Ao Oni, or for real Romans Aoh! Oni (okay, we’re kidding) leads us to finally enter the world of amateur HOR-RPG games.
AO ONI, CREATURE OF THE WEB
Our dear demon with an intense photoshopped gaze is the true protagonist of the series.
We are talking about a game that has grown slowly from unknown places on the web – as we will see later in the paragraph “Product history” – and then spread visibly.
And how could this have happened, if not with let’s plays? Youtube has always been an important channel for the diffusion of the HOR-RPG current, the most awaited reactions were the scares of the web stars.
Ao Oni perfectly reflects the characteristics of his generation.
We recall that Generation 0 presents a particular care for the atmospheres, especially by exploiting the sound plane (generally this is the “generation of ambient music”, compared to other Horror RPGs) as we will see by analyzing the game we are talking about.
The plots almost never dominate the gameplay made up of the total exploration which, alas, is sometimes also a defect that makes one ask “how should I understand that I had to do this?” in some situations. It focuses mainly on the puzzles that a developer goes to insert: if they are easy, too easy, difficult or too difficult and if the difficulty is justified or given by information management defects, and the originality of these was also very important.
And let’s not forget the chases: the tension they put to the player, the difficulty or even if there are various ways in the game to escape the creature in turn. In the trump card we will analyze just this: the puzzles in the context in which they are inserted, and the system of pursuits.
What exactly was the path that led the title to be so well known?
Compared to the first title we covered in this section, on Ao Oni there is not much information on the “background” of the game development.
We only know that the pseudonym used by the author is noprops, which published a first version of the game on its official website and if you probably guess it on Japanese forums, but we have no reliable sources on the latter statement.
noprops’s official site
Already from this little information … Have you noticed the dissonance with Corpse Party?
Unlike Makoto Kedouin, to whom we have been able to give a precise face and name, here the story of the HOR-RPG definitively begins, developed by authors who are almost all under pseudonyms …
Where do you use pseudonyms many times, or commonly usernames?
Here, with Ao Oni (and Yume Nikki) in fact people of the Internet try to move in HOR-RPG production with this tool that meanwhile has grown over the years up to the 2003 version (of which, however, we will not talk about here) and XP version.
Then the further creation of online distribution platforms where everyone could publish their titles gave even more space to amateur developers precisely from the reality of the web.
In this environment Ao Oni was born, developed with RPG Maker XP and published for the first time on the official noprops website and perhaps distributed on other sites. There have been no other distribution jobs, no type of producer has ever touched the original game. Yes, there have been Ao Oni 2 and Ao Oni 3 taken by publishers to put them on Android, but … They have not made as much luck as the first one, even if they tried to do something more in the graphic and background fields.
Here, the first Ao Oni … In his homeland, the web, has made quite a lot of success: it has brought all kinds of youtubers to it almost all over the world.
This gave him various inspired external works: the aforementioned sequels, clones (which we will discuss later), a manga, an animated adaptation (however parodic) and a live action film.
We all ask ourselves at this point: how did this game, among all the indie HOR-RPG ( we don’t take it into consideration Corpse Party, as thrown on the gaming market) to have all these adaptations, these interpretations?
Usually in these cases these operations are done when something is successful and this fame makes it rise from the web. Well, let’s see what the web has to say about Ao Oni and let’s take notes.
Comment under FavijTV’s video
“When that guy popped out I let out a scream… I feel dumb.”
Comment under FavijTV’s video
-Well done jumpscares
Comment under PewDiePie’s video
Comment under PewDiePie’s video (the comment cites one of his lines): Pewds re-recorded a gameplay of Ao Oni, after playing it years before on his channel.
-Industrial quantity of puzzles
-The Oni, despite its appearance (which we will discuss later), manages to frighten
So in general Ao Oni, although part of the current RPG Horror gives the same sensations of Outlast, Slender and other games of the same genre.
And all this even if there is not even a particularly macabre plot, and that very little that is known is not very thorough. What does everything in the game is the management of the atmosphere (but we will talk about this in detail later). Let’s compare the two images, the one on the right from Slender: The Eight Pages, and the one on the right of the game we are talking about. Both games work on tension, even in Slender the Slenderman may appear at any moment, but in that game you can clearly see a more accurate lights than Ao Oni. This Horror RPG managed to recreate a tense atmosphere even with objectively very minimal tilesets and sprites and lights reduced to the minimum (in the main structure there are none, and in the attached structure there is only a slight darker screen tint) , and this is demonstrated by the comments.
Its popularity was also based on the imagination of both the producers together with the author himself (see the cases of Ao Oni 2 and 3, which we imagine have been approved by noprops) and fans of the game.
There were in fact several clones of Ao Oni. The main one was Nira Oni, although there were many others including Twilight Oni (which went viral for being ugly), Mura Oni and Heta Oni (based on the anime Hetalia). The most successful clone, however, was Nira Oni.
