Capcom’s Onimusha series has taken players through a ghostly retelling of history during feudal Japan’s Warring States period, giving them an excuse to slash, smash, and tear their way through the countryside while slaying dozens of dead things. Through three major chapters and a handful of spinoffs, the ride had seemed to come to an end with the time spanning adventures in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege. But the story isn’t over. Yoshinori Ono and Keiji Inafune have returned with a new story, a new look, and what might be the best Onimusha yet.
Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is the fourth major chapter of the Onimusha series currently available for demonslaying on the PS2.
The Wealth of the Nation
As with the previous Onimusha titles, the newest story in the series makes use of historical events and figures from Japan’s feudal past and retells their exploits with a healthy dose of the supernatural. You don’t have to have played any of the previous Onimusha games to get into this one, although it will help as it makes a few references to them within the story. But it won’t make you feel left out as the story centers around a new cast of characters and a new tale that does a good job in standing on its own.
Oda Nobunaga, the central villain from the first three major chapters of the Onimusha series, was defeated at the end of the Demon Siege with his soul sealed away to trouble the world no more. In his stead, his former vassal, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, has taken the reigns of the country within his hands, successfully unifying Japan and ushering in an age of peace in his wake. Of course, this wouldn’t be an Onimusha if everything had justed ended on a happy note. After a little more than eighteen years following the defeat of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi’s apparent success in building on the peace that followed, rumors have begun to spread telling of the return of the Genma. Natural disasters shake the land, and a strange “Omen Star” is seen high above in the night sky.
But the old heroes that had saved the land from the ambition of Oda Nobunaga and his Genma allies are long gone. Fortunately, the Oni have found a new champion to carry on the fight. His name is Soki, the so-called “Oni of the Ash”, and he’s not alone.
Dawn of Dreams takes a more action oriented approach to this newest chapter along with introducing a host of refined changes and other options that give life its slowly aging, action oriented approach to ghostbusting. It’s not so much Resident Evil-inspired horror survival as it is Devil May cry demonslaying as the player melees their way through the walking dead and their sadistic masters. Veterans concerned that the action may start to feel stale after four outings can rest assured that Dawn of Dreams‘ additions have managed to keep it exciting. Pretty much everything has had an overhaul.
The player takes control of Soki and longtime fans of the series will find that the controls are, for the most part, the same with some tweaks. Moving about is as easy as ever, feeling as fluid as that found within Devil May Cry or God of War. What this means is that you basically just point ‘n slash at whatever Soki is looking at, or press a button to “lock on” foes, keeping Soki and company focused on their victim as they dodge, roll, or run around the screen. There’s no jumping, aside from what you see included as a part of certain combat combos, but the games avoids making it something that should have been included to get around obstacles. Saves are conveniently placed throughout each of the levels, usually as a subtle warning that there’s something horrible waiting for players only a screen or two away. For newcomers that haven’t had a chance to fight the Genma, the learning curve for the controls is easy to get used to and there are plenty of opportunities to practice with them in order to get a feel for the gameplay. As with the others, it is still played from a third person perspective although the 3D aspect of the game’s environments have been taken even further from Demon Siege, looking as good as their bitmapped predecessors had ever been.
The camera is easy to control and the player can pan it completely around the characters to get a better view of many of the areas that they’ll explore. There are still locations where the camera is locked, but these are scarce. As nice as it is, it can still sometimes get in the way or make it so that you can’t see some enemies that are directly in front of it, but this doesn’t happen often enough to be a problem.
The game introduces plenty of weapons, accessories, and other items to collect, far more than any of the previous titles had offered…perhaps altogether. Instead of focusing on three specific weapons for each character, players will get to choose from a plethora of different weapons with varying abilities to best meet whatever situation they might find themselves in. Add to this the number of special items that each character can equip to give them a few more advantages, and players may think that they’ve stumbled onto an RPG instead of an action adventure.
Earning experience for every kill, the characters in Dawn of Dreams can improve their basic skills and how easily they can be used. As they level, they get points that they can distribute among certain abilities such as their Attack, Lift moves, or their ability to be able to chain together critical attacks. Special skills can become unlocked as some of these abilities are improved. This helps to give the player a much more important role in taking a more vested interest in the development of the characters that they play through the story, making it a more personal experience.
“Souls” are the currency of choice in the game when it comes to unlocking the power of your weapons and improving the strength of your armor. When foes are wounded or killed, they release glowing orbs of differing colors (souls) that can be absorbed by the player. Yellow orbs tend to heal, blue orbs replenish the magic that you can charge your weapon’s special attacks with, and red orbs are what you use to infuse armor and weapons with in order to make them more powerful. Another change from the previous Onimusha titles is that the number of levels that you can improve your weapons and armor have been increased considerably. With the sheer number of weapons to be found and the ability to improve your weapons and armor, the game can be a powerleveler’s dream come true. The maximum limit for red soul collecting has also been removed, limited as it was in previous Onimushas, allowing the player to amass a huge number of these for use later when they find that “special” weapon.
