I shall tell you a tale of a time long ago, when cruel and wicked demons roamed the countryside, and only one man had the power to stop the tide of evil. Onimusha Warlords takes you to ancient Japan and gives you control of Samonosuke Akechi, a Samurai warrior in who is given the hopeless mission of stopping a demon invasion of Japan and rescuing Princess Yuki.
In the year 1560, a powerful warlord named Nobunaga was struck down in battle by an arrow that pierced his neck. He was killed, but later resurrected by a demon named Fortinbras in exchange for his eternal servitude and help in conquering Earth. Nobunaga requires the blood of a noble woman of the land to seal his pact with Fortinbras, and Princess Yuki is the unlucky royal. Samonosuke, the hero of our tale, is given a gauntlet by a clan of Ogres who look down on this sort of thing and sets out on a mission to save the princess. This gauntlet allows our hero to absorb the souls of vanquished demons and use them to boost his strength and health. The gauntlet endows Samonosuke with magical abilities when equipped with 1 of the 3 orbs of power that you must collect as you progress in the game. These orbs enable Samonosuke to open doors previously locked and transform your sword into 3 different blades, depending on which orb is equipped.
Fortunately, you're not alone in your quest. Aided by your trusted helper and companion, the lady ninja Kaede, joins you in your pursuit of Yuki's freedom. For the most part you control Samonosuke in the game, but there are one or two stretches in the game where you must take control of Kaede and hope you survive. While Samonosuke can regain life force by using his gauntlet to possess a certain type of healing soul, Kaede has no such gauntlet at her disposal as her main weapon is relatively ineffective. Thus you must master her sneaky ninja techniques if you are to have any hope of killing some of the bigger beasts that attack you.
Players who have walked the pre-rendered halls of Resident Evil and/or Dino Crisis will immediately feel at home when playing this game. The controls are very familiar, being imported from the above mentioned games and altered just enough to provide you with ample control over your character. Your main weapon in this game is of course a sword, so Capcom has added a button which acts very similar to Zelda 64, where holding a button down will focus your character on one opposing individual until you release the button. The button will force you to target the most threatening of your opponents, even if you must deal with lesser foes that are a more immediate danger to you. You don't have to use this feature, so it's no biggie. A quick 180-degree turn button has been included, and it's a welcome addition to the game. Your enemies will attack in bunches; so quickly turning around and slaying another demon is quite satisfying, not at all hard, and quite useful. Blocking is also an necessity now, as swords can and often must be used to guard as well as attack. Unfortunately, due to what appears to be a lack of testing, navigating menus and equipping weapons a chore instead of a breeze. It's not a major issue but it does detract from the game.
There's one area where Onimusha Warlords succeeds at enormously, and that is how remarkable it looks. The introductory movie sequence is purely jaw-dropping. It's rapidly becoming apparent that soon it will be nearly impossible to immediately know what is computer generated and what is live action. As it is now, this has to be one of the best intro movies I've ever seen, even if it is a bit odd. The game uses in-game engine movies to move the story along, and uses CGI (or Computer Graphic Imagery) at certain points to show the enormity of the moment. Annoyingly, you can't skip a movie once you start playing the game, meaning you must sit through some movies which last longer than two minutes, repeatedly, as save points can be difficult to get to at times and death can come swiftly to those who possess bad luck or worse timing. The in-game graphics are very impressive, sometimes looking so lifelike in their build and facial expressions, it's scary. Yet if the characters look awesome, the spells Samonosuke can cast don't quite compare to those found in some of today's better RPGs, like Final Fantasy 8 or Vagrant Story. And just as in an RPG, you will encounter many of the same enemies as you wander around trying to complete your mission. Kill them all and leave the room, they will probably appear again. This is a great way to gain experience, or level up if you prefer to think of this as an RPG.
Whereas graphics are the one thing that Capcom did almost to perfection with Onimusha, then sound is where they almost drop the ball. From swords clashing to demon souls being sucked into your gauntlet, Onimusha provides a satisfying amount of unique sound effects to enhance gameplay. The voice acting is decent and doesn't sound at all comical. Lip-syncing on the other hand is truly horrid. One might think they were watching a badly dubbed movie out of Hong Kong at times. All these are almost expected from Capcom though. What you don't expect from them is music so annoying that you must turn it off to escape a headache. While normally quite good at using music to set the tone, Capcom failed miserably when it came to scoring Kaede's stages. That is unless they wanted you to get so annoyed you mute the music shortly after starting play as Kaede. The rest of the musical score is enjoyable to listen to, but it really takes a backseat to the swords clashing and demons dying.
Should you have finish the game there are a few minor prizes to go about earning, but nothing that will have you dying to play again. I will say that putting Samonosuke in a Panda Bear suit was original, and the person who thought of it must have been desperate for a change of pace that day. Still, even the pure giggling delight of seeing a guy in a bear costume unleash "Panda Fury" isn't enough to play through the entire game again, unless you are really in the mood for a laugh. Just like another game with a similar style, Sword of the Berserk: Gut's Rage, you have to really be in the mood to chop some people to bits in order to pick this game up and play again. Unlike Berserk, however, Onimusha doesn't provide you with that visceral thrill of cleaving things in two. It's just a bit lacking in the blood and guts department when compared to the bloody mess that is Berserk. As well, as mentioned above, movies can't be skipped, so you really have to love the game to pick it up and play again. It took me approximately 3 days of sitting down and really playing to finish this game, with Kaede taking the most effort and time to complete.
Final comments: Onimusha is a short game that will appeal to gamers who want to take a stab at a new take on an old story with familiar play mechanics. At the very least, this game must be seen for its CGI movies, which are by far some of the best I have ever witnessed. Don't pick it up if you can't access your TV's audio controls though, as the music can pierce your ears faster than Samonosuke can pierce your armour.
Oni, Oni, Onimusha, HOOOOOOO!
Sword of Omens; give me sight beyond sight.
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