Onimusha 3: Demon Siege
System: PlayStation 2 :: Rating: Mature :: Players: 1
Genre: Action :: Released: 27 April 2004
By Morphine Jim
Are samurai games the new stealth? Nah, don't be silly. Stealth is an over-hyped exercise in futility that's found itself falling awkwardly into every single third person game that dares to try and cover its own unimaginative tracks with poor implementation of a poor genre. Samurai, well, they're just friggin' cool as well as boasting 500 years of being regarded as cool. Cool as they are though, this year has seen a ridiculous amount of heavily armoured, katana swinging Japanese fellows filling our hearts with their honour and ability to not be quite as cool as a Ninja. Samurai Warriors, Way Of The Samurai, Seven Samurai, Samurai Jack, the list goes on, and those are just the ones that have the word in their titles. This game, however, does not have the word in its title, but is indeed another game about Japanese soldiers from ye olde days. It is also, however, the third installment of a much respected Samurai game that not only shows the newcomers how it's done, but gives us what ranks up there among the greatest Threequels ever made. IT HAS SAMURAI IN IT!!
First there was Resident Evil, then there was Devil May Cry. From their fevered loins sprang Capcom's bastard child Onimusha, a game that took the control, style and puzzley-ness from Resi and threw in some soul collecting, sword swinging action from... Devi... I suppose you could call it. If you were an idiot. It was a cult success, telling the tale of heroic Samurai Samonosuke Akechi as he tries to put a stop to historical figure-turned resurrected Demon lover Nobunaga Oda and his plans to rule Japan. The sequel, which I (ME! ME!) reviewed, told the story of Jubei Yagyu, a very ugly man who took on the role of Oda-slayer after Samanosuke just sort of... disappeared. Over the two titles the plot involved a giant snake called Fortinbras, a bunch of guys called the Oni who fought against the demons in "ye really olde days" and a giant "Golden Evil Statue" that was just one of the most messed up bosses ever created. Both these games were very, very good, with an epic sense of storytelling, despite it being rather silly, a cool score and graphics, not to mention fun gameplay, leveling-up elements and plenty of bonus features. The Onimusha series has always provided one with a rousing experience, even if you don't know what the hell is up with it all it's all about the rousing, baby.
Which brings us to the third installment, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege the most rouse-tastic of the Onimushas ever. It's the perfect sequel in every way possible, feeling instantly different yet ultimately familiar right from the get go. It's not without its faults, but then, when is any game (unless you're a Zelda fanboy)? It's better than nearly any other threequel you'll find, and is simply justification for the word epic.
'Musha 3 brings the hero from the first game, Samonosuke, back into the spotlight as the war between the Demons and humans. Except they're not called Demons anymore. We're supposed to remember they're called Genma. So start calling them it now. Do it! Nobunaga has been resurrected after his defeat at the hands of ugly ol' Jubei and is now the king of the Genma. An army has been raised by Mitsuhide Akechi to finally put a stop to Nobunaga. After an awesome, awesome opening movie, Old Sammy joins up with Mitsuhide and prepares for the final battle with Nobunaga. But then, final battles never go quite as planned, do they? Just as Sammy and The Nob square up, everyone's favourite soul sucker gets swallowed up by a time portal. Typical. Cue a relocation to Paris, France in the year 2004 as an entire Genma army appears from 500 years in the past to lay waste to the French masses. A million xenophobic Americans cheer in glee as the surrender monkeys get eviscerated by the demonic hordes, turning the city of love into a cavern of destruction within minutes. In the crossover, Frenchman Jacques, otherwise known as "Jean Reno, the coolest burlap-faced Frenchman in Hollywood" gets sucked into Japan's past, ten days before the fated final battle. With a little fairy thing called Ako buzzing back and forth through time, Jacques and Samonosuke must face the Genma in two different places, in two different eras.
What this all adds up to is the videogame equivalent of the classic Summer action movie. This is the holiday blockbuster of video games, people. The time traveling plot adds something completely fresh to the Onimusha series, especially the inclusion of Jean Reno as a modern, saggy Frenchman trapped in Warring States Japan to pump up the coolness factor a little. Though Reno is of course the highlight as far as characters go, Samonosuke does good as an ancient warrior fighting in the far flung future. Though sadly there's no Crocodile Dundee-esque antics as the loveable Samurai tries to work out what a bidet is for. Nobunaga of course, is a supreme baddie, despite keeping the 'Musha trend by sticking to the backbench and casting a dark shadow of proceedings rather than popping up throughout the game. His collection of henchmen, however, with their over-the-top performances and generally cool appearances, from the past and future versions of Mori Ranmaru, to Nobunaga's big green wife, give us a great cast of characters whose cutscenes I found myself looking forward to, playing on solely to see another one. Naturally, however, there's only one character who really deserves the credit, making a popular return from his obscure appearances in the original Oni title. Yes, Guildenstern, the snail-headed, squeaky voiced skeletal scientist is back, and the major villain for much of the game. You have no idea how much I love Snailhead.