A store is also another addition to the game, allowing the player to use the gold that enemies drop to purchase weapons, valuable items such as medicines, and accessories that can give you an added edge in combat or defense. Although most of the items in the store have a limited stock, the variety of items to choose improves as you go from stage to stage in the game. Checking in at the store in between missions is something that many players will want to do to make sure they have what they need to survive or if they have been thinking about picking up that new blade. Other valuable items are found throughout the game, many locked up within puzzle chests that offer up a good challenge in addition to the other obstacles that the player will find in their way. For the impatient, Dawn of Dreams allows the player to break open locked chests, although the item that they’re rewarded with is not as nice as the one that they would have gotten otherwise.
Players can also revisit every place that they’ve been to before, going through these areas to find special “Tests of Valor” that they might have missed or want to challenge again for a better ranking and to unlock better item rewards, or simply to gather souls and level their characters by slaying the respawned dead. While you’re restricted on visiting only those places within the areas of the game that any particular leg of the story takes place in, you’ll eventually be able to revisit all of them. Also making a return is the Dark Realm, the bonus area of Onimusha where each character can travel through a hundred levels of brutal combat to discover their own valuable rewards such as powerful and unique weaponry. With each character able to travel through all one hundred levels to find their own special toys, it’s a side quest made for action fanatics.
One more advantage that the player can eventually bring to the battlefield is their ability to invoke an “Oni Awakening”. This transforms their character into an Oni enhanced warrior that is impervious to damage and can dish out serious pain to anything in their path while they burn collected purple soul energy. It can help get the player out of difficult scrapes, especially against some of the more brutal bosses. But perhaps the player’s greatest advantage lies in the friends that will join them.
The Seven Samurai Weren’t Available
While previous Onimusha titles would put the player behind the eyes of other characters at certain points in the story, Dawn of Dreams allows the player to not only choose who they want to tag along but to take control of them. With their controls for combat and their special moves similar to Soki’s, all that’s left for the player to learn is in how to use each character best as they face dangers in the sky and on the ground.
The other character, when not controlled, can be given orders that the AI will attempt to follow through with such as going all out in its attacks or holding back and guarding itself. All commands are easily handled using the D-pad, and switching to that character is just an L2 button press away. There are parts of the story where you have to play through as one of these new characters, but the game doesn’t make it a point to force it down the player’s throat at every turn. They also level alongside the player, although if the player hasn’t teamed up with certain characters, they might end up at a disadvantage right when you’re called to fill their shoes in their part of the story. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to keep up with their ‘training’ and it isn’t really a problem especially when you can revisit areas that respawn with plenty of things to fight.
As for keeping them alive, you can instruct them to guard against all attacks during which they’ll slowly heal to roughly half of their hit points. This happens with anyone you’re not controlling, including Soki, which makes it even easier to stay in the fight. The companions that you’re not controlling who go down eventually get back up with only a tiny bit of health encouraging the player to keep an eye on their well being. Although it might sound like it gives an unfair advantage to the player, many challenges within the game think otherwise, especially during boss battles. The AI doesn’t do a very good job in dodging attacks where bosses are concerned. Before you know it, your partner might go down faster than you can swing your blade if you don’t tell them to protect themselves. Some can even be told to use a special “ability”, such as ordering Soki to simply stand and absorb the souls that you might release as someone else.
In addition to this, each of these characters will also have their own arsenal of specialized weapons that they can improve. Everyone shares the same inventory which can make some things a little too easy, especially in sharing certain items, but it works well enough to remain fun and challenging. In addition to their own style of fighting and the weapons that they can use, they also have their own unlockable skills and special abilities that they can use on the battlefield and in exploring. For example, Ohatsu’s specialty is in using the rifle…many types of which you’ll find throughout the game…but she is also able to use explosives to blow open certain doors. Each of Soki’s partners can also combine certain items that you find into medicines or unique items when at the hideout in between missions.
One thing that was unusual was that each character also has their own Oni Awakening ability as well as the talent for absorbing souls. It isn’t clearly explained in the game as to how Soki’s friends are able to do many of the same things that he can. Gameplay wise, this was probably done to make each character an effective member of the team. Storywise, its doesn’t make a lot of sense despite the relatively strong characterizations that each of them are given, although a thin if not satisfying explanation is supplied in passing.
