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Onimusha: Warlords

Yes, I realize that this game has been out for ages and itís been reviewed by everyone else but me. Give me a break. Iíve had this game for a while; I just never had the motivation to play it. Such is the life of a lazy American. At least this gives you the opportunity to read one guyís impressions of a game that was praised highly when it first came out, but may have lost some of its luster when the hype finally died down. So is the game actually good? Does anyone care? Read on to find the answers to all these questions (and more!) as I take you on a journey through Capcomís Onimusha: Warlords!

The one thing that figuratively knocked me out of my chair when I first started the game was the gorgeous opening cutscene. Not only does it manage to be one of the most entertaining cutscenes Iíve ever seen, but it also provides plenty of story details. Set in Feudal Japan, the age of the samurai, weíre introduced to our valiant hero Samanosuke. Thrust in the middle of a battle against the warlord Nobunaga, he strikes down dozens foes while Nobunaga faces an abrupt death as an arrow flies through his throat.

The opening cutscene sets up the game so marvelously that I was let down with the rest of the plot. One year after the battle, Samanosuke receives a letter from a princess begging him to investigate the strange happenings occurring at her castle. Just in case something is truly amiss, he brings his partner kunoichi (female ninja), Kaede. When they finally arrive, it turns out demons have overrun the place, and through a clichÈd event we learn that Samanosuke is the only one who can stop them.

To add more flames to the clichÈ fire, there is a kidnapped princess and a demonic ritual involving a human sacrifice. Thereís nothing I hate more than a kidnapped princess. The dialogue is also incredibly weak, but the unique Japanese setting and a couple interesting characters keep things mildly interesting.

While the plot is lacking, most of the gameplay fare much better. At first Onimusha seems like a Resident Evil clone due to the prerendered backgrounds, initially clunky control scheme, and the constant item fetching. Despite all of the similarities, Onimusha manages to feel like a totally different game because of its focus on fast-paced combat.

You actually feel that Samanosuke is the agile, experienced swordsman that characters claim he is when you get to control him. Combat is very easy to learn, but still there are a variety of different moves at your disposal. You can use three different magic attacks to take out tough demons, or you can equip a bow or gun to take them out from a distance. If you time your attack just right you can pull off an Issen attack which kills with one hit. Harder battles require lots of dodging and blocking, while some fights just consist of you facing a handful of guys at once. All these moves and techniques make the combat enjoyable, but I found simply kicking a demon scumbag to be the most satisfying.

Another strong aspect of the game is the powering-up system. The demons occasionally drop health or magic, but they always drop souls which you can absorb. These souls can then be used at save points to increase the power of your swords, or just boost the power of your health kits or ammo. Itís strikingly similar to the system used in Devil May Cry (coincidentally released in the same year by the same company), but that doesnít take away from the fact that it adds some welcome depth to the game.

Samanosuke isnít the only character that can be controlled. A couple segments of the game have you playing as Kaede, his female companion. She isnít able to upgrade her weapons and sheís weak, but controlling a female character, albeit briefly, is a nice change of pace from the manly Samanosuke.

So anything combat related in Onimusha is fun, but an abundance of item hunting and puzzles are poorly thrown into the mix. The good thing is that there is far less backtracking than in the Resident Evil series. The bad thing is that there is still plenty of it. Normally I enjoy puzzles in adventure games, but I didnít like them here at all. This is probably because there was one stretch of having to solve three puzzles in a row. The first two were easy, but the third one was maddeningly difficult and gives you a game over if you donít solve it in time. The worst part is that you have to redo the two previous puzzles to get to the hard puzzle again when you mess up. Arrgggh!

The merits of the gameplay may be debatable, but the graphics are undoubtedly pleasing on the eye. The prerendered backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous and contain a wealth of personality. Whether itís a forest at dusk or the top of a roof during a full moon, almost every area will leave you impressed. The detailed characters blend incredibly well with the backgrounds and I couldnít spot a single clipping problem. And as Iíve previously stated, the cutscenes are amazing.

The sound also boasts the same high production values that the graphics posses. The diverse orchestral tunes manage to quicken your pulse as the enemies attack and calm you down when the onslaught is over. The only weak link is the English voice acting, which manages to be both boring and dull. Fortunately you can switch to the original Japanese voice acting, which is far superior.

Thereís plenty of strong points and a couple of weak points to Onimusha, but by far the weakest is the short length. I managed to be this game in less than five hours, and Iím awful at games! There are a couple of sidequests, some of which yield some decent rewards such as a zany panda costume and a simplistic minigame. Despite the couple interesting diversions, there isnít much a reason to play this much after youíve beaten it.

Even after a few years, Onimusha: Warlords is a decent game with some truly impressive qualities. Sadly, itís also impressive how short this game manages to be. Because of that, Onimusha is a perfect rental, or simply a solid investment if you find it for dirt cheap (which shouldnít be too hard). Play it, beat it, and then shelve it. I can think of worse ways to spend a couple evenings.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @akarge.

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