Screen shot of the title of Nira Oni, the best known and appreciated fangame of Ao Oni: you can immediately notice the lack of minimalism and approximation that the original game had.
These fangames have re-imagined the same context – abandoned structure (or, in the case of Mura Oni, a village), group of teens and, above all, the Oni – but with different characters, different structures or both. The meeting point was simply the blue demon.
“The game and the gamer”
As we previously mentioned, we’ll see the triad of features that make up the game.
- Relationship between scenography and ambience
- The intertwining of the puzzles
- Randomization of the chase scenes
All enclosed in a single password chosen by the same author in his nickname (no props = no props needed): minimalism, which we have already mentioned.
Here the importance of contextualization comes into play, with regard to a small detail that we had talked about in an old review…
Eh-Eh. We got there.
You will think… Who knows… Now they will have to piss off as if there was no tomorrow, right?
We know it … We know you are waiting for criticism… But do you know what?
If you expect it, it means that all the speeches we have made so far in the previous articles have been useless.
Okay guys, let’s look for a meeting point: Ao Oni by its nature, especially if compared to a predecessor like CORPSE-PARTY and a respectable successor like Yume Nikki, it can’t be called a title that shines, if not for the ingenuity of puzzles and chases. And with this I intend to conclude, in fact, that the maps do not enhance the scenography as many would like
In that review, however, we were talking about a game that had as its main objective to tell you a story, and from when it was created the classic narration always builds its foundations on the scenography, the environments and the context in which it chooses to represent itself.
Do you find any similarity with Ao Oni? Do you find in Ao Oni a promise of story telling by the game and the poor events that follow one another?
No. Nothing like that: from the classic incipit and context of many works (even the most scarce) that want to call themselves “horror” the player understands that there will be no real storytelling: this gives less depth (and in some cases nothing of that) to plot, characters and environments and much more depth to the gameplay: if the game isn’t meant to make the player passionate, he must entertain them in the most primitive sense of the term.
The trump card is in fact the riddles: it is a game very coherent with itself.
Even the graphics defined by many … Questionable, they are simply functional to what they must do: there was no work of “eye-candy” because simply noprops didn’t feel the need, didn’t feel to give a certain “personality” to characters and environments, the intention was not to make the player become attached to them.
The only exception is the Oni that we will meet almost always during the game. He is the only one to have some kind of personalized sprites (because you can see that those of the boys are clearly made or with a generator, or any external program that creates them semi-automatically), with a grotesque and almost comic appearance, especially when it will have the hair of the characters who will gradually die by the hands of the “Ao Oni senior”.
Look at him: the face of an ordinary man is deformed. Giant eyes and nose, together with an external narrow face on the part of the chin and eyes. Not to mention the body: you can see it from a mile that is stylized to the improbable, and with a realistic face … It creates that dissonance that makes it bizarre and grotesque.
To “make an impression” these types of creatures are used a lot. Maybe it will be just my point of view (the article passed into Ele’s hands), but I think it is also a characteristic of Japanese culture. In this regard, I would like to offer you an image.
From “The Art of Spirited Away”, Viz Media, Studio Ghibli library
Do you recognize these beings? From the caption of the photo it is easy to understand what film I am talking about: “Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa.
Do you see how they are aesthetically? They are fat and have wide eyes, and above all this last detail makes the viewer say “oh god, what is that ?!” even if they are simply ducks with some particular characteristics.
This film in fact gives a vast representation of the Japanese culture, made mainly by these strange entities with a deformed appearance.
With the Ao Oni the same work as the ducks was done: the normal was deformed (like the face of a man like many others) and became abnormal, giving a completely new image.
So the role of this creature has never been to “scare” with particularly disturbing details, but rather “make an impression” on the player with his monstrous appearance.
The fright stems from the jumpscare when the Oni appears and from the tension following it during chases.
The latter generally play a lot on the fear of killing our character, but above all that of not being able to go on and start again from a point not close to where you arrived or, especially in many retrogames, to start everything over.
Ao Oni follows this very idea: if the Oni takes you you have to start from where you saved and, unless you are a compulsive “save-person”, you have to do a lot of actions before moving forward, and in the long run it becomes frustrating.
But we won’t talk about a particular complexity of the chase scenes.
In Ao Oni there is a constant tension during the game but not because there are chase scenes in general, we find them in many other HOR-RPG, but because this title introduces into the genre a mechanic present more than anything else in horror games such as Outlast or Slender: the random appearance of the chaser.
In the game there are few “scripted” scenes in which the Oni appears at the same time for each player: for the rest of the game it could appear at any moment, and due to this perennial randomness even the scripted scenes do not seem such, many times .
Also to escape the monster you can hide in closets.
Here, during this moment we feel the breath of … “Hiroshi”. Do we care about him? About his safety?
