Onimusha set some pretty cool standards when it was released; it was more gung-ho than Resident Evil and had a better feel to it. Plus is had swords, magic and gunpowder weapons. You could steal your enemies' souls and use them to power up your weapons, attaining new effects for them and even put a few souls here and there into your armour/equipment. It was fairly linear and had a typical Japanese plot, which revolved around ancient evil warlords, undead and demons.

You could play one of two heroes and swapped to them as part of the story, always returning back of course to the first playable hero. Samanuske - ronin swordsman. Guess what? Onimusha 2 has finally exploded onto the PS2 with all the hacking slashing action of the original and a much more refined experience as a whole. Now you are cast in the role of a new swordsman, Jubei - who has an odd set of circumstances surrounding his birth, but I shall say no more - you will find no spoilers here really. But what's different this time around? Is it better than the first, poorer or the same?

I'd have to say that Onimusha 2 outranks the first game in all ways; I found this one a much more rewarding and enjoyable experience than the first one. And I loved that game to death. But from the opening CGI (Which is some of the best game CGI I've seen for a while - especially the introduction of all the characters in the latter part of the Intro) what do you mean you've not seen the naked chick in the waterfall scene, go and watch it now damn it!

The animation in the opening sequence is fluid and it's the kind of quality we've come to expect from companies like Squaresoft, this was a totally refreshing surprise - I was enthralled by the very nature of that intro and everyone who saw it was too. There were many oohs and ahhs of delight. After you have seen this, and finally reached the main game you'll notice immediately that the graphics are at least three times better in this sequel than they are in Onimusha. Everything is clearer, crisper and finely detailed. It still sticks with high-resolution pre-rendered backgrounds but they're much more believable this time around. The detail on the characters is also much higher and the animation is much more fluid, the facial features of the main players are excellently rendered and take advantage of the PS2 E-motion engine, showing more emotion than before, they don't seem as flat to me.

There's also much more in the way of in-game cut-scenes as the story unfolds, but you're never left feeling as though this is a Metal Gear Solid 2 style of game. The action comes thick and fast in this title and the battles of earlier levels are much easier than they were in the first. Apart from the bosses, which have been ramped in difficulty according to the hype. Personally I have to say this is true, since it took me a good few tries to kick the ass of the first boss I encountered. Once you get used to the system however, you can despatch enemies quickly and slaughter your way around the game with the best of them. It's been seriously refined from the first one and the addition of collecting the purple orb souls to give you Oni power adds a tactical element to the combat that's often missing from games like this. Do you gather that last purple orb and use the Oni power on minions or try and get one from a boss so you can power up and beat them down quicker?

So as a quick synopsis, the gameplay is faster, more fluid and a hell of a lot better than Onimusha.

In number 2 there's the not so welcome return of old favourites like puzzle boxes and various other puzzles. But so far I didn't really find them too much of a hassle, they make you think and if you like this kind of thing, you'll love Onimusha 2 even more. There's also the inclusion of the 'gift' system to complicate and liven things up a little. You see in 2 Jubei meets a few new friends, and if you give them certain items they become more inclined to help you out in a fight. You might have to talk to them a couple of times to get an idea of what they want, but if you use your head you can figure it out pretty quickly.

Each item given affects their friendliness statistic with Jubei and can earn you a stalwart companion in coming battles. A nice little touch that gives the game a better feel and again a feeling of tactical combat - some are better equipped for battle than others. Of course, as in the first game you'll find that you'll end up with the chance to control a couple of them as you progress further into the story. Your character might become trapped or stuck and you must then use this new alternate character to get past a new series of challenges. This can be influenced by whom you're friends with. So it does have a bearing on how much of the game you see.

The secondary characters have all got armour and weapons that you can either find as them, on side quests, or even as Jubei and give as gifts, again another nice feature that encourages you to explore the game even more deeply. Back to soul collecting though, your main character can seal the souls of demons and defeated enemies into his right hand, gaining red, yellow, blue or purple souls from battles. It all depends on how quick you are at learning the combat system and the moves, once you do pick it up you'll find that you can often get single kills and a lot of various souls.

Save the game at one of the numerous magic mirrors that are placed around, and you get the chance to enhance your weapons, armour and equipment at the screen (This should be familiar to players of the first one) Here you can fill up your weapons with various red souls you collect. When you have enough, the weapon will change as it levels up and gain a new more devastating second attack, which of course consumes Mana as always. Blue orbs restore this.

Seals are back, and require of course, the correct weapon to open. Part of the charm of the first game I always thought. I haven't encountered any level based seals yet, but I've played enough of the game to want to see it through to the end. The in game graphics are simply wonderful and very atmospheric and the CGI which cuts in from time to time, is just as good as the intro CGI and blends pretty darn well into the whole.

Familiar locations from Onimusha make their return in the sequel and you'll get to visit parts of the game from a new angle. With the new high resolution graphics these have not just been stolen of course and rendered up, these have been redrawn and feature broken doors and new areas, they have a familiar feel but they don't quite feel the same - which adds to the atmosphere and I think this is what the developers and artists were trying to create.

Sounds in Onimusha 2 cannot be faulted, and the musical score is simply excellent, it drives the story on with a forceful beat that transports you back to the time period as you cut a swath of destruction through your enemies, desperate to get that last soul that might give you a new level of power for one of your weapons. Ambient sound again is excellent, once more drawing you in and providing the much needed atmosphere, there's not much that I can say on it. Voice acting is medium to good, some of the actors are great, a few are the typical variety found in these sorts of games - but nothing that detracts or spoils the game.

There are probably many more things that I could say about Onimusha 2 but most of them would spoil the game for you, so I'll leave you with these final words.

Onimusha 2 is a cracking sequel to one of the genre defining games of the last year or so, it's bigger and better than its predecessor and certainly captures the flavour of the original, improving on it in every way. It deserves a place on every gamers shelf and has an instant appeal to those who like a little more action than the Resident Evil games.