What happens when you take time travel, feudal Japan, Jean Reno, and mix it all together? You might get something like Capcom’s “Onimusha 3: Demon Siege”.
“Onimusha 3: Demon Siege” is the third Onimusha title for the PS2.
Revisionist History…Onimusha Style
“Demon Siege” sees the return of Samonosuke Akechi, the samurai warrior who had bested the armies of the demonic genma hungry to conquer feudal Japan in the first Onimusha. Aided by the enigmatic Oni, Samonsuke defeated the demonic genma only to allow Nobunaga Oda…thought dead from an assassins arrow through his Adam’s apple…to place himself in the throne left vacant. But Samonosuke disappears to hunt the last of the genma after the final battle leaving only whispers behind him.
Resurrecting actor Yusaku Matsuda’s likeness for the role, Onimusha’s team brought in Yagyu Jubei to take the starring lead in the second chapter, “Samurai’s Destiny”. In the second chapter, Yagyu with the help of friends would find themselves embroiled in another genma plot under the shadow of Samonsuke’s strange disappearance and the rumors of Nobunaga Oda’s supposed return. Their success only delayed the inevitable.
In “Demon Siege”, Samonosuke returns finding himself fighting a war against Nobunaga Oda from two fronts and with an unexpected ally. After another jaw droppingly beautiful opening cinematic that sets the stage for the war to follow, you will soon find yourself on the front lines of a battle that reach into the future. Tearing through time, Nobunaga’s genma armies are on the march as they explode into the year 2004 over Paris. Jean Reno brings his face and some of his voice talent to the game as Jacques Blanc, a member of France’s special forces, who finds himself caught in the middle of the chaos that explodes all around him. While chaos reigns in the future, the conqueror continues to make plans to subjugate the past but before Samonosuke can confront him, a strange power envelops the two as they suddenly switch places. Samonosuke finds himself in the modern world while Jacques Blanc is suddenly thrust into 16th century Japan. With the help of Ako, a tengu spirit that can travel time, the two must learn to work together in order to stave off the forces of Nobunaga and defeat him once and for all.
The Sword and the Whip
In “Demon Siege”, players will take the parts of Samonosuke Akechi and Jean Reno’s character of Jacques Blanc as the final battle against Nobunaga Oda is waged. The entire game is played from a third person perspective as with the previous two, allowing the player to watch the battles unfold all around the hero that they have in control at the moment. In a huge change from the usual 2D static bitmaps that had served as the backdrops to the bloodletting in the previous two chapters, the Onimusha team has taken the leap into 3D.
The game camera will follow the characters around in a scene instead of waiting to hit that ‘sweet’ loading spot for the next area. You’ve still got a few of those transitions, but the flow of the levels and the gameplay have been markedly improved with this change. The freedom that this gives the player on screen easily breaks the feeling of being boxed into an area as was the case with the previous two installments. It’s not without its issues, though, and sometimes the camera will position itself in a way that you can’t see Samonosuke or Jacques…especially when large enemies crowd around them blocking your view and making it difficult to decide which way to run without getting smacked back down on the ground.
Our heroes are more than ready to meet the genma head on, though. As with the previous Onimusha titles, the characters have the ability to ‘absorb’ souls released from defeated enemies thanks to a special gauntlet given to them by the enigmatic Oni. Jacques Blanc, of course, has a hard time dealing with all of this weirdness but once he does, finds that he can also do some pretty amazing things. With these souls, the characters can improve their weapons and armor by investing these captured souls into leveling them up at special mirrors. They can even improve the Oni gauntlet that they use allowing it to absorb souls at a much faster pace. Other souls are also released from defeated foes that can replenish your health as well as your magic.
Another ally also makes her appearance to the two as a sort of gothic Tinkerbell by the name of Ako. She shows up in front of Jacques first and explains that through her magic, she can allow him to understand what is going on around him. She’ll soon provide the same thing for Samonosuke and not only provides a nice explanation for how everyone can understand each other but can provide side benefits in the form of bonuses thanks to vests that she can wear. As both Jacques and Samonosuke adventure, they’ll run across additional vests for Ako that do a variety of things such as increase the amount of souls that are released from killed monsters to healing.
Both characters wield their own sets of different weapons and fighting styles. Samonosuke wields powerful, bladed weapons of mass carnage leaving Jacques to adopt whiplike tools of devastation that even Devo would be proud of. Special moves are also available allowing for a variety of instant kills or devastating chains. The weapons are also armed with their own unique magics ranging from lightning fast attacks to freezing your enemies fast allowing you to shatter them where they stand. Jacques can also feed his inner archaeologist by using his weapons to whip across chasms or up onto rooftops and other hard to reach places. Special ‘firefly’ posts that fly in the air are used as swing points for his weapons and some of these are even hidden allowing him to get to hidden treasures scattered everywhere. The limitations for each weapon will be something that players will need to learn as they switch between the two in the later sections of the adventure.
Fans of the series will find more to like in the game as the familiar fighting system makes a return along with several enhancements. New weapons are introduced which bring with them new magic and special moves. A tutorial system is now in place to help the player get used to the different tactics and styles used by either character rewarding a successful training session with something useful like herbs or medicine. Access to these lessons is done through the use of magical mirrors found in certain areas which also act as save points.
