Two opponents face each other silently, both knowing only one will see the dawn.
I usually like to spend the first portion of a review talking about interesting concepts or ideas present in the game I am about to review. Sometimes it takes a more personal slant, other times it might be historical or relate to current trends in the game world and society at large. After playing Onimusha, I was at a loss. There literally are no issues raised, nor anything interesting enough from which I could create a decent opening. Rather than try and fabricate something which isn't there, I'm going to simply dive right into the review and cover the necessities—an appropriate method for a game this creatively flat, I think.
Onimusha is rehash-king Capcom's entry into the newly-created "samurai horror" genre. For anyone who has played Resident Evil or any of the innumerable mindless clones, you know exactly what to expect. The game is played in third-person perspective, featuring static, rendered backdrops with 3-D polygon characters superimposed. Players take control of the main hero Samanosuke for the bulk of the game, with short sequences featuring Kaede, the token female ninja companion.
I bow to my opponent, and it is returned.
Onimusha is graphically impressive as far as the characters are concerned. Samanosuke actually looks realistically Japanese with no traces of exaggerated anime mannerisms, and the motion for characters is smooth and quite believable. The graphics in general are sharp and detailed.
The samurai theme isn't one which has been especially overdone lately, and has a lot of potential. Westerners haven't traditionally explored Japan's mythology very deeply, if at all, so I feel theres a lot of source material to expand and develop in future games. I can definitely appreciate the contents art style and motifs.
A feint, and my blade is drawn in an endless silver crescent towards my adversary.
Graphic quality aside, Onimusha is incredibly boring, pure and simple. In essence, I felt like I had already played this game more times than is entertaining or healthy, and I have. After spending time with the entire Resident Evil series as well as most of its doppelgangers, far more than a graphical upgrade is needed to keep my attention. The only way Onimusha deviates from being an exact carbon copy of the dozens of games that came before is that it features an Eastern theme as well as an emphasis on more physical combat than survival horror games tend to incorporate. Otherwise, this is exactly the same overly-familiar, unappetizing dish that has been reheated and served to gamers everywhere time and time and time again.
To prove my point, Onimusha contains almost every single tired element survival horror is known for, such as the inane tendency towards making players backtrack to locked doors after finding keys shaped as art objects and antique curios. Also present are the trademark "cinematic" camera angles which obscure enemy creatures and force the player to deal with ineffective views and cheap hits. Although the characters can now block and move much more swiftly than in past incarnations, the controls function using the stock up-is-forward-down-is-back-regardless-of-onscreen-orientation scheme employed since the original Resident Evil years ago.
The blades orbit continues unhindered by the flesh it has cleaved.
The game attempts to break from the mold by trimming aspects of itself down into something slimmer, faster and sexier similar to the way Capcom revamped Dino Crisis 2, but the effort here is misguided and fails miserably.
The amount of keys to find force the player to cover some areas repetitively, which seems to defeat the purpose of speeding things up. In addition to finding keys, your swords also have a secondary function (yes, keys again) which need to be upgraded by killing enemies. To make matters worse, there are a smattering of puzzles which seem cheesy and out of place on a rapid in-and-out rescue mission like the game aims to be. However, its really a no-win situation since the areas which have no puzzles or locked doors simply require the player to hack through demons from room to room, with very little brain activity required. I realize it sounds contradictory, but Onimusha captures the worst of both worlds—there are enough key-related tasks to annoy, while being so straightforward during the action that it bores.
The thing which truly sinks the game in my eyes is that the story is as basic and uninspired as the gameplay. Is there any plot in the whole history of videogames more cliché, overused and mentally numbing than "save the princess"? In addition, the characters are phenomenally dull and lifeless, being as flat as the backgrounds theyre pasted on top of. Utterly devoid of any significant personality, nobody will remember these characters in six months. If nothing else, the developers should have spent more resources developing this area, since Resident Evil is proof enough that gamers will come back for a good story and characters even if the gameplay is extremely tired. Onimusha doesn't have either going for it.
In an interesting twist, the game describes colorful pieces of faux demonic lore as well as a short sidestory of a survivor trapped among the evil forces through cop-out text screens, taking stale low-tech shortcuts while ignoring the chance to develop the games visual content. Using the high-count polygon models for most of the pointless, limp dialogue only puts a spotlight on how unoriginal the story and setup really is. Incredibly, you can't even skip through the cinemas if you've already seen them, which serves to create one more thing to be annoyed about.
My opponent falls redly to the earths embrace.
For hardcore fans who can't get enough survival horror, or for those players who really get into Eastern-themed games, Onimusha meets the basic requirements. However, anyone who has even minimal experience with the genre will find the game extremely complacent, though Im not sure if this is because Capcom thinks its games are so good they dont ever need to be improved, or if it simply think its fans are gullible enough to keep buying the same product over and over. Either way, I've had enough of Capcom's egotistical sequel-spewing underachievement, and theres really nothing offered here that can even begin to be described as significantly new or innovative. Onimusha is a perfect example of Capcom's compulsive tendency to dip into the same gameplay well one time too many, and no amount of window dressing can make up for it.
I bow, and disappear into the night's arms.