Anyway, despite Onimusha 3 deserving every word on its story and characters, I ought to press on and talk about the really important bit the gameplay. Firstly, and most importantly, 'Musha 3 ditches the Resi-Evil style control scheme, pre-rendered backdrops and fixed camera perspectives that prevailed in the first two games. What this means, essentially, is that you no longer have to move Sam and Jacques around like some sort of demented forklift truck (I am actually a qualified lift truck operator, don'cha know) and as a result, the combat which has taken a bigger role this time feels so much more intuitive and flows better. Okay, so there are a few, a very few, drawbacks to the change, namely the few occasions when the camera is fixed causes confusion when it switches perspective. You all know the feeling of running merrily along before suddenly walking backwards when the scene changes. Plus of course, I was compelled to spend the first minute hitting the X button and expecting Samonosuke to jump. Amazing how a switch to the analogue stick makes you instantly assume your character can jump. I got over it. You won't even notice it, because you are not as stupid as I am.
As I said, Oni 3 is a more combat heavy title, and it remains simple and effective, except it feels quicker and more enjoyable as the result of the freed up movement and of course, the 3D real-time environments. As with all the 'Mushas, you hammer your square button to whack the enemies with your sword until they fall down. Managing to hit a floor-bound enemy allows you to drive your weapon through their wretched, damnable heart, or in the case of Jacques, place a foot on them and execute them pistol-to-the-face style. You can also unleash magic attacks with a simple push of the triangle button and also keep an enemy targeted without attacking to build up energy and hit 'em with a more powerful move. While Sam continues tradition by hammering his demonic foes with swords, axes and spears, Jacques is given a selection of whips to collect throughout the game which mix things up a little and generally make Genma-bashing look damn pretty. Plus you can wrap the whip round an enemy's neck and then shoot the slobbering bastard in the head, which is always cool. For a small amount of the game, you also get to control Jacque's premium tart Michelle, who comes packing machine gunnery and lobbed grenadery. Fun while it's there.
Making a return, of course, is the old soul-sucking routine that's been a series standby. Both Sam and Jacques have an Oni gauntlet, which you'll need to use to suck up souls little floaty lights that the Genma dissolve into when defeated. These souls restore health and magic, though mostly you'll use them as save points to enhance your weapons, armour and gauntlet the basic leveling-up seen in most modern actioners. If you're lucky, the corpses of the slain will yield purple souls which allow you to temporarily turn into Oni a purple, white haired, invincible mofo when you collect five. Unlike in Onimusha 2, you won't automatically turn into Oni when you get five purple souls allowing you to save it for a tight situation or boss fight which is a much better alternative than becoming the Genma-destroying, unbeatable muvvafukka three seconds after you already killed everything. Smacking about Genma can be pretty addictive, laying out the enemy and seeing how many souls you can suck up before the next wave of attacks always serves to be an exhilarating experience, and the special moves are just freakin' great when used at the perfect moment.
So, combat feels nicer, but it also feels pretty damn cheap at times. Sure, a lot of the enemies are pretty meaty in themselves, but the problem doesn't lie in their difficulty as opponents but in the shit hand you get dealt sometimes. For instance, when you get knocked on the floor, your character lies there for a while before rolling and clambering up to his feet. 70% of the time I saw myself getting clobbered when halfway through this animation. Plus, many of the enemies won't flinch no matter how hard you're hitting them. Though there's something to be said for hammering insanely at a giant pig while he lifts his arms to smash you in the hope of killing him before he lands the blow, there's nothing to be said for being stuck halfway through a combo only for the Genmatic bastard to ignore your serving of pain and smack you on your arse. Of course there's blocking and countering and all that jazz which helps even the score, but those tricks aren't all that usable and no amount of blocking will help you when you can't stop an attack animation. The other problem with fighting is the targeting. It is shit. Especially in a room with ground-based foes and airborne demons, while you're trying to lock onto some guy who's right in your face and you're looking up to the clouds at some screeching winged thing. It wouldn't be so bad, but there's an auto-lock as well as a manual one so you'll always have a hard time hitting the guy you want. It's not like you can't get over it for the most part, but wait until you finally fight Guildenstern. Ugh, never before has crap targeting been so soul destroying. The main bulk of fighting is actually pretty sweet when you're facing your enemies one at a time, you get into the swing of things, but fighting a crowd of Genma can be very, very frustrating and can serve to sap the fun out of it sometimes.
At least the majority of boss battles are pretty damn good though. Big, bold and once more, epic. It's little more than avoiding their selection of attacks and knowing when to hit back, but even so, it feels good to do. When you really get into the swing of a boss fight, it's a blast sometimes even over too quickly. Unless it's the two headed dog. No time for the two headed dog.
