Back before the dawn of the Xbox age, Bungie actually made games other than Halo and RPG-Halo. They made games such as Marathon and Myth, which was neat a strategy game that had the habit of deleting hard drives in some versions. Critical bug, you'd think, and it didn't even need Sierra On-Line Utilities to do that. If you've ever tried to uninstall it, you know what I'm talking about. They also made something else. Something about kicking ass that kicked ass.
They made Oni, the other best game Bungie ever made.
The idea that Bungie had was to make an action game heavily inspired by anime. Namely, by Ghost in the Shell. It even had its own kick-ass intro made in that awesome style that every cinematic in Myth 2 had. Only the intro, though. And, well… the about 12 seconds of outro the game had. What I’m getting at is that Oni didn’t really have that much in the way of resources, compared to their other games.
Not by a long shot. The game was developed during the tumultuous period surrounding the Microsoft merger. As you can imagine, it wasn’t the best of times. The studio needed to be bought out to stay in business, the transition meant having to shuffle staff, assets and headquarters around. Not to mention the legal issues, since, well, as you may have noticed, Oni was published when Microsoft owned Bungie, but it wasn’t a Microsoft game, it was a Gathering of Developers/Take Two game.
Why? Reasons. I won’t go into it, it’s business related. But Microsoft were good sports about it, they even helped the team finish Oni. Not in the sense that they poured money into it so they could have better levels, more fantastic animated movies and multiplayer. But in the “getting the game out to market sense”, and it was kick-ass.
Why do I keep using “kick-ass” when talking about this game? Oh boy, you must have sure never played it. Not faulting you for it. It’s one of those games you can only get if you rummage through Amazon or Ebay. I will never understand why some companies won’t sell their older games. Microsoft doesn’t do it, and they’ve got a backlog so big it’ll make your head spin. Like, every MechWarrior game. Though that may be a case of multiple IP holders – well, it is now. It wasn’t when they owned every bit of FASA and made a Shadowrun game that stunk like a week-old sweaty boot filled with year old cheese stuck in a month old dead tauntaun, on Endor. Yeah, on Hoth it would’ve kept fresh, I thought this through.
Oni was kick-ass for several reasons. One of them was the main heroine, Konoko, or Mai to her friends. Such a shame that, when people make a run-down of iconic female characters, she seems to get shoved in the same closet of forgotten names like everyone from Anachronox. She was the kind of character that would beat a cyber ninja over the head with a Playstation 2. She wasn’t Lara Croft. Lara Croft needed guns, or a bow and PTSD to get the job done. Oh, sure, Konoko could use guns, but she was more likely to dropkick someone into a coma than use a gun.
When you’re a master of martial arts and wear partially bullet proof armor… and… tank top, guns are pointless. Let’s face it, guns are for sissies who never learned proper combat or how to dodge bullets. They specifically tried to not make her Lara Croft. Well, part of Bungie tried, the other one kept putting her in less clothes. They had set up another studio at the time to handle the direct development of a few games, it only made one game.
Her design was a bit inspired by Motoko, from Ghost in the Shell. In an earlier version she was actually an android, out for blood. She later became just an ordinary-ish human being, a well adjusted cop with the Tech Crimes Task Force, that only on occasion threw suicide bombers out a window, to take out a group of armed terrorists. I think that’s actually one of the only instances where it is presumed Konoko straight up murdered a bunch of people. Otherwise, she just beats them into a coma.
Apart from the suicide bombers, they tend to explode afterwards anyway. She spent her time mostly hanging out with her robot-ish friend, Shinatama, fighting a crime syndicate that terrorized the city, and the odd maybe-evil corporation, in a Neon-ish Tokyo-ish kinda setting. And she fought such threats one at a time, as in, one baddie at a time in hand to hand combat, and kicked their collective ass. Sadly, she did not get to kick the metal ass of a walking cyber-tank, which was in an E3 demo. They cut that from the game, along with the multiplayer and some other stuff. If the Ghost in the Shell inspiration wasn’t obvious, that scene would have sunk it in.
The other kick-ass thing about Oni was, well, not the level design. While it did have a great Time to Crate, of just 1.1 seconds(or awful if you don’t like crates), that was the average time between all crates. Most of the levels were just rectangular rooms with crates in them. But, to be fair, they were large… which didn’t really make much sense for a hand to hand combat game. Then again, crates are great for jumping on and off, and kicking people in the face, and kicking people off crates so they can then fall face first into another crate. Or a vat of acid.
Lots of acid.
There’s a level where the floor is mostly acid. Have I mentioned the acid? I died a lot to that acid, because it required a lot of jumping over acid. And fighting next to acid. And enemies knocking me into acid. And there were even giant metal gears in that acid. No card games, though. It was a functional design and maybe not as crude as I make it out to be. Simplistic, sure and kinda repetitive, like certain levels of Halo, but, if you entered a cheat code, anything that wasn’t a wall could be shattered to pieces. Not the acid.
I’d also mention falling of the roof in those two levels that take place on roofs, but I’d just be repeating roof over and over again for two paragraphs. And it wasn’t all just crates and kicking people off them, you had bosses too, some of which you beat through puzzles, and not combat. One of them was a Deadly Brain, a stationary AI, armed to the teeth, that wanted to blow up the city if its demands weren’t met. It wanted feet. The scientist that made it weren’t all that bright. When Konoko asked them why did they even build something that has missiles and lasers in the computer room, well… I’ll not spoil it for you. The game had humor. And was at times very dark.
