Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny Review
Last year, Capcom released the award winning Onimusha: Warlords for the PlayStation 2. Featuring incredibly detailed pre-rendered backgrounds, magical weapons, and a Resident Evil inspired control scheme, Onimusha: Warlords quickly rose up the ranks of must-have PS2 games. Now Capcom releases Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny featuring even more incredible backgrounds, two new weapons, and five playable characters. Once again, it's time to unsheathe that sword and suck up as many souls as you can, and release the power of the Oni.
Graphically, the game is nothing short of astounding. The pre-rendered backgrounds are now sharper and more detailed than the original. Superb water effects are used for ponds, rivers and oceans that are almost on par with the water effects of graphical gargantuan Resident Evil on the Nintendo GameCube. The character and enemy models are built and rendered well, and the only minor flaws are noticeable during the in-game cut scenes. However, the enemy design is not quite as creative of its predecessor since most of the same monsters are used. Yet, the boss designs are just as remarkable. The game moves at a silky smooth 60 frame-per-second, but there are a few instances where there is some painfully obvious slowdown. It also must be said that the CG cinemas are much more impressive (although there are less) than Warlords'. In fact, they are so remarkable and full of imagination, they rival those found in the jaw-dropping gorgeous Final Fantasy X. This is truly the most visually impressive PlayStation 2 game to come out this year.
Ten years ago, the demon Nobunaga was defeated by a young samurai name Samanosuke. The Kind of Demons was not altogether beaten, and he vowed to achieve his ancient ambition of forcing all of Japan under his oppressive rule. Evil does not go unmatched, however. Now a new samurai Jubei Yagyu, after Nobunaga's demon army burned his village, vows not only to avenge his people, but also to kill Nobunaga and all demons in his path. Upon his quest, he realizes that the task may be too much for him alone, so he must seek the help of comrades. With his trusty blade and his newfound partners aiding him, he presses on to fulfill his destiny and kill Nobunaga.
Fans of the original will have no problem falling in love with the sequel. Pretty much everything is familiar from the RE style control scheme, to sucking souls in order to level up weapons, to the puzzle boxes that contain a wide assortment of items. There are a number of significant changes and improvements that sets this title apart from its predecessor. The greatest step up in the franchise is that of four playable sub-characters. Like Kaede in last year's title, you will come across parts in the game where you will assume the roles of Oyu, Ekei, Magoichi, and Kotaro, each with their own weapons and styles of moves. What sets this apart from Warlords is that several times, they will aid you in combat, fighting with you side by side. The frequency of their visits and whether or not you will be able to play as them is determined by how well you befriend them early in the game.
There is one major feature in Onimusha 2 that you need to know the importance of if you want their help in the game. You will come across many gift items that you can give to these characters in exchange for useful items and friendship. You must pay attention to what they want, however, in order for you to make them happy. For instance, the gunsmith and rifleman Magoichi loves to enrich his mind with knowledge, so give him books of interest and you will see him more and more. Ekei is a connoisseur of foreign liquors, so give him all the drinks you can. You can also buy them armors and weapons at the store when you're in town. Give it to them and if you are able to play as them, you can use those weapons and armors as you take control of them. There is a lot of tedious item trading and collecting but experimentation produces great results.
New to the Onimusha franchise is a village where you can talk and interact with many people. There is a shop where you can purchase items, and you can collect gold pieces from slain enemies. This marks the first time in this franchise where currency is used. Also in this village is a restaurant and inn (although you cannot sleep in it) where you will meet these new sub-characters. As you progress through the game, you will make a couple of return visits to the village, but in the totality of the game, it seems a little distracting from the gameplay. It tends to slow the pace of the gameplay down a notch, and sort of takes away the game's survival horror-esque feel. Somehow, talking to a living, circulating group of people doesn't quite instill the sense of fear as the more solitary Warlords.
