There’s one thing that can always be said about Capcom: They’re not afraid of innovation for the gaming industry. This is the company that reinvigorated the survival horror genre with Resident Evil, turned fighting games like Street Fighter 2 into a “sport” by itself, and created a stable of worldwide recognizable titles and characters. What makes the company even cooler is the fact that they aren’t afraid to take these franchises and screw around with them to make niche titles. Super Puzzle Fighter II is one example of this experimentation; Devil May Cry’s Dante becoming an animated extra in Viewtiful Joe is another. Well, their latest title breaks the gaming mold yet again, placing heroes and villains from the Onimusha universe in a multiplayer, multi-tiered struggle to find the best fighter amongst them in Onimusha: Blade Warriors.
Owing much more of its gameplay to that of Power Stone, another Capcom series, Blade Warriors isn’t really so much about story as it is focused on action. Players chose from one of 12 initially provided characters. Unlike previous Onimusha titles, you have the option to choose between the heroes (such as Samanosuke or Jubei) or the demons. Of course, both sides have different objectives within the story mode: Samanosuke and his allies are trying to prevent Nobunaga’s rise from the dead (yet again), while the demons are fighting to resurrect their master. However, loyalty between fighters on both sides is practically non-existent, as its man, woman or demon for themselves.
Each character essentially has six separate attacks that can be triggered to inflict damage upon their opponents. Simply pressing the square button makes your character swing their weapon a number of times in a very basic combo. Alternatively, characters can charge up their basic strikes, unleashing a stronger blow on their foe. You can also unleash a pseudo-projectile attacks in what’s called Wave Motion Sword – Street Fighter fans have this Hadoken directional command imprinted on their DNA by now. Players will definitely need to protect themselves against incoming attacks, but with proper timing, you can unleash a critical attack by hitting enemies just before they strike you. Often this will kill opponents, allowing you to absorb souls and orbs left behind. These can be used to trigger powerful elemental attacks of fire, wind or lightning. Finally, if these attacks don’t have enough impact for you, you can pick up any one of the weapons scattered around the arena, which includes everything from throwing stars to machine guns.
Obviously, defense will play a major point in staying alive throughout each stage, especially with the numerous foes that are roaming around. Thankfully, players can avoid incoming attacks or run from opponents altogether by moving between levels. Featuring at least three or four levels per arena, players can strategically lie in wait for foes or escape a beating. However, if you do wind up in trouble, you can block most incoming attacks by either holding down the block button, or using most of your accumulated energy by performing a critical dodge. You won’t be able to block forever, though, so besieged players will either need to move away during an opening, kick their opponent away, or take damage. Kicks inflict no damage themselves, but perform one of two functions: first, they place distance between you and your target. Secondly, they can be used to set up attack combos.
You’re not really going to be too surprised by the look of Blade Warriors if you’ve ever played an Onimusha game. The heroes and villains look a lot like they do within those titles, yet they’re simply a lower resolution version here. Whether this is because of the numerous zooms in and out of the action that the camera performs to keep all fighters on screen or simply the grainy textures is unclear. What is definitely noticeable is that these aren’t as sharp as the Onimusha series has been. Similarly, the few cutscenes scattered throughout the game are rather disappointing in their rendering. In fact, the two things that are of note are the particle effects on elemental attacks and the backgrounds that you’ll fight on (especially the boat level that looks ripped from Japanese paintings).
Sound doesn’t fare too much better either, since the voice acting is somewhat weak. Bland, repetitive and at times unemotional, you’ll be disappointed at what’s been included. The sound effects that have been included are appropriate to the in-game action, but it’s nothing too spectacular. What is solid are the tycho drums, flutes and other Japanese inspired music to provide a samurai-infused flavor to the hack and slash action.
The technical issues aside, there are a number of significant gameplay problems within Blade Warriors. The first of which is that the story mode has nothing to do with the series, so players looking for secrets behind the series are out of luck. Even more, story mode is incredibly short. It’s entirely possible to defeat the game with all twelve original characters in less than a day, and while you’ll unlock new characters and arenas to fight in, this doesn’t particularly extend the replayability of the game itself. That, actually, is left to the Versus mode, which lets up to four players hack and slash each other via Multitap. If you manage to gather together more than one friend, this is actually a ton of fun to play, evoking memories of Super Smash Bros. However, it does seem rather odd that this is simply restricted to the one console which doesn’t originally support four players. (At least on the Gamecube or the Xbox you’d be able to host many more people off the bat, plus the graphics would hopefully be better).
With the nature of the Versus game being the meat of the game, it seems rather useless that the story mode was even included (what little story there is). Even the Custom Versus mode is significantly skewed, primarily because it rewards players who have way too much time on their hands. Let me explain: By playing the story mode over and over again, you can collect a ton of souls which can be used to power up your attack, defense and weapon stats. Those who keep playing this game over and over can then import their boosted fighters into a versus mode and crush their woefully underpowered friends. Can you say unbalanced? The funny thing is that considering the limited combat mechanics, this mode shouldn’t have been included either. Once you get a sense of how to attack, block and fire off special attacks with one character, you’ve got the idea for every other character within the game, no matter what weapon they wield. Slash, block, kick, wash, rinse, repeat, etc.
Onimusha: Blade Warriors probably should bear a warning for serious Onimusha fans only. If you dig the series, you’ll probably not mind Blade Warriors at all. Ditto for players who have a ton of friends around to play for hours. However, the superfluous story mode, unbalanced custom versus mode and technical issues relegate this title to a definite rent before you buy game.