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Review by: David Laprad
Published: January 22, 2001
The word “oni” in Japanese can be translated to mean “alone,” and in relation to Bungie Software’s new game, the title is a fitting metaphor for its isolated heroine. Here is another third-person action game in which a lone fighter — a central female character with an enigmatic past — must explore vast environments and engage in exciting combat. These assorted strands are woven together using a plot inspired at the hand of Japanese anime films such as “Ghost in the Shell” and “Bubblegum Crisis,” but this one comes with a twist. And an uppercut. And a foot in the ribs. Different from its tomb raiding and demon-shooting cousins, one of Oni‘s main ingredients is a large measure of hand-to-hand combat that draws from the mechanics of fighting games such as Tekken. Given these diverse elements, Oni could have been a piecemeal product, but it is not, in part because Bungie gives it a strong central heroine and a plot to match.
Oni is set about three decades from now and stars Konoko, a budding agent of the Tech Crimes Task Force who is as proficient in the martial arts as she is with a gun. During her first few assignments, she is sent on what appear be routine infiltration missions, but before long, the story does a hard right turn and becomes less about the TCTF and more about our fearless fighter’s mysterious origins. The plot is slowly revealed through messages Konoko downloads to computer terminals located throughout the title’s maps as well as through dialogue spoken during brief cinematics that bookend each mission. During much of Oni, Konoko communicates with her superiors as well as a female operative who is able to transmit her voice inside Konoko’s head, as well as see what Konoko does. As with most anime, the script offers its share of tragic moments, and some critical loose ends are left untied, but the narrative does a good job of pushing the action forward.
Our pugilistic heroine spends most of her time dishing out punishment to the enemies that populate Oni‘s 14 spacious levels. Bungie has mapped an incredible number of moves into the control scheme, enabling Konoko to perform everything from punches and kicks to immoderately harmful combos with just a few key presses. Even a partial list of her moves sounds like a TV commercial for Ginsu knives: “She hits, kicks, runs, rolls, jumps, slides and flips with the greatest of ease! The amazing Konoko!” Bungie has implemented both offensive and defensive maneuvers, enabling Konoko to unleash a passionate frenzy on an opponent and then perform a quick backward handspring to avoid being hit in retaliation. Some of her moves are useful during navigation as well — jumping over and sliding under motion detectors are one common example — though her repertoire is curiously devoid of such tomb-raiding acrobatics as climbing on top of crates and leaping to grab a far-off ledge. Bungie was much more interested in creating breathtaking battle mechanics than producing their own Tomb Raider sequel. For example, when was the last time a third-person PC title allowed players to grab one opponent, tumble backward and hit a second opponent in the face with the feet of the first, knocking them both out in the process? Oni‘s combat is full of delicious surprises.
Konoko’s enemies can perform the same actions and more, though the combat remains manageable because, for the most part, no more than two or three will besiege her at a time. The manner in which her opponents mix-up their moves during an encounter — hitting, backpedaling, rushing forward, rolling to the side, leaping through the air and kicking — gives the combat an electric charge of unpredictability. The enemies will even stomp on Konoko when she is down or fire their weapons at her while she is fighting another opponent, so the idea is to keep moving. Bungie introduces new characters throughout the game, and even strings a couple of much tougher bosses through several of the maps, but the means of defeating each of these adversaries are the same. No special tactics are needed to beat down the tougher characters, just endurance, much in the same manner that the pistol in Doom could still take out that huge mechanical Spider given enough time, ammunition and fancy footwork. Most of the enemies are either human in form or come dressed head-to-toe in battle armor, though Bungie does toss a few more creatively gruesome entities into the brew.
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