The two new weapons of Onimusha 2 are the spear and the hammer, with two new powers-ice and earth respectfully. Just as with the other two blades, each weapon has its own magic, or Ogre Power. With a tap of the triangle, a devastating elemental attack will be unleashed and again, just as in Warlords, each weapon can be leveled up by collecting souls, and thus increasing the strength of the elemental attacks. Gone is the requirement of leveling up a sword to a certain level to break seals on doors. Instead, just the necessary weapon is all that is needed. Also, there is no new armor to be found. Yet, you can upgrade the body, arm and leg armors you have now by enhancing them with souls. The bow and gun have also return to allow you to attack from a distance to take out archers, or when you would rather not take on a massive enemy up close.
The combat has also vastly improved over that of the first Onimusha. You can still stick and move, guard and strafe, and perform the nasty Issen counterattack moves. Now you can also perform special moves via button combinations after you find the special move scrolls. There are also scrolls that allow you to charge up your weapons to perform vicious attacks without using any of your Ogre Power. Perhaps the greatest feature in Onimusha 2's combat is collecting Purple Souls. Collect five Purple Souls and you will transform into the Onimusha. Surrounded with a blazing purple aura, you are able to deal out greater damage without any being inflicted upon you. As soon as you become the Onimusha, a meter will begin to drain. Once this meter is drained, you will revert back to Jubei Yagyu. Collect Purple Orbs when you are the Onimusha to replenish your meter.
Audio wise, the game compliments the visuals like jelly does peanut butter. The sound effects of the hack-and-slashing are brutally wet. The footsteps sound very realistic whether you're plodding on wood, sloshing in water or slipping through blood and gore. The metallic clanging of swords gets your heart pumping in the heat of battle, and there's nothing like hearing the deafening thud of a huge war hammer being slammed into the ground. The music is orchestrated marvelously and sets the mood of the game perfectly. The voice acting is the only audio quality that falters. Most of the cast performs well enough, but others just seem to lack a bit of direction. The voice of Jubei Yagyu sounds like a David Hayter wannabe-too rough and guttural-and the voice of Ekei sounds too amateurish when the plights of corny dialogue are exploited. It's far from first-generation Resident Evil voice acting, but it's like a pothole in a normally smooth ride.
What plagues Onimusha 2, once again, is the dreaded control scheme that Capcom insists on using over and over again. Not only is it limited and restricted, but it's incredibly dated and takes away some enjoyment of the game -- particularly during tense moments where more than three enemies are on screen. Sure the 180 degree turn button is useful, but it's not quite as useful as having full control over your character's movements. Onimusha 2's controls are at the point where it's already getting annoying. Granted, it does have fixed camera angles, but so does Devil May Cry, and it controlled like a dream. To make something clear, we're not saying that the game isn't playable with the old control scheme, in fact it still plays incredibly well, we're just getting pretty tired of the two-dimensional controls (term used loosely) that Capcom keeps using with their Resident Evil and Onimusha titles. To add some praise to this column of the review, Lucas and I are both quite fond of the counter-attack feature implemented in the game. If timed correctly your designated character will unleash a counter-attack and instantly kill the enemy who was milliseconds away from making contact with you, it's a really sweet addition to an already excellent title.
All in all, Onimusha 2 is worth every dollar for fans of the first. It is strongly suggested that those unfamiliar with the franchise at least rent it and give it a spin. It's easy to get into (if you're not a stickler about RE-style control schemes) and gives the truest hardcore gamers more than enough action and difficulty to keep them playing for weeks. Yes, the 20-level Phantom Realms have returned and continue to reward you handsomely for your efforts. Plus, there is a wealth of goodies to be enjoyed by anyone dedicated enough to play this game through and through. The only deductible faults would be several rehashed Warlords screens and a leveling up system that is much slower than the first, forcing you to fight more often if you want your weapons and armor maxed out. Still, Capcom is known for making many AAA titles and they can tack on Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny to their resumes. Buy it!
9/5/2002 Lucas Stephens and Arnold Katayev