Game Over Online ~ Onimusha 3: Demon Siege

GameOver Game Reviews - Onimusha 3: Demon Siege (c) Capcom, Reviewed by - Jeff 'Linkphreak' Haynes

Game & Publisher Onimusha 3: Demon Siege (c) Capcom
System Requirements PlayStation 2
Overall Rating 85%
Date Published Wednesday, June 16th, 2004 at 01:02 PM


Divider Left By: Jeff 'Linkphreak' Haynes Divider Right

A little over a year ago, I attended a press conference with a number of gaming colleagues and lightly mourned the death knell of the Onimusha series. Control issues and short gameplay aside, this was a much more original adventure series than the oft-imitated zombie infested survival horror game. However, after watching the early movies of what Keiji Inafune had prepared for us, I left the meeting believing that the game would ride off into the sunset in a blaze of glory instead of lightly fading out. Thankfully, in the time that has passed, my hopes have not been dashed at all. Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, the ending to the soul absorbing, demon-slaying romp in feudal Japan, surpasses the previous games in both scope and action, providing a fast-paced denouement to Oda’s dreams of conquest.

As the last title of the series, fans might expect to be reunited with both Samanosuke Akechi and Jubei Yagyu, the two protagonists from the first two games who faced off and defeated Nobunaga Oda. Well, you’re only partially right: Samanosuke does return from the Genma realms to again do battle with Oda’s army, but Jubei is nowhere to be found. Instead, Samanosuke mounts a surprise attack on Nobunaga at a temple, backed up with support from his uncle’s soldiers. However, just as he’s about to strike at the demon lord, a rift in time opens and Samanosuke is propelled through time to the future.

At the same moment, modern day Paris is suddenly invaded by hordes of merciless Genma who slaughter every living thing in their path. One man, Jacques Blanc, a special task force policeman, is one of the few survivors of the initial attack. (Incidentally, international movie star Jean Reno portrays Jacques, while Takeshi Kaneshiro reprises Samanosuke in this title.) Watching many of his fellow officers die in front of him, Jacques is quickly overrun and almost killed until Samanosuke saves him at the last minute. Confused, and understandably so, the mismatched pair struggle to overcome their language barrier to figure out what’s going on. Shortly before, though, Jacques gets whisked through a time warp to Samanosuke’s time. While regaining his bearings, he manages to acquire the power of the Oni, complete with power gauntlet and a special whip. Jacques also meets a Tengu named Ako, a fairy-like creature that’s able to move back and forth through time. With Ako’s help, both Samanosuke and Jacques try to stop the demon armies from taking over the land and find a way to return to their own time.

While the “stranger in a strange land” plot seems like a basic staple of time travel games (and movies, for that matter), the way that Onimusha 3 handles this concept gives it a fresh and original spin. First of all, while the two heroes are separated by hundreds of years of time, their adventures occur virtually at the same time. Not only does this affect the reality of each character at certain moments, but it also manages to happens to be one of the central keys to solving some of the game’s puzzles. Thanks to Ako, both Samanosuke and Jacques can trade items that they find throughout the centuries to help them along their quest. Secondly, this multiple plotline format also introduces important secondary characters, such as Michelle and Henri, Jacques’ fiancée and son, respectively. Much more than a minor plot point (a future stepmother trying desperately to win acceptance in the young child’s eyes), these two characters wind up unexpectedly aiding the two heroes. Michelle, for instance, actually becomes a playable character at one point, killing Genma along with Samanosuke in modern Paris. It may sound somewhat confusing in summary, but the plot is very nicely controlled and doled out in understandable pieces so you’re never truly lost.

But don’t get me wrong…although there is a complex and involving plot, this is a very action oriented title. In fact, one of the largest changes made to this game is the control interface, which allows for much quicker response time between a given command and onscreen action. No longer does Samanosuke feel like a tank wading through molasses when attacking; thanks to the inclusion of analog controls, he and Jacques are now agile fighters who strike with incredible speed. I make this distinction because in Onimusha 3 it’s a vital facet of gameplay when fending off attacking Genma. Unlike the first two games, the demons in Demon Siege are much smarter tactically, and will use their newfound intelligence to perform a number of strategies, such as flanking you, varying the timing of their attacks, or juggling you between opponents. In fact, it’s not uncommon to start attacking one or two zombies, only to quickly find yourself surrounded and advanced upon by four more in all directions.

Some players might prefer to deal with these overwhelming odds by mashing the attack button as quickly as possible, slashing and hacking their way through foes. While Onimusha 3 does allow those “swift of thumb” tactics, it rewards players who play with more patience and skill. By exercising a little more timing, Samanosuke and Jacques can evade attacks, countering with combos or even critical strikes. These complex blows provide more souls for your heroes to absorb than straightforward hits, giving players incentives to hone their combat skills significantly (which is extremely useful, as souls are still redeemed to boost the strength of weapons or armor). Thankfully, Onimusha 3 provides tutorial modes for both characters that lets gamers practice all of their moves.

There are some basic similarities in how Samanosuke and Jacques move and interact with the environment. Both still have to contend with numerous puzzle boxes strewn throughout levels, and both still capture souls via the Oni gauntlet to power up their equipment. The two characters also can use Ako to lock an opponent into their line of sight, designating them as the primary victim of their attacks. But the little sprite is much more than a distracting homing beacon to enemies. Ako can also detect hidden items or retrieve objects from fallen foes, speedily returning the loot to your character’s hands. What’s more, Ako can also provide a number of status boosting effects based on the type of vest that she wears. For instance, based on the gear you find for her, she can increase the number of souls harvested from a killed demon or even heal you during a lull in the battle.

