You just can't keep an old villain down can you? I mean here we are in a day and age of guns and bombs and no magic, what it must be like to swing a sword and cut through hordes of flesh crawling zombies like kindling. That's right and that's exactly what the premise is in Capcom's utterly brilliant Onimusha Warlords. Set in a pre-rendered high definition environment, Onimusha delivers a nice package of medieval sword and sorcery action with a Japanese flavour. With a score provided by the New Japanese Philharmonic Orchestra, which is both stirring and haunting in places the game is brought to life with a very Resident Evil style game play. Then again one of the creators is a man who has worked on the Resident Evil games. The major difference with Onimusha and the RE games is that the main character and his side kick, you get to play them both; are extremely versatile, he being armed with a variety of swords and kicks, and she being armed with a neat long knife and some very nasty attack moves. Add to this the chance to play with bows and muskets and you've got some engaging action packed game play to look forwards to.
So how does it play, and what are the features, why should you buy it, and what makes this reviewer drool when playing? Well here goes nothing, as I'm so fond of saying.
Onimusha plays very well, the control system is simple, effective and a joy to use, a few button taps and you're away, hacking and slashing, kicking and stabbing through hordes of sword wielding undead and horrible demons. The game plays like a action Resident Evil, the camera switches between views once more and it can be a bit irritating at times when you suddenly find the angle has changed in the middle of a nasty fight. The combat system is nice and reactive, if you hit the button and the direction while your enemy is prone the main hero or his sidekick will execute a down attack move to finish them off, a sword stab or a nasty back attack.
If you are good with your timing and you can hit the right buttons to perform a counter-attack then the character will suddenly perform a nasty one hit killer move that takes the weaker opponents down in one. Depending on the direction and button this differs for the character and his sidekick. You can also do a one hit kill if you can get the combination right while fighting the weaker foes, again this move differs, and seems to be most effective when playing as the sidekick, a female Ninja who often throat cuts or backstabs the enemies when you get this move right.
The main hero of the game is a Ronin Samurai called Samanosuke and his deadly sidekick, the female Ninja, Kaede supports him in the quest to free a princess from an evil demon and the lord of hell. The plot is the typical save the world from darkness by rescuing a princess, but you don't care, not at all because the CGI FMV and the in game cut scenes are so cool, the animation on the characters is great with a nice level of facial detail in and out of the FMV and game engine. They have personality, which is lacking in a lot of games and you actually root for the heroes and some of the villains while playing the game. The opening sequence for instance is nice and dark, it's brooding and shows of the terrible scenes of a sword fought war very well, with hundreds of battling warriors dealing death with glittering steel, your hero of course is watching the battle up on high when he's forced to defend himself, and he does this with style.
The animation in this opening scene is probably some of the best I have seen in a game until Devil May Cry arrives and even then it might not have the same depth of quality and attention to detail that the FMV in Onimusha's start cut scene has. I wait with baited breath on this. There's very little blood throughout the game and this doesn't detract from it at all, the demons bleed goo and that's satisfying enough for me.
When you kill a bad guy or a demon their soul is set free to fly, and it's thanks to a Ogre Gauntlet that you can pretend your name is Raziel and suck that soul up, but instead of it doing nothing, there's a few different effects. During a fight enemies might leave soul energy as they're hit, this is most noticed when you perform a cool move or a one hit kill, often leaving magic replenishment and health replenishment and not to mention a lot of soul power. It all adds up in the game and it all can be spent to upgrade the hero's weapons and make better items. The more souls you collect the more powerful your weapons become and also the more powerful your gauntlet becomes, changing when it has accumulated enough souls, looking nicer and nicer, more flashy.
The weapons in Onimusha that are the mainstay of your hero's life are drawn from three elements, thunder, fire, and wind. They have suitable Japanese names and look the business, the thunder sword is nice and jagged, the fire is a big bruiser of a blade and the air sword, is more a double bladed pole staff of some kind. Each one has a magic locked inside it that you can unleash. The more souls you pour into that weapon, which has two stats. Power and the Ability to break the various door seals in the game, the better it becomes at that thing. There are 3 levels of power to the three weapons and the gauntlet has 3 levels of power in addition. So you have to do a hellish amount of fighting to even get the three swords to level 3 in each ability, but it can be done, you just have to find the secret area and enjoy the very hard but wholly rewarding hack and slash that ensues. I'll tell you now the actual reward might seem lame when it's procured but if you use it at the right time it will unlock a special sword that kicks demon ass.
The game in itself is fairly linear and it's not hard to get lost, it's certainly no sprawling metropolis or vast challenge, but it's highly fun and enjoyable, there's not really a lull in the action and the puzzles are nicely thought out, some of them require brain power, some of them require you to remember you're carrying around a nice big sword, see a rope try and cut it. There are boss encounters and these and suitably scary, the monsters are great and the demons rock. Their animations are top quality and they're given life with a seriously nasty set of moves they can pull off. There's been a time I've watched the lowly zombie swordsman step slowly forwards only to loose a lot of my health as the bugger runs and slashes like a madman. It's these touches that make the game all the better in my eyes.
So onto the graphics and the backgrounds, as I said the graphics and the backgrounds are top quality, because this game is pre Code Veronica on the PS2 it still uses the high definition pre-rendered backdrops rather than 3d environments like Devil May Cry or Code V. The actual enemies and the models are however all full polygonal 3d and look wonderfully stunning. They have a level of facial interaction in the game's cut scenes which uses the PS2's Emotion Engine quite nicely, they move and leap about with some wonderfully action orientated moves and quite frankly they rock. I was mesmerised for a while just watching the Ninja leaping about and fighting the enemies. She has a nice array of animations and fluidly transforms from one kick or stab to the next. It's nice to see though that the backgrounds are not static even though they are pre rendered, they come alive quite nicely with animated features like waterfalls and insects, it all works rather nicely.
The voice acting is where the game falls down just a little but it doesn't really detract from the product at all, it makes me think back to the likes of RE and the really foul voices in that. But they're not as bad as RE thankfully, on the whole a good job with some nice dialogue.
The sounds are meaty; the slash of sword through bone, the swish and clash of steel as the blade cuts into the enemy or is parried, clanging off armoured hides. The rushing of water, the growls and all of it are all beautifully realised with crisp harmonics.
So overall I say if you're looking for a nice action/adventure with a kick ass soundtrack, some wonderfully atmospheric graphics that's a cut above the usual Resident Evil or Silent Hill clones, you can't go far wrong with Onimusha Warlords. It has all of the good ingredients to make it a top quality game. So I'm off to go and power up that blade and take on the hordes of darkness by the side of my Ninja babe, until then, Credo.