The sharpest blade in the drawer.
Even though you've killed the demon warlord Nobunaga, traipsed through time with a wicked Frenchman and put up with some seriously painful camera angles, the world is still in worse shape than week-old sashimi. I guess that means it's back to 16th century Japan for another Onimusha
adventure, and this time, it's final.
Maybe. Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams
is officially the fourth game the Onimusha
series, though new players won't need to worry about the previous games since the story is set completely apart from the others. Veterans, however, will appreciate the enhanced features and fixes they've been clamoring for, resulting in a samurai showdown with all kinds of appeal.
In the fifteen years since Samanosuke finally defeated the evil Nobunaga, Japan has been united by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the demons vanished and everyone was having a swell timeí¢â‚¬Â¦until a strange planet appeared in the sky. Then, the demons came back and Hideyoshi took a turn for the evil. Stupid planets.
To combat this new threat, Capcom has surprisingly ditched the main characters from the previous games in favor of an entirely new lineup. The new protagonist is Soki, a mysterious warrior with powers similar to those of his ancestors. As you progress through the game, you're joined by a handful of friends, all of whom are playable characters.
This is really the hallmark of the new game.
Each warrior has his or her own unique ability and specialized weapon class, which certainly comes in handy when you're up to your elbows in demons. Despite having the same basic control scheme, characters have their own style and special moves. Their different abilities, such as squeezing into tight spots or using a grappling hook to scale walls, make all of them indispensable for progressing through the game and discovering some of its secrets.
Unlike the previous Onimusha adventures, Dawn of Dreams gives you the power to flip between characters on the fly while commanding the others with the D-pad. Though you can only take one ally into battle at a time, various checkpoints throughout the world give you the chance to swap teammates. This setup helps keep the action going as you can flip characters and continue to stomp zombie samurai while setting your original character to go into block mode and regain strength. Thankfully, the control is still intuitive, making it easy for newbies to pick up and play and deep enough for vets to explore.
Characters also enjoy a little RPG touch. Weapons can be upgraded with red souls as in past games, but now the whole cast can be upgraded as well. As experience is gained, skill points can be used to increase attack strength, defensive ability or gain new moves altogether. This nice touch allows you to develop the characters at will rather than having stats raised across the board as you level up.
The trend in customization extends to the game's item selection, with more weapons, accessories and useful do-dads than a Kurosawa garage sale. Elemental weapons, defensive jewelry and magical gear can all be found in abundance. Special weapons and items can also be created with materials found throughout the world, adding even more fuel to the dress-up fire.
Few of Dawn of Dreams' enhancements are as welcomed as the addition of a manually-controlled camera. Earlier Onimusha games favored the classic Capcom cinematic style of presentation, with fixed camera angles that just weren't very functional. Battling off-screen enemies was common; being peppered with arrows from unseen archers proved frustrating. Though the fixed angles haven't disappeared completely, you can often manipulate the camera with the right analog stick, giving you a far more complete view of the world. The manual cam is not without fault, though - getting stuck in a corner can pose problems as the cam slides upward to compensate. Still, the game fares much better with this new scheme.
While there's no doubt that Dawn of Dreams introduces a lot of enhancements to the series, it fails to innovate in its enemies or mechanics. A handful of bad guys have been recycled from previous games and the A.I. is still lacking in complexity. Despite its newfound depth, it's still mostly hacking and slashing.
But man, does it look good. Despite having a high number of onscreen enemies at once, the framerate blazes, easily keeping up with the variety of quick strikes and critical hits. Gorgeous environments and smooth animations keep it a notch ahead of most other action/adventures, while beautifully done cut-scenes move the story along at a brisk clip. The soundtrack is also strong with some epic tracks and the option to toggle between authentic Japanese voice work and crappy English dubbing.
Frankly, the Onimusha series has never been known for providing lengthy experiences, but Dawn of Dreams changes that. A straight-shot through the game sans much exploration lasts roughly 12 hours or so. If you spend time heading back to explore the earlier levels with new allies or battle through the many levels of the demon realm, it could easily be extended to nearly twice that.
Plus, completing the game unlocks the Onimusha Arena, in which you and a friend can fight head-to-head with ten of the game's characters. There's also an unlockable co-op mode that allows a friend to take control of your ally, letting you concentrate on one character. It's a cool concept, but those frisky camera issues become problematic as it's difficult to give both players a good enough view of the action.
Ultimately, that's small potatoes in a pretty big stew. Though the formula for destruction is basically the same, there's enough new material here to please fans of the series and newcomers alike. Who knew this old samurai could cut so deep?