To accompany the recent release (and my upcoming review) of Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, I'm recapping my comments for Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny in case you missed them. The favorable score at the bottom of this page may come as a surprise considering that I completely panned the first game, Warlords, but the second installment of Capcom's action series is much better than the first. (And the brand-new third installment is markedly improved over the second.)
Looking at the nuts and bolts, Onimusha 2 still uses the outdated, clunky "R/C" control setup that was finally revamped for Demon Siege. If you have the chance, I definitely recommend playing Samurai's Destiny (and Warlords for completists) before tackling number three because this cumbersome system won't be tolerable after you've felt the ease of the new one.
The game also employs the same "cinematic" camera angles established eons ago that makes it hard to spot items, exits, and approaching enemies. (Can you say "cheap hits"? I knew you could.) With those things noted, I'm glad to say that Onimusha 2's improvements override the annoyances held over from the original.
For example, the first half or so of the game moves a hell of a lot faster than Onimusha: Warlords ever did due to the reduced number of locked doors and item-based puzzles. With fewer barriers, your weapons no longer need to pull double duty as magical keys. That change eliminates a lot of time spent leveling up, hunting down doodads, and backtracking in general.
The previous installment's story was another big gripe of mine, and Onimusha 2 partially addresses that, too. The hero's "out for revenge" motivation is tired, but the four additional characters and (brief) time spent in a semi-peaceful local town give it life. You can talk to potential teammates in the local tavern and give them gifts you think match their desires. Choose your presents wisely and you'll alter what story branch the plot takes, or who will team up with you during difficult areas. There's no way you'll mistake it for a role playing game, but this little bit goes a long way towards spicing up what otherwise be Survival Horror in a kimono.
Sadly, the development team completely drops these juicy improvements at the halfway mark. Past a certain point, the keyfetching and backtracking I despise so much came back, and in full effect. I don't know why this happened, but the result is that Onimusha 2's gripping first half feels quite different from the been-there, done-that, tired-of-it tail end. If they had been able to maintain the early, fresh parts of the design for the game's duration, it could have been spectacular.
However, despite the places where it stumbles, I ended up enjoying Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny a great deal more than I thought possible. The beginning is close to what I think an ideal action game should feel like in terms of structure, and it doesn't hurt that the graphics and art design are still downright amazing in some parts. ROBOT studios turns out some stunning CG cutscenes as well. Put all those things together, and there's enough spark here to keep you playing until the end… not to mention the fact that watching the credits roll would be the perfect lead-in to the must-play Demon Siege.