Video games often take certain inspiration or thematic elements from different cultures and mythologies, but this one falls just short of fully taking advantage of its settings. Ashes of Oahu takes influence from native Hawaiian beliefs as the backdrop of the story. While it's interesting to discover some of the terms and ideas that make up the mythology, it's something that's not really expanded on in any real meaningful way. Instead, it winds up feeling like an afterthought used to cover the same ol' supernatural gaming tropes in a different, and oftentimes confusing, wrapper. Without any additional context, phrases like "aumakua," "pono," "mana," and "aina" are just labels for guide, karma, magic, etc. On the one hand, the game wants to use the Hawaiian culture to stand out, but on the other, it never quite dives deep enough to give the story unique substance.
Ashes of Oahu is set in the huge open world of the titular Hawaiian isle of Oahu, but it still feels small due to repetitive textures. As big as the island is, it generally cycles through the same three or four basic looks. There are a few interesting twists on the standard shooter formula, the most fun of which is Kai's ability to shapeshift into various animal forms. But these forms serve very specific functions in very specific situations, leaving the bulk of the action falling back to its standard, somewhat generic action movie motif. Even the freedom of choice and balancing of relationships with core factions feels a bit forced. Most of the time, Kai winds up coming off like a bit of a jerk no matter which side of the moral compass you follow. Ashes of Oahu feels like a game with a lot of potential, but one that never quite lives up to what it's truly capable of.