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April 21, 2001
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 Overall Score: *96*ESRB Rating: Mature (M)

Onimusha: Warlords [Sony Playstation 2] 

by Capcom  Reviewed by: Mike David  


ScreenshotOverview

The noble samurai Samanosuke has seen his share of war and death. But with the return of a long dead General and the cryptic message from a kidnapped princess, Samanosuke is about to see a lot more.

A demon horde, undead samurai, and a whole mess of trouble await Samanosuke as he attempts to rescue Princess Yuki. The demon horde has been planning a takeover of the human world for a long time. Everything down to the last detail has been thought out and carefully executed. The one thing they didn’t count on is a mystical band of Ogres uniting their power and giving it to Samanosuke in a last ditch effort to destroy the legendary evil.

Enter the world of Onimusha: Warlords and give a little payback to some really nasty creatures. Prepare yourself for blood to be spilled, magic to be used, and the splitting of a giant demon as you slice him in half with the power of a lightning infused sword. Take an actual event in Japanese history and splice it with an engaging story of fantasy and redemption and you have the first A-list game for the PS2.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Welcome to the world of Resident Evil, 16th century Japan-style. Onimusha takes place during the actual historical battle on the plain of Okehazama, 1560 AD. If you have played Resident Evil you’ll feel right at home. The same changing camera angles are present, coupled with the same movement interface. Pressing forward on the directional pad (or analog stick) will move your character forward even if he is running across the screen. The part of the interface that is different is the combat factor; while playing, combat is up close and fast. In Resident Evil you primarily shoot your enemies, but in Onimusha you will get close and personal as you slice and dice through your opponents using the various swords acquired throughout the game. Since combat is primarily melée, Samanosuke moves much faster than you would expect, providing some really cool fighting sequences. Imagine: Samanosuke enters a new room. There, five undead samurai amble toward him. Samanosuke draws his sword and runs towards them. Faster than you can say “giblets,” he has sliced through the first three, kicked the forth in the chest and activated the fire orb on his gauntlet which turns his final cut on the fifth zombie into barbeque. No, this is not a cut-scene, this is typical of the fights that occur in the game. They’re fast, fun, and greatly improve on the Resident Evil engine which could only be previously described as “slow.”

Toward the beginning of the game, it is determined that Samanosuke is one bad dude; that is, when he’s fighting humans. After getting beaten down by a giant demon, Samanosuke is visited by the remaining spirits of a long gone Ogre clan. Sensing the nobility and purpose of Samanosuke, the Ogres combine the remainder of their once great power into a forged gauntlet that is given to our hero. When used, the gauntlet takes the escaping life energy of fallen enemies, which in turn converts into health, magic, or orb power. Orbs are magical items that Samanosuke finds along his journey and can be attached to his mystical gauntlet. Each orb utilizes a different magic element that Samanosuke uses to fight his enemies. The blue orb, combined with the gauntlet, makes Samanosuke’s sword launch lightning from the heavens down onto his foes. Likewise, the red orb blazes fire from the blade. There are other orbs to find and use which in turn will create more magic. It’s a simple way to greatly increase your character’s attack power. In addition, occasionally a save station will be found where the recent number of kills (souls) can be used to charge up the orbs. This is necessary for two reasons. One, the magic attack power increases, causing more damage to be inflicted on the more difficult of enemies. Two, throughout the journey strange colored locks are found on doors, which can only be opened by using the orbs. The larger the lock on the door, the more powerful the same colored orb must be.

ScreenshotNow, I stated earlier that you fight primarily using melée weapons. However, you do find the bow and arrows, which obviously can be used from a greater distance. The bow is a welcome addition due to the fact that it becomes necessary to hit enemies from a distance, especially when your health is low. Fortunately, health can be found in the form of herbs (Resident Evil style), medicine, and strange fountains that are found periodically throughout the game, which restore all health and magic levels. Don’t worry, the challenge is still there as monsters constantly regenerate, proving that in order to make it through the entire game, Samanosuke is gonna get bloody.

