There are are tons of genres of games out there in the world, and one of them are horror games. They are also known as “the games Lexy doesn’t like to play”. I scare quite easily, not mainly because of jump scares but the suspense and the constant nagging feeling of knowing something will jump out to scare me stresses me out while playing. But as I have taken on writing game reviews, I gotta be versatile and decided to get it over with and review Ao Oni.
Ao Oni (“Blue Demon”) is an indie Japanese horror game by noprops and is full of puzzles. It’s actually free to download, and you can play it as long as you have RPG Maker X, which is also free to download.
You play as Hiroshi, exploring a haunted mansion with friends.
Did I say “exploring”? Hmm. I think the better word is “trapped”. Classic story.
Controls / Gameplay
The game’s controls are very simple. I had a little difficulty adjusting or remembering which button did which for awhile but you only use very few buttons so it’s nothing too hard. You can interact with only certain objects in your environment, some will blatantly tell you, “over here!” and some will be a little harder to find.
You only have access to your inventory and a Save system when you open the menu. I do wish that the game informed you beforehand that you really could combine items together, though, but I guess discovering things as you play works well with the experience, too (after wasting a lot of time walking around unsure what to do).
“Looks may be deceiving”. In this case, this game is quite deceiving. I honestly chose to review this horror game because the interface looked very simple and I thought then that playing would be simple (which is also why I didn’t think combining items was possible in the game) so I wouldn’t have to worry so much about jump scares or getting scared in general. I’m going to keep my reviews without spoilers so I won’t show how different or how creative different scenes are executed, but you’re not limited to just this specific layout. The “Oni” itself is a distinct contrast in the game because it isn’t pixel-y like the rest of the characters.
Hiroshi’s face and all the other characters’ faces are very simple as well, nothing much like the usual Anime in JRPGs, and no shading. Then you see the Oni chasing you and quite frankly, it looks so ugly but it’s so damn scary. The shade of its purplish blue color is very loud when placed along with the colors of the home setting. There’s no way you can miss it (and no way you can escape how fast your heart will beat if you see it).
There are a lot of secrets and hidden items/doors crucial to advance the story, and it’s really difficult to find. I spent so much time going back to the same places more than twice, confused and at a loss because I really did not know where to go next. Sometimes when I read or watch another play through, I find that there is a room I missed, only because the wall didn’t have a door or something to let the player know that that place can be explored.
Music, always the part of a game I am very particular about. The experience and immersion is very important to me, so both background music and sound effects matter and since this is a horror game, it’s even more important. Most Japanese games I’ve played have a lot of theme songs, etc. Ao Oni on the other hand only uses sound sparingly. You get a few sound effects here and there, and they work well, are timed well, and sound good, too. Honestly, if you play this game, you will hope not to hear background music. If you do, you will want it to stop.
I made the mistake of playing this game past 12 midnight and since sound is mostly absent, it blends in with real life and I get the creepy feeling that I am part of the game… Am I the only one that’s felt this way? It adds to the suspense and makes you more aware of when sound is present. “Why is this sound here?”, “What’s going to happen?” it added quite a lot to the experience.
I’m telling you right now, you will need a walkthrough to play this game. Sometimes I think I know why the game is free to play: the puzzles can get really hard.
I would think Takuro would give me a key, or something obviously useful but instead he gives me some vinegar. In the end it actually is helpful but I’m just mentioning it because I think it’s so absurd.
*Setting: Trapped in a scary place where you’re being hunted down. You find your friend hiding in a closet.*
Friend: Wait, before you go!
Me: What is it?
Friend: I found this earlier. Take it! I think it’ll be useful.
*Gives some vinegar*
Me: Thanks man, I’ll need some seasoning.
I don’t know how other people were able to figure things out, because sometimes what you’re supposed to do next wouldn’t make sense, or you wouldn’t think of doing what should be done. I definitely underestimated it because there’s a lot more than meets the eye!
Ao Oni made me give up so many times. I don’t like to cheat much because in doing so, most of the time, you already know what’s going to happen next and you don’t get to really have as much fun unlike when it catches you by surprise. This game’s puzzles are quite difficult and I thank the internet and people for spoiling the game anyway.
Would I replay this game? I actually would because there’s not a lot of dialogue and you go straight into playing. Even if you already know what to do or if you’re reading what you should do, running from the Oni will always get your heart racing. The thrill of being chased (wink) by the Oni is something definitely worth experiencing. I originally didn’t think of replaying it, but that’s mostly because of my preference, which are not horror games. I would only play it to a certain point, not until the end. It’s a lot of fun to play but the puzzles are really just a handful and I don’t want to handle the stress I get from these types of games sometimes.
The original game is in Japanese and this one is only translated from Japanese to English, so there are some very minute grammar and spelling errors. I found that the older versions had different content; I played the latest one and they adjusted more to the Western audience. I did say I wouldn’t spoil anything, but one wouldn’t hurt… right?
Rating: 7 / 10
Ao Oni also has a film adaptation and a lot of spin-offs you can find elsewhere. Other versions made by the developer and even fan-made versions can be found here.
Download the most recent version of the game here.