Aside from these factors, however, Samanosuke and Jacques have completely different moves, weaponry and skills that impart a different style of play with every leap through time. Samanosuke is a close quarters combat specialist, relying on plenty of quick slashes and strikes to eviscerate demons in front of him. Aside from the heavy battle axe, all of Samanosuke’s weapons are elementally charged swords. While he does have access to a number of similarly charged arrows for airborne foes, his strength truly lies in face-to-face battle. Jacques, by contrast, is much more of a distance fighter. His weapons, ranging from whips to spears to a ball and chain can ensnare demons from afar, allowing him to trap foes, riddle them with bullets from his pistol and fling them into their allies for a highly damaging combo. Although he’ll kick away a few foes that are too close for comfort, he’s much better suited for taking potshots and sweeping his path clear with painful lashes.

If you’ve been following along with the Onimusha series, the most noticeable change to Demon Siege has to be the transition from pre-rendered backgrounds to fully 3D backgrounds. This winds up lending a more realistic, gritty and concrete feel to the in-game action, which can also increase the adrenaline rush you’ll feel when besieged by a number of enemies. Easily the best looking title in the series, the lighting and water effects are vivid and incredibly dynamic. This detail extends to the character models, particularly those of Kaneshiro and especially Reno. These aren’t representations of these two actors, their characters ARE these two actors, down to the very last facial wrinkle and bit of stubble. It’s incredible, and when paired with the extremely beautiful CG movies (particularly the game intro), Demon Siege stands out as one of the most beautiful games on the PS2 today.

There are a couple of hiccups thanks to the switch from 2D to 3D, however. There’s a large amount of anti-aliasing tearing around certain objects or scenes, particularly on far away camera angles. While completely three dimensional as far as background rendering, the environment is still relatively static, pointing to the lack of true interactivity with the world. It quickly becomes apparent which items you can break and which ones you don’t need to waste your time on. The camera, while much better than previous Onimusha titles and head and shoulders above Resident Evil’s clunky angles, still provides a number of shots where offscreen enemies that you can't retaliate against get free shots against you. Finally, and quite probably thanks to the amount of processing power taken to create the 3D environment, there are noticeable instances of slowdown, particularly when you’re trying to collect a large number of souls from dead enemies, a swarm of demons are onscreen, or you perform an extremely flashy combo in a detailed setting.

The sound effects are nicely handled within Demon Siege, but the music is the true star of the show. Melding European orchestral scores with traditional Japanese themes, Onimusha 3 probably hosts one of the more impressive musical compositions found in games today. The intro movie alone, particularly the Parisian invasion, evokes a sense of Carmina Burana, and is both emotionally involving and goosebump inducing. Unfortunately, the voice acting is nowhere near as good, featuring melodramatic deliveries of just about every line. Fans hoping to seek solace within the original Japanese voice track are out of luck, as it hasn’t been included. What’s worse, the inclusion of Jean Reno’s voice speaking in his native tongue is unbelievably small, and his English voice double isn’t even close to his speech pattern. It makes you really wish that Mr. Reno had more involvement with his in-game depiction, or that there was an actor with a French accent delivering the lines to keep the verisimilitude going.

Dialogue aside, Onimusha 3 is packed with a number of bonuses, including multiple difficulty modes, hidden character outfits and even a couple of mini-games which provides for quite a bit of replayability. This is good, since after playing through the game for the first time, which may take you up to 15 hours, you’ll be able to beat it much quicker once you’ve gotten the hang of the controls and know how to defeat the enemies. Much of this is pointed out in the excellent limited edition Bradygames Onimusha 3: Demon Siege Handbook, which also features exclusive art from all three games in the series. (Even if you’re opposed to walkthroughs, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up simply for the art itself.) Unfortunately, there are some facets of gameplay that could’ve been handled better. First of all, upgrades still take an astronomical amount of souls to collect before you can boost some piece of equipment. While I understand that you don’t want to unbalance the gameplay by allowing rampant upgrades, I spent a large amount of time collecting over ten thousand souls one time and still came up short. This can be disheartening, especially if you try to save up for a specific weapon that’s your favorite and it seems incredibly far away.

Another problem lies in the fact that there seems to be a balancing issue that actually favors Jacques over Samanosuke in the game. Like I said earlier, the two play differently in combat, and Jacques is better off at distance. However, this is uneven in a few ways. First, most enemies can be attacked before they come anywhere near you, allowing quick and easy disposal. Second, Jacques can reach a number of areas that Samanosuke can’t simply by the reach of his weapon, which acts as a grappling hook to launch him across gaps and other obstacles. Since neither one has the ability to jump (which is extremely odd), this mobility definitely gives Jacques an advantage. In fact, of the playable characters, the list from strongest to weakest would have to be Jacques, followed by Samanosuke and finally rounded out by Michelle. Speaking of Michelle, it could be me, but the action of turning her into a virtual “soul battery,” collecting defeated energy that can’t be used by her, merely transferred into other characters seems rather dismissive. It would’ve been great to actually explore her story even more, especially since she took a more modern ballistic approach to demon killing.

While there are a few problems within Demon Siege, this is easily the best title of the series, and a fitting way to end Samanosuke’s demon killing adventures. The introduction of a secondary hero, as well as a number of side characters that aid and even have their own role to play in the defeat of Nobunaga’s forces are handled very nicely, and the plot of the game is well constructed. What’s more, the game seems to have made the crossover to 3D with relatively few issues, proving that the power of the Oni can triumph in just about any arena. If you’ve ever played or even been interested in an Onimusha game, you need to get the ending to this great series.

 

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Rating
85%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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