Greetings one and all, I’m back with my first article of “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn” for the year of 2016. Part 13 of my feature will focus on the Onimusha series, one of Capcom’s best series of games back when they were one of the great ones. For those who have not played this series or perhaps may not have even heard of it, you play as a number of mighty warriors battling against demons in feudal era Japan. You’ve got samurai, ninjas, monks, and warlords, many of whom are based on historical figures in Japanese history, doing battle against all manner of demonic monstrosities.
The Onimusha series also functions on a similar template to the earlier Resident Evil games, meaning the games have fixed cameras and the characters’ movements are controlled with the directional buttons (not counting the last game of the series). One wouldn’t think this archaic control scheme would work on a series of PS2 games, yet they worked surprisingly well. The fact these games are more action oriented than the early Resident Evil games probably helped. As an added note, I did not play the fighting game Onimusha: Blade Warriors since it didn’t have any real story elements to it and because I had less money to blow on games back then. Let us begin going over this really fun series, shall we?
Onimusha: Warlords (PS2)
One of my earliest PS2 games, Onimusha: Warlords is a truly special game for me. I’ve beaten the game multiple times and every playthrough was just as fun as the last. Even though I can easily beat the game in no more than five hours, its intense action, clever puzzles, and occasionally creepy elements make every hour of gameplay an enjoyable experience. Samurai warrior Samanosuke Akechi and his female ninja companion Kaede arrive at Inabayama Castle to rescue Samanosuke’s cousin Princess Yuki from being sacrificed by demons in a dark ritual that will finalize their new alliance with the warlord Nobunaga Oda. The story wasn’t something that can compare to other narrative masterpieces like Metal Gear Solid, but it certainly kept my attention with its interesting, if limited, cast of characters.
What really made this game special was its gameplay. As previously mentioned, the game’s control scheme was very old fashioned compared to what gamers are used to nowadays, but given the nature of the fixed camera that switches angles constantly on its own as you progress through each area, moving the characters around with the directional buttons was really the only way the gameplay could work properly. Somehow, this control scheme made the battles somewhat more intense, and since the enemies and especially bosses were all challenging already, this game had an intense action feel to it that really made it stand out. And of course, Samanosuke and Kaede had a nice collection of weapons. Samanosuke uses regular and magic swords and bows and arrows, while Kaede uses daggers and kunai (throwing knives) to do away with their demonic foes with style. Honestly, the only flaws that keep this game from getting a super high score from me are its limited narrative and the fact it’s really short. Onimusha: Warlords gets a score of 83%.
Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny (PS2)
The sequel to Onimusha was basically a somewhat longer and more adventurous version of its predecessor. Taking place a number of years after the first game, Onimusha 2 has you play as Jubei Yagyu, a young samurai who wants nothing more than to kill Nobunaga Oda, the new king of the demons, for killing off the entire Yagyu clan. During his adventure, Jubei will encounter four other mighty warriors who wish to be his allies, but it’s actually up to the player to decide which two allies will stick with him (only two of the four allies will be focused on in a single playthrough). Depending on which of the allies stay by Jubei’s side, certain chapters will play out differently since each ally opens up a different mission to take part in. Even certain boss battles will play out differently depending on which ally is around to lend Jubei a helping hand, and on top of that, there will be certain parts where the player controls Jubei’s allies and be able to kick some demon butt with their unique weapons and abilities. Not only does Jubei use swords, hammers, and spears, but Oyu uses swords, Ekei uses spears, Magoichi uses guns, and Kotaru uses daggers and throwing knives.
The gameplay and controls for Onimusha 2 are very similar to those in the first game, with the main difference being the inclusion of some specialized combos and charge attacks, which made the already awesome combat even more fun. The larger cast of characters makes for a more interesting narrative with Jubei’s allies having a fair bit of character development, and the story simply had a more adventurous feel to it than the first one. Still, this game is only slightly longer than the first one and tops off at about six or seven hours, so overall it’s a slightly better sequel, but not by that much. Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny gets a score of 85%.
Onimusha 3: Demon Siege (PS2)
This one is definitely the best game of the series, no contest, as well as the most outlandish since there’s time travel involved. Samanosuke Akechi, the hero from the first Onimusha, returns to destroy more demons and kill their king Nobunaga Oda once for all. Due to an accident involving Nobunaga’s head scientist screwing around with time travel, Samanosuke is thrown to the future, specifically France in the year 2004, and naturally an army of demons had already been sent there to ensure Nobunaga reigns supreme for another five centuries. To add further to the craziness, French soldier Jacques Blanc is sent back to Samanosuke’s time period, ten days before Samanosuke is sent to the future, so he allies himself with the past version of Samanosuke (confused yet?) in order to put a stop to Nobunaga’s plans of dominating the world through time.
As if the much crazier story wasn’t enough, the gameplay in Onimusha 3 had also been taken up a notch. While Samanosuke controls pretty much just like before and had a new collection of magic weapons to destroy enemies with, Jacques had a more unique approach to demon butt kicking. His collection of weapons were all capable of extending to perform whip-like attacks to strike enemies from longer distances, bind enemies, and latch onto grapple points to gain access to normally unreachable areas. Getting to play as Jacques’ fiancé and fellow soldier Michelle, who uses firearms to do away with her enemies, adds some more variety to the gameplay like in Onimusha 2. And after beating the game, a special mini-game where you play as the spear wielding warrior Heihachi is unlocked, adding even more replay value to this game (this was well before the advent of DLC).
