Free Game Friday: Video Game Review: “Ao Oni” (PC) 2011
I’d like to introduce you folks to a new feature here at Nerds Raging: Free Game Friday! Every Friday, I’ll be publishing a review of a game available for free online, and will include a link where you can find the game yourself.
Our first Free Game Friday will feature the Japanese game “Ao Oni” (“Blue Demon”)
So you and your friends are a bunch of bored teenagers with no common sense, and you decide to go and explore a supposedly haunted house. You all banter in the entryway about the legends surrounding the house when you hear a noise from another room. Upon investigating, it seems that it was just a plate falling off a shelf. For whatever reason, you grab a shard of the broken plate, and then head back to your friends.
Who are gone.
And the front door is locked.
And did you just hear something in the library?
This is the set-up for “Ao Oni”, a Japanese horror game where you play Hiroshi, a serious-minded student (who does NOT believe in the supernatural, thank you very much) who has to find his friends in the dark manor house. In the course of doing so, he is repeatedly attacked by a misshapen monster that is never really identified. Even in Japanese, the word “Oni” can best be translated as “monster” or “demon”, and the monster is given no other name.
As you can see, the graphics are quite primitive, really on par with one of the early Final Fantasy games. Like with “Ib”, however, this really isn’t a detriment to gameplay. In fact, with this kind of chase-based game, I find a top-down view much more conducive to easy gameplay and navigation. One big thing, however, that I know some people might dislike is that there is no battle system, and the Oni is unkillable. This leads to quite a bit of frustration when the Oni chases you to a dead end and there’s nothing to do but let it eat you. You will end up reloading a lot, so save frequently.
The good news is that the mansion is fairly easy to memorize, and there are a lot of secret passageways and hiding places you can use to escape the oni. While you wander, you can find clues and puzzles, as well as hints as to the fates of your friends. But at any moment, the oni could appear, so keep on your toes.
The game is short, but there are a lot of different versions, and a lot of fan-made games done in tribute too. I honestly had my doubts going into this game, since the monsters look pretty goofy and I hate the whole unkillable enemy trope, but I was really surprised how quickly I got wrapped up in the story. And you will be surprised how fucking terrified you will get when the oni’s theme music starts playing. The whole game runs to a shockingly dark and tense conclusion, and I, personally, was left stunned.
I think the only thing I disliked about it was a somewhat clumsy inventory screen and way of using items. Every time you want to use an item, you need to pull up the Squaresoft-style inventory screen and select it. It’s a bit clumsy and breaks the immersion a bit, but overall I was able to get past it.
All in all, despite primitive graphics and a few undesirable gameplay elements, you will find yourself a tense, tight little horror game with a surprisingly strong story. Give it a look.
You can download “Ao Oni” here.