The final kick-ass part was the combat system.
It was superb. Especially on the PC, because we didn’t get things like God Hand. There was next to nothing like it, and in no way that well made. This is one of those games I mentioned in the Severance article. One you need to play to experience great melee combat, or hand to hand combat in this case… or boot to face combat. It flowed so well and moved so smoothly. It was a downright shock to someone that was used to 3D action games being clunky beasts where just the act of turning made you feel like you controlled a tank, or a really drunk elephant.
I’ve never had more fun in a hand-to-boot-to-face combat game since, and from all the stuff I’ve played in the past, maybe the Double Dragon games come close. I would have said Bad Dudes, but I recently replayed Bad Dudes, and oh boy, was that not as good as I remember. But it did have ninjas and that’s all that mattered.
Well, Oni has ninjas too, but they’re cyber-ninjas, and the fighting is still as pleasant as I remember it. You had two basic attacks, kicking and punching. As you progressed through the levels, you’d get access to more and more combos. You had your Tripple Hit Haymaker, your Backbreaker, Devil Spin Kick, Running Lariat, Rising Fury and a whole bunch of other stuff. They were a lot of fun to use. Also, I have lied. You don’t have just two basic attacks. It’s just that the others wouldn’t normally be considered attacks. Konoko was an agile kind of person, very athletic too, gymnastic even. She could jump and roll in the air allowing her to both reach higher places, and land on someone’s head. Jumping could be used as a Mario-esque attack, but with a lot less murdered turtles.
And then there was the sliding. Oh ye elder gods do I love the sliding. While now it’s commonplace, you’ve got it in Far Cry, you’ve got it in Warframe and Wolfenstein, you’ve got it in a lot of games, now. But then, there was only Oni. Enemy coming at you with a flying kick? Slide under him, and back-kick him in the ass over the edge of a roof. Enemy shooting at you, slide into his feet, knock him on his ass, jump on his head, or just Sledgehammer his face into the pavement.
Blocking was something this game did quite well. There was no dedicated button in Oni, all you had to do was face your enemy and not move. Sounds a lot easier than it actually is, mostly because you’re often not fighting one enemy, you’re fighting 2-3-4-5, and you can’t block grenades or plasma rifles. The sniper rifles are also annoying as hell, since instead of bullets they fire solid mercury at a speed that basically makes them one shot kill weapons. So, to deal with such a wide variety of threats, you had disarms and throws. You could grab someone’s gun and use it against them. You could grab a bastard by the collar and throw them in the face of their friends. Or over off a roof. Or into acid. And they could do the same to you. The exact same.
Gotta say, I have a profound love for games that have the same rules for both enemies and player characters. Where there are no canned animations and non-interruptible attacks. Where you can grab an enemy that’s flying at you, swinging, out of the air and slam him face first into the pavement. And not with a “Press X to win. Yay, you did it, you’re a big boy, you’re so good at this, all the ladies must love your skills at pressing the X button when being told to and triggering a cinematic instead of actually playing the damned game” type of event.
Every enemy in the game had a certain set of attacks, attacks that didn’t boil down to canned animations. They had throws, they had hits, they had combos, all of them similar in power and execution to the ones Konoko had. And not just enemies. Allies as well, the Master Chief looking cops, the random uniform cops, even the vanilla citizens that were in the level to just get shot in the face by Muro’s gang. Why, you may ask? Well, the game was meant to have multiplayer. And it would have been just silly to play Konoko vs Konoko all the time. So every character in the game was meant to be playable. And I don’t mean that as in “at some point they had the idea, and then ditched it”.
No, I mean you can play with any of them. The cheat codes let you replace Konoko on the fly with another character that has different moves, different attacks, different powers. This gives it a level of replay-ability that’s just staggering. Though they didn’t all have as many attacks as Konoko. And replay-ability was a given anyway, due to just the amount of fun you could derive from the combat system. I don’t think I’m doing it justice with simple words.
So I’ll just leave these for you.
Yes, I know the quality is a bit pants, but I recored that a while ago. For some reason, the controls haven’t aged well, there seems to be a bit of lag on modern systems that makes combos a lot harder to execute. Oni was a good game with a fantastic soundtrack, great style, bland visuals, a neat story and a hand to hand combat system that had no rival on the PC in this genre. You’d have to go to fighting games for better combat, but Street Fighter won’t give you the satisfaction of sneaking behind an enemy to throw them off a roof into acid, or taking on three enemies at once.
I’ve played it and replayed this game again and again. I’ve played the demo version alone more than a few action games put together. It was just that fun. And I’m not the only one that thinks that. Even though the game has been out of print since the dawn of the millennium, there is still an active community that’s supporting an Anniversary Edition of Oni. One that comes with a launcher where it lets you load up all sorts of mods, like maps, moves, textures, models, the works. Shoutout to the Facebook group as well. Take Two was even working on a sequel about a decade ago, but it didn’t get that far.
Some people made it very clear that they didn’t like how in the last article I kept passing back to Dark Souls, and how it had an awful save system and combat that wasn’t that good compared to Severance, but they were otherwise very similar. So I’ve done my best to not mention the game that shamelessly ripped off Oni (to the point where they had the same puzzles) but did it in a horribly bad way. And I won’t, because unlike what the developers had hoped, you won’t actually remember that one.
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