndicate foot soldiers. Ninjas are a mix of fragile speedster and glass cannon. Furies are the personal force of the Syndicate head and feel about equal to Konoko in fighting skill while elites and tankers are slower bruisers. Each come in three flavors, which are color coded for your convenience, green, blue and red - each stronger and more resilient than the last. Specialized enemies will appear at times such as the glass cannon snipers or Syndicate sympathizer mixed in among the regular workers
As a trained fighter, Konoko has a decently rounded repertoire of fighting techniques consisting of few simple combos and more than enough special moves - many of which are specialized kicks. Some of these are quite brutal, such as the running lariat, a move in which you grab someone’s neck and twist around it like a pole, or the aptly named backbreaker. Konoko’s variant is particularly savage as she, instead of just dropping them on her knee as her opponents do, grabs their arms for leverage and steps into their spine until it cracks. If the cover was any indication, however, Konoko doesn’t have to enter every fight empty handed. There are ten weapons that you and your opponents will have access to throughout the game, ranging from pistols and machine guns to broadrange tasers and even a wave motion cannon. With the exception of the wave motion cannon, each weapon uses one of two ammunition types - ballistics or energy cells. A magazine of either type will fit any weapon of that type, though each weapon will get varying degrees of use out of it (e.g. an SMG will get 30 rounds, while a scram missile cannon will only get 5)
Other items that’ll aid Konoko are hypo-sprays (Oni’s version of health packs) that will slowly heal Konoko a bit when activated or temporarily supercharge her if used near full health, phase cloaks that make her invisible for thirty seconds and force shields that block weapons fire.
Combat - Weapons pack enough of a punch to be useful, but ammunition is scarce enough to keep it from becoming a crutch. Hand to hand combat is an invaluable tool, but encountering multiple enemies may prevent you from fighting back without catching a beating. At that point, dispatching enemies quickly (and from a distance) is of the utmost importance. So much like Halo gave rise to “grenade+gunfire” style of combat, Oni requires its players to supplement their fisticuffs with reasonable amounts of gunfire.
Architecture - All of those compounds and city streets you run through? Bungie West consulted with actual architects to design those - and it shows. Each of the locales feel utilitarian enough to be actual buildings. Some of the interior design is a bit drab, but not too much so. You expect some level of contrivance in level design, but Oni keeps it to a minimum.
Architecture - Or rather, its lack of OSHA compliance. While the architect built levels are a refreshing breath of air, the numerous perilous drops aren’t. It may be satisfying to knock someone over an edge every now and again (assuming you didn’t need what they dropped), but walking or being knocked over yourself most certainly isn’t. Since you’re nearly guaranteed to have to traverse multiple floors in a level section, it’s bound to happen to an infuriating degree.
Blocking - I can appreciate that the blocking mechanic as it stands encourages the player to not engaging in button mashing. However, when the execution for such an important technique is “Face your opponent and do nothing”, I get rather annoyed. That’s something I’d expect if this was a passive skill in an RPG. I expect this to be an active skill activated by the player. Otherwise, “Face your opponent and do nothing” can quickly become “Face your opponent and get punched in the face”
I like Oni. It definitely had an air of mysticism to it as an anime-esque game that drew me to it after release. While I’m a tad bit ashamed to admit how long it took me to finally get my hands on it, it was definitely worth playing through and I can see why people loved it so much. At this point, though, I’d recommend playing it for its nostalgia value. I’d like to see what a sequel might bring to the table, though that’s unlikely (we can talk about that later). But a man can dream, right?
I give Oni a 7.8 out of 10
If you've got some free time, it's definitely worth playing through.