Onimusha: Warlords Review
By now we should all be aware of a little game called Onimusha: Warlords, and its history. When Capcom first went to work on Onimusha, they were planning on releasing it for the Nintendo 64, but then realized that the console wouldn't be able to live out 1/4 of Capcom's expectations for the game. So they cancelled it within a matter of weeks and began developing the Playstation version, at the beginning of 1999. They would reach the 45% development mark, when the Playstation 2 was officially announced and units were sent to developers. So once again, Capcom decided to halt Onimusha, and take what they already did on the PSOne version, give it a major overhaul in visual performance and continue from where they left off. Ever since 2000, Onimusha has been one of the PS2's most anticipated games, alongside SSX, The Bouncer and Madden NFL 2001. At The SIGGRAPH event last year, Onimusha took home the "Best of Show" award for its outstanding visual achievement, and blend of samurai/horror action. A few nay-sayers went out and criticized the game as being a Resident Evil game with Japanese armory and weaponry, such as swords, spears, and bows [accompanied by arrows]. Surely this was no covered up re-hash of a previous Capcom title with swords, but instead a game that will start a brand new franchise for Capcom. Then prove that history can repeat itself, in the gaming world at least. Onimusha would make waves all across Japan, when it was launched there in January 2001. In a matter of 30 days, Capcom shipped nearly 900,000 copies, the sell through percentile was approximately 80%, with over 710,000 copies sold, and the number is still increasing as we speak. A mere three weeks pass by and Capcom gives us the full scoop on the game's final release date for the US, it would turn out to be March 15th. Thankfully I didn't have to wait much, since Capcom was kind enough to give me Onimusha ten days before it was released, so here I am providing you a review and a hoard of screenshots, of this hugely anticipated title.
Just a little while ago, PS2 owners were treated to what may very well be one of the most gorgeous videogames of all time. But glaring at Square's The Bouncer right in the eyes is Capcom's samurai survival-horror game, Onimusha: Warlords. For those who have read my The Bouncer review or even took a glimpse at it, noticed that I gave the game a near perfect score of 9.7 for the visuals. And you who are reading this review notice a 9.7 sticker tagged next to the graphics category as well, why so you ask? Let me do the explaining. It's the little differences that make Square's game the better looker than Capcom's game in the environments field. We have the controversial pre-rendered backgrounds. Onimusha's got them and frankly they look amazing, but folks we live in the 128-Bit era, pre-renders are a thing of the past, they belong on a console like the PSOne. I don't dislike pre-rendered environments, they just shouldn't be used on a console as powerful as the Playstation 2. On the other hand, Square, who is also known for implementing tons of pre-renders, introduced us to fully real-time backgrounds. For the most part The Bouncer's atmosphere looks sovereign over Onimusha's, but that is not say that Onimusha's backgrounds look bad. Like I said before, the backgrounds look fantastic, and show a ton of detail such as blood, dead bodies, spears, bows, arrows and many other objects, it's just that I think we need to go with a more life-like look in today's games.
Winning the 2000 SIGGRAPH "Best of show" pretty much sums Onimusha's graphics doesn't it? Warlords sports a mind-boggling 10,000 polygons per character! That of course is the highest polygon count in any videogame to date, hell The Bouncer has roughly 7,000 polygons per character, that's still a far cry from 10,000. Even though the characters in Square's beat-em-up look stunning and move almost as if they were motion captured, the overall character detail is noticeably better in Onimusha. For one reason, in Onimusha the characters are far larger in size than The Bouncer's characters, hence why they feature more polygons. The character detail is absolutely marvelous, Samanosuke, the game's main character, is overflowing with visual flare. For starters if you find his Holy Armor in the game, his appearance will change and his torso will be covered with gold, it looks really sweet. His body detail is phenomenal as well, he's sculpted almost flawlessly. His face, being the most realistic looking feature of his whole body, looks exactly like the Japanese heart-throb he was modeled after, Takeshi Kaneshiro.
Aside from all of the polygonal talk, Onimusha also features some of the most beautiful CG animations I've seen in a long time. While the quality and sheer appeal is as gorgeous as The Bouncer's, Onimusha's wonderful looking scenery just makes these CG cut-scenes even more enjoyable to watch. Onimusha also features some luscious special effects such as thunder and fire, which can be created by the swing of your sword. I would have an incredibly hard time figuring out which game looks better, on one hand we have The Bouncer and its amazingly great looking backgrounds, on the other we have Onimusha and its amazing looking characters. If you ask me, both cancel each other out, and what we have is a good ol' fashion tie. As far as I'm concerned, Onimusha: Warlords and The Bouncer are the two best looking games out there, period!
To say that Onimusha is a Resident Evil with swords isn't saying enough, in fact, it isn't saying 'anything'! When Capcom decided to first release Dino Crisis, people enjoyed the game and thought that it was a nice move by Capcom, but the game didn't really sidestep away from the whole Resident Evil fiasco. It played like Resident Evil with dinosaurs, the second one although took that detour to another dimension. Dino Crisis 2 wasn't the same dated RE material we have become so used to, instead it was a fast paced action game, that rewarded you with points for pulling out multiple kill combos. The Resident Evil scent was still present, after all, the camera and the signature Resident Evil control was still at hand to the gamer, right? Even if that was the case, DC2 was still a game on its own, and a good one at that. Onimusha is much like DC2, it plays nothing like the game, but Capcom took similar steps with Onimusha as they did with Dino Crisis 2. Instead of using the same old re-hashed Resident Evil formula, it seems as if Capcom had been playing Eidos' gothic and grim title Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.