What is probably the most notable addition to Onimusha 3 is its focus on new puzzles revolving around trading items between the main characters through time itself. There will be specific moments where Samanosuke and Jacques are in the same locations in different time periods and need to trade specific items in order to advance. Ako, their fairy-like companion who functions very much like Navi from Ocarina of Time, can be sent between both time periods with these items so the two characters can advance. For example, when Samanosuke in the future is unable to scale a high wall, he must send a special seedling to Jacques in the past, who can then plant the seed in a plot of dirt so it can start growing, then in the future it will have grown into a gigantic collection of vines that Samanosuke can climb so he can reach the top of the previously unclimbable wall. Many other keys and items can be traded between Samanosuke and Jacques in this fashion to solve puzzles and advance through the game.
All these new additions, along with the series’ usual high quality focus on combat and challenging boss battles, make this easily the best game of the series. Characters can also be controlled with the left stick for the first time in the series, but given that the camera is still fixed, I always found it easier to stick to using the directional buttons. For me at least, using the left stick was counterintuitive. Let’s not forget that this game can last anywhere between ten to fifteen hours, so it’s not over in the blink of an eye like the earlier games and also doesn’t last longer than it should. Onimusha 3: Demon Siege gets a score of 90%.
Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams (PS2)
The final game in the Onimusha series was quite the departure from the series’ usual formula. For one thing, this game was much longer than the others, so long that it required two DVDs, which is strange since Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne was a much longer game but only needed one DVD. Anyway, Dawn of Dreams still had much more content than the first three Onimusha games, it could easily last between thirty and forty hours. Honestly, the game kind of dragged on at times and was repetitive, but fortunately it’s just similar enough to the previous games so that the gameplay wasn’t too much of a departure from what I was used to, but there were also lots of new additions as well. Taking place about fifteen years after Onimusha 3, the demons have returned with a new leader to cause more trouble in Japan. The main character Soki allies himself with four other warriors (this sounds familiar) who all have some connection to important characters in the previous games, and they all have their own reasons for wanting to destroy the demons once and for all.
While Soki is the main character and is the one the player controls throughout the majority of the game, he almost always has one of his allies by his side to assist him, even during most boss battles, and you can actually switch between Soki and his ally on the fly. Each character has their own collection of weapons with which to do the usual slaying of demons. Soki uses large two-handed swords, Jubei Akane uses shorter and swifter swords, Tenkai uses spears and staffs, Ohatsu uses all manner of firearms, and Roberto uses fighting gauntlets. The number of all new combos and skills available for each character really adds a lot more variety to the combat than ever before, and Soki can even combine forces with his current ally to release explosive magic attacks that can clear the screen of all but the most powerful of enemies. While upgrading weapons and armor is nothing new for this series, Dawn of Dreams adds a loot system that gives each character access to hundreds of unique weapons, all capable of being upgraded.
The characters themselves also level up as they fight enemies, which lets you allocate points to give them new skills and upgrade their current ones. After completing missions, Soki can return to previous locations to open certain chests and doors that can only be reached by specific allies who are capable of going where Soki can’t. Probably the biggest change in the gameplay was how enemies seem like damage sponges, which seems to be a common thing when a game takes on more RPG-like elements. Lots of the enemies Soki and his allies battle against have really long health bars, both bosses and certain tougher enemies, making some of these boss battles, especially the last three, exercises in frustration.
A lot of the levels you go through are quite repetitive where you just fight enemy after enemy. There are puzzles in certain levels, but some levels have surprisingly few puzzles to break up the repetitive combat. The more interesting ones focused on using Soki and his ally to activate switches and platforms at the right moments and in the right order. The story had more content than those in the previous games due to this game’s increased length, and while it’s a pretty good story, it’s also a bit corny and overly dramatic, but that’s par for the course with Capcom games. The last new addition to this game was the inclusion of a fully controllable camera, which makes controlling the characters with the left stick the better option at last, though it’s actually the only option in this game anyway. This wasn’t the best Onimusha game, but it was still a worthy and memorable addition to the series. Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams gets a score of 84%.
That’s the entire Onimusha series, which lived and died with the PS2. There was a time when I would have wanted this series to continue on to the PS3, then when that didn’t happen, a remake of the series seemed like a good idea, but now even that seems like a no-go by this point. Capcom is no longer the powerhouse developer/publisher of games that it used to be, so they likely aren’t even able to remake this series, and I doubt they ever wanted to. In any case, remaking the series would require completely revamping the control scheme and the very foundations of the gameplay itself, so it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. As long as I still have my PS2, I won’t need a remake of the Onimusha series, I can just continue to play the games as they are whenever I wish. Next week I will begin discussing the Jak and Daxter games, so join me in my next “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn” to see what I think of that series. For now, take a look at our large collection of great articles we’ve worked on over the holidays:
Another “Have You Played…?” is up and ready, brought to you by…Sean Morge?! That’s right, while Jorge was temporarily indisposed, Sean very kindly filled in for his usual feature. Check out the special Sean Morge edition of “Have You Played…?” right here.
Most of us Gaming Respawners have taken part in a joint effort where we share our favorite video game characters. See if any of our choices match yours by taking a look at our “Gaming Respawn’s Favourite Gaming Characters” article here.
We also joined forces in sharing what games and game related features we are most looking forward to in 2016, which you can check out here.
Seeking to spend a little more time in the spotlight, Sean has implemented his always entertaining critiquing method in Gaming Respawn’s first ever year in review. Check out his take on the video game industry’s biggest flops (and a couple of the high points) of 2015 right over here.