Reviewed By: Kirk Hiner
Review Date: March 1, 2001
What cracks me up about the kids of America these days (and the majority of adults) is their mistaken belief they can get all they want out of life so long as they have attitude. Maybe it was Madonna who perpetuated this myth, or perhaps Martin Lawrence. I'm not sure. I just know that, as a result, I get to laugh my way through days of twelve-year-old girls wearing "Whore" T-shirts, movies such as Coyote Ugly, and teenage boys sporting No Fear stickers on their windshields.
No Fear. Anyone with no fear has obviously never seen Coyote Ugly.
But then there are those with confidence. Confident people don't put any stickers on their trucks (save for perhaps the Apple logo), and they certainly don't gain their personality and self respect from whatever's written on their shirts.
That Buffy character from the vampire show is confident. Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20 seems confident. Chow Yun Fat, now he's confident. And as much as its possible for a computer game to be, Oni is confident.
Oni is the eagerly anticipated and much delayed game from Bungie, their first since being acquired by Microsoft. I'll admit that I was more intrigued by the reviews of Oni than I was by the game itself. Considering all the hype, the delays, the graphics edits to obtain a teen rating, and the ill-feeling towards Microsoft, Oni was being set up as the game that everyone wanted to hate.
I can tell you now that you that you'll have to look somewhere else. Sierra's always a good place to start.
In Oni, you play Konoko, a woman with, as the box claims, "A dark future...an uncertain past...no one left to trust," so I guess Konoko is actually J.C. Denton from Deus Ex, Gally from Gunnm, B.J. from B.J. and the Bear, or your choice of thousands of other characters from thousands of stories passed down through the generations. I'm going to start writing more stories like this; I'm tired of figuring out from where my characters came, to where they're going, and who their friends are. It'll save me a lot of time to not have to set anything up.
Anyway, Konoko at least knows it's 2032 at that she's a specially trained agent of the Technology Crimes Task Force (hey, TCTF doesn't spell anything tough and clever...where's the attitude?). The TCTF is used by the World Coalition Group (hey, WCG doesn't spell...ah, forget it) to control the evolution and distribution of new technologies, and the WCG...well, as their name implies, they rule the world. If you've ever read Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita to us American's), then the World Coalition Group is Tiphares, the rest of the world is the scrap yard. If you haven't read Gunnm, do. Now.
So the "one person against the unified, corrupt world government" plot is a little overused these days, but it works well with Oni. The tidbits with which we're presented as the game progresses give us reason to continue when the fighting becomes tough enough to make us want to quit.
I've decided that the reason weapon-based combat and hand-to-hand combat games have forever been separated is because guys like me can't take the shot to the ego. I almost felt guilty controlling Konoko. Each time she was kicked down during a battle I could almost hear her sigh impatiently and tap her foot, waiting for me to get the hang of her moves so she can could finally kick the butt she knows she can. Imagine yourself in one of those dorky Disney movies like Freaky Friday or Vice Versa where kids switch bodies with their parents, but then imagine that your parent is Jackie Chan and you have to film the final fight scene in Drunken Master II. That's how I felt controlling Konoko.
Oni does have a training facility to show you the basic moves, but it affords you no opportunity to practice them. All of your practice comes in the field, so expect to do a lot of restoring early on. To make it even more difficult, you can't save your game wherever you want to. Instead, Oni uses checkpoints as many PlayStation games do. Once you reach a certain spot, you return to it when you die. Miss it by one fight and it's back to the previous checkpoint.
Luckily, there aren't really too many key commands to learn for controlling Konoko. You've got your standard WASD movement, and neighboring keys allow you to crouch, jump and grab stuff. You control direction, punching and kicking with the mouse, and you're going to need two buttons on it for this game. Many of the better moves can only be done in various punch/kick combinations, and you'll need two buttons to time them properly.
For the most part, the actual weapons in Oni serve only to get you close enough to throw down and fight woman to man. Learning to keep calm during these fights was difficult, but life got much easier once I did. Konoko automatically blocks some blows if she's facing her opponent, and the defensive maneuvers often pack quite a wallop themselves. Learn how to defend your opponents' attacks and you'll find that most of the battles really aren't too difficult to get past.
But Oni's not all fighting. It's actually sort of the Bizarro Tomb Raider. Whereas that game is heavy on the exploration with a bit of fighting thrown in, Oni is heavy on the fighting with a bit of exploration thrown in. The exploration element is aided by the most useful navigation system I've ever seen. In the bottom left corner of the screen is a dial that indicates in which direction you need to go. As the yellow line expands around the dial, you know you're getting closer to your goal. There is also an arrow to indicate if you need to move up or down floors. No more searching the same rooms ten times for something you may have missed.
The graphics in Oni are...well, controversial. I've read comments from people who find them bland, and complaints from those upset because the blood was removed from the game to achieve a "Teen" rating. I won't even acknowledge the latter. If the only reason you play computer games is to see blood on the wall, then quite frankly, you're not worth my time (that, and Corey Tamás at MacGamer already summed up my thoughts on the issue). The bland graphics statements, however, I will address.
It's true that we're not looking at Rune quality graphics here, but I don't think we were supposed to. Remember, Oni wasn't intended to look real, it was intended to have the high-style of anime, which it does to perfection. The cut scenes, the designs, the weapons, the purple hair...Oni is so deep in anime that I kept waiting for Konoko's hand to start talking to her. Anime generally doesn't sport a lot of texture and details on walls and floors, offering instead solid colors and bold lines and plenty of style. It doesn't look real, it looks cool. Such is the case with Oni.
Which brings me back to confidence. As I mentioned earlier, Bungie is still under scrutiny from the Mac world. This is understandable; the company that once gave us the Mac-only Marathon has joined Microsoft, the corporation we're obligated to hate. As if that weren't enough, many gamers are looking back to Bungie's last release--the superb Myth II--for comparison, while others are looking beyond to Halo. Poor Oni was released into a community fraught with bitterness and heavy expectations, but the game holds its own. With dignity and confidence, Oni steps quietly into the melee and starts fighting like Chow Yun Fat in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Of course, if you need more than that, you can always slap a No Fear sticker on the game box.
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