Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny has been quite some time in the making and after playing through the game I can confidently say that that time was not wasted. Right from the first pre-rendered cut-scene you’ll notice the amazing amount of detail that this game boasts. The second part of this demon-slashing samurai trilogy can be best described as bigger, better, and longer. Everything you loved about the first game has been expanded and refined to a shiny blood-red polish. Capcom has added a host of inventive elements in O2: Samurai’s Destiny but the foundation that made the game so popular to begin with is entirely intact. That’s right, you’ll be slashing and gashing hordes of sinister monsters like never before, backed up with the tight and timeless gameplay dynamics that makes the combat element of the series so entertaining. To many gamers’ disappointment, Samonosuke is nowhere to be found in part two but his successor, Jubei Yagyu, is more than capable of laying down a big-ass bitch-smack on Nobunaga’s minions.
The story of Samurai’s Destiny picks up ten years after the conclusion of the first game and, like the original, takes place in feudal Japan. Nobunaga’s evil campaign continues to wreak mayhem, destroying anyone and anything that gets in the way of his plans; even killing the population to further his wicked research. Like Samonosuke before him, Jubei sets out to put an end to this immense army of demon-soldiers. Jubei is fueled solely on revenge based on the destruction of his village. If I was Nobunaga, I’d give some thought into filing for a good witness-protection program. Jubei won’t be the only great warrior to oppose Nobunaga, four powerful fighters will occasionally fight alongside him. And yes, these additional characters are fully playable. That is four times the amount of extra playable characters that the first Onimusha included, and this time around they are capable of sucking souls.
These controllable supplementary fighters are quite diverse in both fighting style and personality. Ekei is a master spearfighter monk who uses the Houzouin style of combat and loves money, alcohol, and women. Magoichi is the leader of a well-known gun troop and is extremely well versed in handling a gun and sword. Kotaro, a Fuma Ninja who possess’ equal parts of quickness and agility, is the youngest and least mature warrior of the group. Finally, the obligatory ‘chick’ fighter is named Oyo. She is a breathtaking and mysterious fencer who wears western style armor. Aside from the ability to intermittently control these four characters, you’ll also be able to interact with them on a social and personal level. This is accomplished via an interesting and enjoyable trading system that allows you to give characters an item that you think they’ll like based on various interactions, with the hope of receiving something useful in return. For example, Ekei loves liquor and dirty magazines and if these things are given to him, he’ll most likely give you something like a power-jewel or medicine in return. If however, you give him something like a book on the history of Japan, his mood will worsen and you’ll be lucky if he gives you a lowly herb.
As previously mentioned, Onimusha 2 is very similar to the game it is based on, and like its predecessor, it suffers from the same Resident Evil-style play-control dynamics. The mechanics of combat were tweaked a little though and it now seems easier to perform one-hit kills. Most baddies can be easily disposed of by continually mashing on the attack button to perform simple combos, but once you get bored of button-mashing you’ll find that there are a few additional techniques and fighting strategies that help to alleviate the tedium of sword-slashing. Pressing on different directions on the D-pad while attacking will allow Jubei to perform alternative attacks. While in auto-target mode, pressing up and attack can usually knock an opponent to the ground in one hit while down and attack performs a kick that knocks enemies off balance. Up and attack without auto-targeting will execute a wide sweeping cut that is good for staying alive in a scenario where multiple monsters are attacking. Blocking is relegated to the L1 button and you’ll soon discover that without a keen grip on this technique, you’ll be chewing on a mouthful of dirt more often than not.
The soul-absorbing dynamics of Samurai’s Destiny is much like that of Genma Onimusha for the Xbox. Monsters will unleash multi-colored souls when you destroy them. The red souls can be used to upgrade your weapons and enhance your armor. Blue souls replenish ogre power that allows you to perform devastating attacks. The yellow souls replenish vitality and the elusive purple soul will transform Jubei into the powerful and invincible Onimusha for a short time after collecting five of them. While the ability to not only upgrade your weapons but also your armor is certainly appreciated, it is somewhat off-kilter in the sense that halfway through the game you’ll run out of things to upgrade, rendering red souls useless.
Unlike the first Onimusha, part two doesn’t focus on just one or two explorable areas. The game seems to change environments every couple of hours and while some of the original locations (like the ancient castle) are included, the majority of locales are completely new. Even the re-used environments are changed up quite a bit to reflect the toll of time on the surroundings. These are surprisingly large areas. At times, you’ll find yourself running around for long durations trying to find the next point of progression. A map can be summoned at any time by hitting the R3 button and this helps to somewhat offset the been-there-done-that factor. Aside from the combat and exploration facets of the adventure, you will also come across puzzles that test your mental skills. The puzzles don’t seem to be as hardcore as the ones found in the first game but some of the later brain-benders can get fairly difficult.
Perhaps the most impressive facet of the game is how Capcom managed to blend photo-realistic backgrounds perfectly with the 3D character animations. The lapping water on the shore of the entrance in one area is particular awe-inspiring and goes beyond even what was seen in the Gamecube version of Resident Evil. Likewise, the character models are very detailed and look about a notch better than the characters found in Final Fantasy X. Also like FFX, O2 sports gorgeous pre-rendered cut-scenes; they are downright breathtaking, some of the best I’ve seen in any game as a matter of fact. There is a scene where Jubei is riding a mechanical dolphin-looking thing underwater; the detail of underwater life and scenery as it is rushing by is literally unbelievable. The music consists of melodic and haunting orchestrations that provide a perfect ambiance to the on-screen action. Enchanting, engaging, and beautiful are just some of the words that could describe the musical tracks in this game. Sound effects are equally top-shelf and every hack and slash you perform is absurdly satisfying. The one issue I have with Onimusha 2 is its sub-par voice acting. Most of the time the voice actors do a fairly believable job in their roles but occasionally it feels like the voice-actor was just trying to hurry through his or her lines in order to beat rush-hour on their drive home.
Aside from the fact that this game is more than twice as long as the original, you’ll also be glad to know that Capcom opted to include a slew of unlockable extras. These include such niceties as making-of documentaries, art illustrations, new costumes, modes of play, press-release trailers, mini-games, and multi-tiered plot progression. This game begs to be replayed at least once in order to realize the majority of the excellent additions that Capcom incorporated. Onimusha 2 more than does justice to its predecessor, it is a visual tour de force with amazing aural accompaniment backed up with interesting puzzles and a purely visceral combat system. The included playable characters are awesome and the RPG-esque enhancement element is great fun. Quite simply, Onimusha 2 is one of the year’s best offerings on the PS2.