It is important to mention here how well the areas work with the gameplay. As in all good adventures, the more realistic the locales are, the greater the feel of the game. Expect to adventure in caves, fortresses, and palaces. All of which look authentic and make for a more dramatic gaming experience. The first time I did battle with a demon on the roof of a building was pretty exciting as I wasn’t expecting the fight to occur just then. That coupled with accurate architecture gave the game a greater ambience. Throwing in the creepy fogging effects and moonlight just added the frosting on the cake.

Continuing on, Samanosuke will have to overcome traps and puzzles in order to complete his quest. None of which are too terribly difficult. But in all fairness, you shouldn’t be playing the game for the puzzles. Yes, I wished they were a little more difficult, but it never hindered the gameplay. Puzzles include the Japanese lock boxes, deciphering languages from scrolls and such, and figuring out why there is a little man hanging from the ceiling upside down. Again, while not terribly hard, they are original.

As the adventure continues, Samanosuke runs into several human characters including his assistant/partner Kaede, the female ninja who was once sent to kill him but now follows him with absolute trust. Expect to play as Kaede during the game. Others include the orphan Yumemaru, the deceitful general Toukichiro, and the seemingly omnipotent Nobunaga Oda who catches the wrong end of an arrow to the neck in the opening sequence, but shows up alive and kicking later in the game.

Finally, it should be noted that this game has cut-scenes -- several at the beginning, with a few more throughout the game. The cut-scenes are well done and play like an action movie. One small complaint though, if you have already watched a cut-scene you cannot skip it by pressing a button. You are forced to watch it, whether it’s twice or 50 times.

Graphics

All I can say is that they are beautiful. Whether it’s a cut-scene or actual gameplay, this game delivers on all fronts. Fire and lightning magic look awesome, very bright and sharp, like you’re there. Textures are rendered beautifully with shadows and different lighting effects including the dank dim appearance of dungeons. Humans look photorealistic and the monsters are sooooo evil looking. Bear in mind that a lot of them are taken from Japanese styles (like the demon leader) and although some may look strange they are all designed well. As for lag, there is none -- even when seven monsters are all running around on-screen. Lastly, I really appreciated the body movement of the humans. Samanosuke and Kaede both move like real people using swords, very smooth and natural, not stiff and awkward. The time spent bit-mapping and rendering the characters was so well done my wife first thought I was watching “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Yes, this game plays and looks that good.

Audio

Orchestra quality music, voices that can be chosen to be in English or Japanese, and the clang of swords echoing though the halls of a long abandoned keep. Sounds are very important in a game and one of this quality needs a full soundtrack and sound editing. Both sound authentic and clear as a bell. Play this game on a surround sound system if you can and you will think you are watching a Hollywood big budget movie. And while the voice acting isn’t the absolute best I have heard, it’s far from the worst (again Resident Evil). Whether it’s the dripping of blood off a corpse or the scuffing of a zombie ambling towards you, it all sounds awesome. A quality, thorough job done on all fronts.

ScreenshotBottom Line

The fact that this is a horror video game set in feudal Japan sets it apart, making it original. The fighting engine that powers the game is easy to pick up and enjoyable to watch. Hacking and slashing combined with the finesse of expert swordsmanship is always a plus in my book.

Onimusha has received substantial hype. Not only does it live up to the hype, but it also sets a new standard for the adventure/horror genre -- an original story set to a historical battle, evil villains, a noble quest and a hero who will undoubtedly get his own video game franchise. I believe that the PS2 now has a winner on its hands. In my opinion this game ranks along side of Metal Gear Solid and Deus Ex. This is a must buy for the avid gamer and even if you don’t care for adventure games it should be rented just to see how well the PS2 can pipe out graphics.

Currently, Onimusha: Warlords is the best PS2 game on the market. What are you waiting for? Go get it!

Review Posted On 11 April 2001.

 
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