For example, in Demon Siege, although modern-day cop Jacques Blanc was able to absorb souls and use magical weapons, it was made clear through the discovery of certain relics and with the aid of the Oni. In Dawn of Dreams, there’s not a whole lot that separates the other members from Soki who is supposed to be the main character. While each easily stands apart from the others with their particular personalities and skills, the role of the Onimusha doesn’t seem as “special” which may not sit well with some veterans of the series with everyone seemingly able to stand in for the ‘hero’.
One unusual omission at the start is the seeming lack of the co-op mode that is promised by the game. It’s in there and you can unlock it using a special code that you can find out on ‘net, but it’s not something that isn’t simply something that you can opt to choose.
In a welcome change, Dawn of Dreams offers both English and Japanese languages from the Option screen. Although you have to set it every time you start or load a game, players who want to experience the game in its original language now have the ability to do so. In addition to this, by setting the game to Japanese, the player is also treated to both beginning and end themes sung by J-pop artist, Ayumi Hamasaki, complete with a musical cinematic that accompanies the title of the game on the first DVD.
Feudal Japan has come to vivid life with graphics that push the PS2’s capabilities with special effects and flashy moves filling the screen with as much action as there is lush color. Mountain paths are overgrown with thick roots and worn stone, demonic cherry blossom petals fall from the trees, and castles are filled with dark and foreboding secrets. Capcom’s artists once more prove their knack for breathing life into the dead as well as twisting together living creatures to create the legion of horrors and unique bosses that round out what the player will face.
The characters look alive on the battlefield and are well detailed with each one standing out from each other with their distinctive costumes, moves, and attitudes. Although the cinemas and in-game cuts show the characters’ lips animate with their speech (although it’s clearly not synced to their English lines), when you talk to them outside of these scenes in your hideout as well as see them in the in-game cuts before the start of the next mission, they mime their lines as if they were puppets. While it can look a little odd, you can tell that the animators spent the time to make their movements tell the story that their faces did not.
To top off the presentation, the musical score is a mix of orchestral pieces mixed in with faster tunes styled with a little J-pop. While it sounds like the two styles would clash, they actually work well together in establishing the epic feel of the story where it is needed in the action and the speedier pacing for when things start to heat up. Overall, the music works well with what is in the game and helps to support the unorthodox retelling of history.
The story and the gameplay behind Dawn of Dreams easily makes the game one of the longer actioners that are out there. With the possibility of over fifteen to twenty or more hours of gameplay depending on what the player chooses to challenge themselves with in the game from opening puzzle boxes to improving their gear, the game literally becomes another world that action gamers may not want to easily leave. There’s simply a lot to do in the game outside of the main quest.
The epic tale is told through several stories that accompany each of the characters. Capcom has done a great job in fleshing out the backstory for them and in making the villains as wicked as they can be and as overpowering as they want to be perceived as. Soki and his companions come off as as a likable group of rogues, each with their own agenda but all tied together by a common enemy in Hideyoshi and the Genma. There’s a lot to find out from each of Soki’s companions if the player takes the time in between each mission to talk to them and learn more about what they think. The main narrative that tells their story is done through a mix of narrative voice over during gameplay and the remarkable CG scenes by Wilco, a newcomer to the Onimusha franchise (and also known for other CG work such as in Samurai Warriors and Kessen III).
The cinematic stylings of the story aren’t lost in the gameplay, although certain scenes can be hammed up by certain villains until the grand climax. As entertaining as it is, it isn’t without its faults, though, with a few lapses in logic that will have some players scratching their heads but it manages to maintain its focus. Dawn of Dreams‘ story manages to avoid feeling like a rehash of the previous chapters and comes across more as a book end to the series, coming full circle in an unexpected way. A lot of action and storytelling has been packed into this chapter making it almost as if it were channeling the titles that had come before into a focused epic taking the player to the final, surprising, climactic twist. And when the credits roll, the player is treated to an epilogue that neatly closes the story for both those that are new to the franchise and long time veterans that have been with it since the beginning.
Finishing the game will also unlock a versus game that two players can go head to head in as any of the heroes along with a few villains, and there are a few more bonuses that add to the replayability of Dawn of Dreams.
Dawn of Dreams
Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is an exciting chapter of the Onimusha franchise that has a little of something for everyone. The new tale is much like an epic retelling of the series, throwing in plenty of additions to punch up the aging action formula of the gameplay making it easier than ever to get in and simply start harvesting the dead. Not only does the game do language right by offering both English and Japanese from the get go, but every other change from the deeper 3D environments and lengthy story to the level up options and the massive arsenal of weapons that can be collected alongside partners in battle make demon busting in feudal Japan an epic action adventure that shouldn’t be overlooked.
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