Resi-Evil style puzzling is still prevalent throughout the game and many make use of the time traveling fairy Ako to shift between modern day Samonosuke and Daimyo era Jacques, helping each other out through the centuries. Of course, the majority of these instances are mere showpiece puzzles and never require much thought to work. It basically involves finding an item and sending it through time for the other guy, or doing something as Jacques in the past that'll affect Sam in the future, once the two warriors start wandering around the same environments, just in different times. Easy enough stuff, find a little plant, put it in some soil near a wall as Jacques, then Sammo can climb down the fully grown tree in his time. They're well thought out puzzles though, very cleverly implemented stuff throughout. The rest of the puzzles are your typical key finding fare with a few real brainteasers thrown in. One highlight includes a timed memory game, reminiscent of my frustrating days playing the Sega Genesis version of Pitfall's button pressing minigame, remembering a sequence of buttons, then reproducing it. Classic stuff, but it's also damn tense and works great in the game.
Also thrown into the mix are helpful extras such as locked boxes which require fiendish classic Oni-style panel puzzles to unlock, and finding special vests for the stupid fairy Ako that hovers around you all the time. Different vests give Ako different skills that help you out on your journey. Though you need to collect special hidden Edo stones to power the garments up before use. Some of the vests are helpful, others are useless, but it's a nice little extra that serves only to bolster the whole package.
All this aside, there's something else to this title that sets it apart from others of it's type, and that's the sheer beauty of some of the sections. The locations and set-pieces you'll come across really provide one hell of an experience, such as Jacques using his whip to surf on a glacier and cross a lake, to the brilliant part where you summon an army of Oni to fight the approaching Genma hordes and fight your way to The Nob's castle with the battle raging around you. It's stuff like this that makes Demon Siege one hell of a ride, that far outweighs any annoyances that may come with the fighting. There's nothing like fighting an insane zombie Ranmaru at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Nothing.
To accompany the action movie feel of the game come some swish graphics. Well, it's to be expected, innit? With fully 3D backgrounds, naturally, the pre-rendered backgrounds have gone, which means no more picturesque backdrops. Fortunately, the real-time environments are of the highest quality, with impressive renditions of the Arc De Triumphe and some beautiful dungeon areas, drawn with some pleasing attention to detail. Once Sam and Jacques end up in the same place, traveling back and forth through time shows the work that's gone into the environments, as the sparklingly new and fully fitted areas in Jacque's time period become ancient, dilapidated surroundings in Samonosuke's current era. The characters all look the business too, especially the main stars, modeled on their real life actors Jean Reno and Takeshi Kaneshiro. The Genma retain the classic design style of previous games, with the glowing eye-trails and jittery animations. The story of the game unfolds through game engine cutscenes and are all incredibly well done, especially the modern day ones.
Kudos of course, must go to the opening movie, a nigh on six minute piece of cinema quality FMV beauty that is easily on par with anything Square-Enix has ever done. Seriously, if you don't want to play this game, at least check out the opener it's a doozy.
Soundwise, the voice acting is the biggest improvement. The bad martial arts quality acting in the first two is replaced with some more professional work. Although I'm wondering what happened to Jean Reno somewhere in the process. Seriously... is it just his face in the game? Ah well, Samonosuke finally delivers his lines without ten-minute gaps in between each word and the cast of villains are hammily performed to great effect. Sound effects are solid, though nothing to really write home about. Some bigger sounds during the set pieces would've been appreciated, especially the sections that involve warfare between the goodies and the Genma. Musically, however, Onimusha 3 is a triumph. It's orchestral score is one of the best soundtracks in recent gaming history, really adding to the pomp and flare of the whole thing. L'Thumbs up, says moi.
Epic storytelling, without losing the overall silliness of it's themes
Really engaging set pieces, environments and puzzles
Looks damn good
Orchestral, epic music
Great boss battles
An abundance of cheap shots and some crummy targeting
Some of the puzzles could've been deeper
Over a tad too quickly
And The Samonosuke:
On presentation alone, Onimusha 3 kicks all different kinds of ass. Luckily, the gameplay's not too shabby either. Sure, combat can be annoying and the puzzles aren't going to give a Rubik's Cube anything to worry about, but whenever the game hits the nail on the headwhich is frequentit wipes away all memories of whatever niggling negatives it produces. All this is without even mentioning the glorious plethora of unlockable extras, from hidden costumes to minigames, and even a subchapter for one of the supporting characters. 'Musha 3 simply oozes quality and drips in production value, managing to back up the aesthetic charms with some damn enjoyable playtime. It's a game about moments as opposed to a continuous stream, like many a classic movie, and the final chapter in Nobunaga's rise to demonhood is packed full of the classic moments. From the attack on Paris, to Jacques and Sam fighting side by side and of course, the final confrontation with the Demon King himself, Onimusha 3 has everything you need in an adventure game. This game alone justifies the entire Onimusha trilogy, up there with such classics as the Alien movies before it turned shit, and of course, the Look Who's Talking franchise. The dogs! They were talking NOW.
And I bestow upon it a Genmariffic: 90%
"Maggots like you will burn in hell." Guildenstern.