Revisiting Oni, A Forgotten Gem from Bungie’s Vault

The fact that so few gamers have heard of Oni, let alone played it, is a crime.  

The early 2000s were a pivotal time for the gaming industry, marked by the release of several iconic titles that would go on to define the medium for years to come. In this era, one game that often gets overshadowed by giants like Grand Theft Auto 3 and Metal Gear Solid 2 is Oni.

The fact that so few gamers have heard of Oni, let alone played it, is a crime.  Bungie’s tribute to Ghost in the Shell was one of my favourite games on the PlayStation 2 and one that would really benefit from the remake or remaster treatment.

Imagine Oni remade by the team behind Hi-Fi Rush…*drool*…I digress…

Released in 2001, Oni was set in the dystopian future world of 2032, a world where powerful mega-corporations rule with an iron grip.  For those of you checking your calendars, yes, 2032 is soon. Oni had a unique blend of action, stealth, and martial arts as players took control of Mai Hasegawa, codenamed Konoko, a Technological Crimes Task Force officer tasked with investigating a sinister conspiracy involving a rogue organization known as the Syndicate.

Oni drew inspiration from popular animes from that era, such as Goku’s adventures, which manifested in a unique blend of third person shooting and hand-to-hand combat, complemented by gorgeous anime-style character design. Given that I played this while knee-deep in my love affair with Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, it is fair to say the visual style was right up my street.

Oni’s world was different from other games that I’d played at the time.  The dystopian cityscapes, high-tech facilities, and underground lairs felt a world away from the grittier games I’d played, in part due to the anime visuals. The bleak, atmospheric settings added to the sense of immersion in this futuristic world.  While the graphics might not hold up to today’s standards, the art direction and attention to detail in the environments were impressive for the time.

What set Oni apart from other games of its time, and made it one of my favorites, was its emphasis on hand-to-hand combat and martial arts. Oni’s combat system relies on a simple combo and special move system, which might seem fairly basic at first glance. If anything, the simplicity was a hidden strength, as within minutes players could be using Konoko’s agility and combat skills to perform various combos and execute devastating takedowns on enemies. The fluidity of the combat system made it immensely satisfying to string together punches and kicks to dispatch foes.

Oni also incorporated firearms, giving players the option to use both ranged and melee attacks. Balancing these two combat styles was crucial to success, as players had to adapt to different scenarios and enemy types, with the variety in combat encounters keeping the gameplay fresh and engaging.  Like Konoko, enemies had limited ammo and had to engage in hand-to-hand combat once depleted, meaning that combat strategies changed on the fly.

In addition to its action-packed combat, Oni had its fair share of puzzles and challenges. Players had to navigate complex levels, sneak past security systems, and hack terminals to progress. This blend of action and problem-solving added depth to the gameplay and contributed to a well-rounded experience.  Just when one sequence begins to outstay its welcome, the gameplay loop completely changed to keep the whole experience feeling fresh and exciting.

Oni is a True Hidden Gem

If you haven’t played Oni (and chances are good that you haven’t), the largely forgotten retro game deserves your time.  It might not have reached the same levels of commercial success as some of its contemporaries, but it left a mark on the hearts of those who ventured into its cyberpunk world, me included. It truly was ahead of its time.  It continues to be remembered fondly and is worth revisiting or discovering for the first time even today.