As scary as it is, Onimusha is a mix between Soul Reaver, Zelda, Bushido Blade and a little hint of Resident Evil (control and camera styles). You see, Onimusha: Warlords takes place in Feudal Japan, 1560, and I'm sure you can already imagine the scenery. But you may be surprised and your thoughts may just get the best of you. Even though Onimusha takes place during the 1500's, the enemies that you encounter may look more sci-fi than fiction. For instance there is a ninja demon, with three neon bulbs as his eyes across his head, now who would believe that light existed in the 1500's? I'm not really discounting points for that, I'm just trying to point out that the game's enemies aren't what you'd think they are -other Samurai warriors with swords-, and that just makes this game even better.
When you start a new game, you will be treated to what is without a doubt the best videogame intro since Xenogears. It shows a battle scene with tons of action, violence and gore. And its ending is the most surprising of any game out there as well, the intro CG of Onimusha is just a crumb of what the game has to offer. Onimusha got a pretty good story, one that we've seen before, just not as gruesome. The princess has been kidnapped, and like any other game when it comes down to a situation like this, you Samanosuke Akechi (the "U" is silent in the first name), must go out and rescue her. Princess Yuki is not only part of Japan's royalty, she is also Samanosuke's cousin, making him a member of the Japanese Royal Family as well. Accompanying him [Samanosuke] will be Kaede, a female ninja who was first hired to kill Samanosuke, but in the end learned to trust him and became his sidekick. Even though Samanosuke is the game's main protagonist, Kaede will also come into play at times, when it is necessary for her to do so. Samanosuke is a swordsman, and throughout the game you will be granted three different weapon orbs (lighting, fire, and wind), each with their special effects such as opening doors and giving the corresponding weapon an extra power. Kaede doesn't have orbs, but instead uses knives such as a flaming knife and shorter dagger like knives called 'Kunai', used for throwing.
Onimusha's Soul Reaver effect comes into play throughout the whole game. In the beginning of the game, Samanosuke is granted an arm gauntlet that sucks souls after an enemy has been killed (everybody reading this says to themselves: "he wasn't kidding when he mentioned this game being like Soul Reaver"). These souls will give Samanosuke either life up, magic up, or special magic points that he can use to upgrade a selected weapon or orb. Upgrading orbs is very important if you want to be able to continue in the game, the higher the level is on an orb, the bigger doors it will open. As for upgrading swords, it isn't really necessary, but suggested for future and tougher battles to go smoother. What's great about Onimusha's action is that it doesn't require you to hold down a button and then press another button for your character to use his weapon, like it is in Resident Evil titles. Instead, you can hit the R1 button for a stance, but just pressing Square alone will make the characters pull off an attack. If you connect your sword with flesh, then keep tapping the button for a combo attack. If you want to try something new, use the attack button and press a directional button as well. An orb affects your weapon by allowing you to unleash its power by hitting the Triangle button, doing so the selected weapon will let loose a charge of what its corresponding orb possesses (lighting, wind or fire). But still Onimusha does have that Resident Evil taste, it still has those changing camera views, which still work great by the way, and that everlasting control scheme where the digital is the only accepted form of movement. Onimusha's only real problem is one that has hit every single survival-horror game that Capcom has produced, that's right, the game's a bit on the short side. 5-6 hours is all you need to beat the game, but chances are that you'll want to play through this title again.
A lot like The Bouncer, this game also has voice acting to unfold the story through the real-time scenes, and even though the facial movements to accompany the voice acting, is far off, the quality of the acting in general is pretty good. The voices are very legible, easy to understand and the ability to switch between Japanese and English voice overs and text is a great addition. But there is something that bugs me about the voice acting, there's hesitation between reactions, during a cut-scene with two or more people talking, it happens in certain areas, but not all. As Capcom has done in the past, the background sounds are incredibly spooky and eerie, this makes the atmosphere feel just right, thanks to the tension that some of the tunes can build up.
Resident Evil junkies will love the fact that Onimusha controls like a Resident Evil game. The 'up' button is to move your character, left and right will make him/her turn when the character is moving and tapping 'down' will make your character leap back a few feet. When using Kaede and facing an opponent, hold R1 and press up or down, she will be able to leap in the air and jump over him, or she can flip backward to gain some space. The control quickly grows on you and you'd be surprised how effective it is, thanks to a button that allows you to guard attacks, using herbs for healing won't be as frequent as it is in RE games. What bites is that you can't use the analog stick for moving your character around, and that is something I prefer to have in all action/adventure games.
In the end, you probably don't care what I would've said to you regarding a purchase of Onimusha. Chances are that this game will break the 1 million sales barrier here in the states, and eventually in Japan, and you know what? It definitely should. I urge gamers out there to pick up Onimusha as soon as it arrives in stores, I strongly advise you to pre-order the game NOW! If the Japanese version is any indication of how the US copy will do, then we should prepare ourselves for one strong selling title. I should also mention the amount of money that Capcom will pour into Onimusha's marketing campaign which will include, TV commercials, print ads, online ads, and even radio marketing. With Onimusha's breathtaking visuals and impressive gameplay, I assure gamers of all kind will enjoy this classic title, especially Resident Evil fans! And so the wait for Onimusha ends and the wait for Devil May Cry begins... now!
3/12/2001 Arnold Katayev