The final chapter in Capcom's samurai & demons series, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege couldn't have been a better conclusion. Packed with everything from tender family moments to huge action-packed set pieces, the game delivers.
Although it's essentially similar to its predecessors, Onimusha: Warlords and Onimusha: Samurai's Destiny, I found it more polished and enjoyable than both of them. In fact, the series is a textbook model demonstrating the conservative theory of sequel creation; it doesn't take any bold leaps, but the contents of each new iteration are clearly better than the last.
Demon Siege is a third-person action game starring Samanosuke Akechi (stoic samurai from the past) and Jacques Blanc (modern French police officer.) The story, in a nutshell, is that during Japan's feudal era, the evil lord Nobunaga Oda has crafted an alliance with demons and created a time warp into the modern era. The two heroes then become trapped in each other's time period and must stop the evildoers and also get back where they belong.
In terms of gameplay, the disc sticks close to its roots. If you've played either of the two previous games, you know to expect a whole lot of monster slashing with some backtracking and simple puzzles thrown in. The entire thing is wrapped inside a thick coat of high-gloss production values to create a solid, if not extremely innovative, experience. I do admit that I was a bit disappointed to find that some of the features from Samurai's Destiny were excised (story and path branches, primarily), but I can't complain too much since the adventure as a whole has been improved greatly. The most obvious example of which is the inclusion and focus put on Jacques Blanc, using the likeness of international film star Jean Reno (La Femme Nikita, The Professional).
I have to admit that I was initially very dubious about the inclusion of Reno. I'm not a fan of his work, but after seeing what Capcom's done with him, I think I am now. The really odd thing (besides his defining role for me being a videogame) is that I went into the game expecting to merely tolerate his baggy eyes and tired look, and ended up far more interested in his character than the "main" protagonist Samanosuke.
Using Blanc's whip/sword weapon (similar to those seen in the film Brotherhood of the Wolf, or Namco's Soul Calibur II) is vastly more interesting than plainly slashing away with the standard edged weapons available to the samurai. For example, he can fight either up-close or at a distance, grab enemies and follow up by pummeling them with a combo or tossing them across a room, and even using it Indiana Jones-style to swing across chasms or climb heights. Simply put, you've got one extremely versatile Frenchman here.
Mastering his abilities feels pleasantly sophisticated but approachable, and the attention paid to animation pays off as he whirls and lashes with a natural grace. In my opinion, Jacques's character is exactly what a good action star should be, with enough options to make killing monsters interesting from start to finish. Not only that, but he puts Capcom's own Dante of Devil May Cry to shame, and makes Konami's Belmont-du-Jour from Castlevania: Lament of Innocence look like the limp-wristed whipsnapper he (or she?) was.
While Jacques's mechanics were undoubtedly the high point of Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, the rest is more than satisfactory. For example, the graphics are top-notch, and the new analog control system is the best the series has seen. In fact, I only had two real complaints. The first was that mastering the timing of "Issen" attacks (instant-kill counterstrikes) felt quite difficult, although this issue is a very minor thing, and only of any consequence during the game's Dark Realm sidequests. The second rough spot was that most of the backtracking and puzzle elements were crammed into the tail end, giving the final third of the disc a soft, slightly bloated feeling. It was obviously an effort to squeeze out a few more hours of playtime, but it only serves to slow the pace down and put a bit of a damper on things. This isn't a major crime, at least compared to other Capcom games, but the overall project would be better served by going with the flow instead of damming it up.
Still, both of those things are extremely minor bumps that don't prevent Onimusha 3: Demon Siege from being a great popcorn thrill-ride from start to finish. It may not be the deepest or most thought-provoking thing out there, but there's no question it delivers on its promise of slam-bang action and enough plot to hold it together. Now, I wonder if there are any plans for a Jacques spin-off…
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game