Not exactly. That breath is ours, it is our fear of being discovered. Here the game is experienced in the first person and we abandon every filter that wanted to present it to us in third: we don’t only see Hiroshi hiding in a closet, we don’t look as “omniscient players”. The point of view changes: we live the experience.
As we have already said, the “horror” does not lie in particularly macabre or disturbing textures or images, but in the tension that the player feels in the fear of jerking seeing the blue monster, being caught or seeing his beautiful face on the big screen.
So let’s draw conclusions for a moment.
We repeat that the title, although not the best of its time, remains true to its promises.
We have the weakening of the incipit if not a real cancellation; a feature that had instead distinguished Corpse Party.
You will notice that among this …
There is a big difference.
The three lines of introduction should speak clearly: Ao Oni leads the player to a total identification and immersion in the experience he is living.
Even if “RPG” indicates by acronym a third-person game now, the games seem to be closer to the use of the first person, letting the player let himself be totally carried away in the videogame experience not for the sake of being “amazed” ( see the needs of today on the quality of the graphics) but often to indulge in the exploration of places of which the game itself perhaps only becomes an excuse to repeatedly listen to the sound of the wind or rain their your headphones.
Here we have the highest expression of the HOR-RPG genre as a current devoted to individualism and isolation. There are only two subjects involved, the game and the player, so here is the paradox of inserting titles like this within a market that counted in the production of secondary works.
An operation, this, born from the hope of attracting an audience that has been able to transform, through the intervention of the web stars, anguish into laughter. The silence of the characters, the monster and the author has been replaced by the youtuber’s scream and entertainment for its users.
We certainly cannot say that the distribution of the game, as well as its packaging, has professional intent.
Yes, there isn’t even an image for the title.
The screen is all black, you can only decide whether to start the game, continue it or exit. We are asked to enter a name for the character and then the short incipit introduces us to the context in which we will move: a group of friends wants to explore a mysterious abandoned villa. The-End.
This is one of those games, as we once heard, beautiful to “discover from scratch” and experience them to experience the degree of tension they offer you and the ingenious tests they subject you to. A type of game, precisely, adopted and grown by the web. A game that even before belonging to some “producer” or “company of professionals” belongs first of all to its players who donate their imagination to build interpretations, theories that explain the events but first of all that feed the characters with characterizations. and they keep offering the game the characteristic of narration, a phenomenon that we will observe in particular in its first explosion with Yume Nikki in the same year.
As already said in the history of the product, this title is also left to itself by its author, but a true culture is born from him: that of the author without a precise identity, without a face and a first name to associate it with .
However, this phenomenon will be better discussed in the article dedicated to Yume Nikki and its author Kikiyama.
We will talk about two in particular.
- First of all, the aforementioned lack of care for the scenography greatly penalizes the title which would otherwise have increased the quality and would certainly have given it more recognisability, unfortunately given only by its creature of which the other dedicated titles have lived off their income. Even if the author had wanted to be consistent with his “minimal” approach, he could have taken care of at least photography and added lights and shadows, or used particular colors. This is a serious flaw, if considered especially in the context of its generation, in which even if the development of a plot was not desired, the needs of the developers voted for the immersion of the environments.
Although, as we said before, we do not feel like insisting too much on this point because we are talking about elements that go beyond what the game wanted to offer.
- The second flaw, on the other hand, has to do precisely with the other side of his ace up his sleeve, which is perhaps why it affects him more.
The riddles. We’re talking … About releasing the information.
Well, however ingenious they may be, many have failed to fully appreciate them, complaining of relative complexity.
This I believe is mainly given by the fact that often there is not enough communication of the game for the player, leaving it completely to himself without offering instructions that can make the user understand the nature of the puzzle.
Let’s examine one of the most well-known puzzles … And the one that has more guides: the piano puzzle
We present the solution. In the latest version of the game (6.23) the numbers that will appear on the piano after cleaning the blood stain on it are random and there are about 5 possible combinations for a nearby safe. Now, how to find this combination? To get the solution to this puzzle, you need to match the numbers on the piano keys to the shapes of the keys on the safe.
This is defined as one of the most difficult puzzles in the game, but not because of an actual difficulty, but because of the management of the information about it: it is not possible to understand that those signs on the safe (in the old versions it was even necessary to find a leaflet in another room) would be the shapes of the keys on the piano, they were not highlighted in any way.
This is unfortunately only an example. In short, the puzzles in Ao Oni are the most ingenious that we have seen so far among all the Horror RPGs we have played, but the management of the information on them makes them in certain situations even frustrating.
We also finished our stop on the second stop, finally entering the myth of the HOR-RPG as a “game of desolation, suspense and hours lost in exploration”. Ao Oni has only taken the first step in the construction of this definition, being therefore an excellent pioneering experiment but which will soon be passed…