Why is it that dead heroes are never allowed to rest? First Beyond the Grave was brought back for another few thousand rounds of ammunition in Gungrave: OD, and now Sega has once again summoned the undead samurai Raikoh to the US, publishing the sequel to From Software's destructive masterpiece, Otogi. At least this time he doesn't have to take on an entire demonic army alone.
Deeply entrenched in ancient Japanese mythology, Otogi 2 feels like a fragment from another era; something which feuding shoguns would settle down to play after a long day of struggling for the control of their island nation. No visual trick has been spared to bring this lush world to life, from the flowing ink characters of the loading screen to the paintings that depict the game's evil denizens, and that's all before the actual missions begin. The story runs a little deeper than the first, enhanced by numerous cut-scenes created in the game's engine, which nearly match the quality of pre-rendered FMVs.
The narrator of the sequel is the court wizard Seimei, who is not only a calm voice of reason that will guide you through the myriad missions, but also a playable character in her own right, with fan attacks and devastating magical abilities. Besides the return of the mute samurai Raikoh, there are four generals added to the mix: a stout warrior with a powerful axe, the sole survivor of a devastated tribe transformed into werewolf, a young kimono-wearing girl wielding a fearsome scythe, and a spirit inhabiting the body of an ancient tree equipped with a deadly mandala. Each of these characters have their own unique strengths and abilities, helping Otogi 2 become a more diverse and satisfying experience.
If you've played the original, the gameplay should be immediately familiar, if a little more refined. For those new to the series, Otogi 2 is a third person slash 'em up similar to Dynasty Warriors, with the characters able to string weak and strong physical attacks with one of four schools of magic into devastating combos. Some even have the ability to pick up and throw enemies, turning them into living grenades. Unlike Dynasty Warriors, these fighters can dash through the air, brawling in the sky as easily as they do on the ground, with whole battles playing out without ever touching terra firma.
Nearly every part of every stage can be smashed and broken apart, whether from hard weapon strikes or by slamming an enemy into them. Despite their mutable nature, these environments are anything but plain. Filled with carefully crafted polygon models wrapped in high resolution textures, it's hard not to be stunned by the beauty of digital cherry trees in bloom, or leaves falling into the water on the onset of a virtual autumn. These are the best visuals console gaming has to offer, immersing the player deeper in the world of a Japan that never was. The strains of ancient instruments also set an fitting backdrop for the slashing of swords and the splintering of wood, accompanied by perhaps the best use of the controller's vibration function. It provides a weight to the action that lets you feel each blow as it connects, from the bite of a scythe cutting into a giant spider, to the shock as your character is slammed through a building that crumbles all around her.