Jacques’ arsenal of weapons and moves threw in several surprises not the least of which was the ability to whip throw your foes. The downside here is that when you play Samonosuke’s role, you may feel that you’re once again back in the same Onimusha mold since all he had managed to get was a set of different weapons. This was kind of strange since Samonosuke is technically the main guy who is supposed to take down Nobunaga Oda and here he is doing the same thing that he and his contemporaries have been doing in the last two chapters. To say that this was starting to get old is not quite true, but it isn’t far from feeling that way.
Jacques, on the other hand, feels like a breath of fresh air with his own weapon style and moves. The whiplike weapons he takes into battle are different enough to be exciting and not in a naughty sort of way. The game almost feels biased towards him in some respects (I found it much easier to level his weapons and armor than I did with Samonosuke) making it almost feel as if Samonosuke is a second fiddle. Indeed, in several sections of the game, Jacques runs into the 16th century Samonosuke (Jacques was pulled back far enough before Samonosuke’s fateful encounter at Honnoji temple that sent him to the future) and the two of them fight it out among the genma. I wouldn’t have minded playing the entire game from Jacques’ perspective since he was definitely a lot of fun to play through with. However, the game is balanced enough that even he can’t do everything on his own. The feel in combat is very different for both and players will find that in some situations, Jacques is not as efficient as Samonosuke is in getting out of tight spots.
In addition to the arsenal that you’ll eventually build and master, you also have the power of the Oni behind you in the form of purple souls that you will also be able to collect from fallen enemies. Collecting so many these allows you to enter Onimusha mode where you become death incarnate complete with flaming hair and a bad complexion. You can even save the opportunity, leaving it as insurance should you fall in battle. If that happens, you’ll automatically transform into a living avatar of death allowing you to catch your wind and even harness some healing after you come out of the zone.
Both characters also have their own inventory as they find herbs, medicine, scrolls that reveal more of the story behind the chaos, weapons, and even relics that can resurrect them if they should fall in battle. The inventory between the two aren’t unified so what Samonosuke collects is not automatically shared with Jacques in the past. However, at one point in the game, Ako will be able to transfer certain items between the two as she zaps from one era to the next. This is also used in puzzles as the two share items and relics to get around certain obstacles.
Of Demons and Puzzles
Sixteenth century Japan and modern Paris are teeming with a variety of monsters that range from rotting foot soldiers to suits of armor fueled by flaming demonic hate. There’s no shortage of enemies to take out in “Demon Siege” or locales to do it in. The heroes will find Nobunaga’s demonic servants everywhere from the sewers of Paris to a fishing village in feudal Japan. The only downside to all of this eye candy are some of the flat textures and low detailed models that almost seem to stand out against the lush backgrounds.
The audio of the game continues to hold up to the quality that was found in the previous chapters with dramatic pieces underlying much of the gameplay. The voice acting was decent, although people may get caught off guard by the duality of Jacques. The French speaking parts are spoken by none other than Jean Reno himself, his gravelly voice delivering his lines in while the English is spoken by someone else. The differences between the two are pretty dramatic but not altogether bad. It just takes some getting used to. The rest of the voice work is done just as well but the option to listen to the original Japanese has again been left out.
In addition to the ruin that you’ll be leaving in your wake, there are a few puzzles that will also challenge your wits. Just as in the previous chapters, there are a lot of special chests tucked away throughout the game with puzzle locks containing valuable items that range from special orbs that can raise your health or magic, to talismans that can raise you from the dead in an instant as they consume themselves. The time traveling aspect of the game also adds a new dimension to the puzzles that both characters will find along the way to their final confrontation with Nobunaga.
The “Demon Realm” mini-game also makes another comeback. As in the previous chapters, there is a hidden stage where you can face several levels filled with increasingly deadlier numbers of genma. The deeper you journey, the more challenges that the realm throws at you. But this isn’t an excuse just to slice and smash your foes. In “Demon Siege”, they’ve included more than a few more of these opportunities, each one more complex than the last with branching paths within them. Within these demonic training grounds are a variety of valuable relics that can help you out and if you’re good, you’ll have a chance to unlock extra weapons for when you finish the game or even the ultimate weapon for both Samonosuke and Jacques. The only problem with this was that one of the ultimate weapons that I managed to get was pretty useless because of how close it was to the end.
“Demon Siege” stands as a pretty solid chapter to the Onimusha franchise, but as you adventure through the third chapter in Samonosuke’s final battle against Nobunaga Oda, some may find that the title walks a fine line between epic adventure and unintentional camp.
The overall arc of the story wasn’t bad and kept me motivated enough to keep going just to see where the next chapter would lead our heroes. But there were a few strange moments throughout the time traveling narrative that made it difficult to keep a serious face through some of the scenes, something that the game tries to do. Still, that might be a lot to expect out of franchise that turns historical characters from Japan’s past into unholy generals seeking to conquer the living, but it would have been more forgiveable if the gaffes weren’t so off the wall.
Perhaps the most telling issues I had with the story flow was how shallow some of the characters were. One example of what I’ll be driving at is in how they deal with all of the madness that’s going on around them. Samonosuke I can understand. That kind of stuff happens in his world all the time. But what about the others?
For example, at one point in the game, Michelle…one of Jacques’ friends on the force…meets up with Samonosuke who is still clad in his traditional armor and wielding a large sharp object. After shooting at him, she decides to trust the guy. Apparently a normal thing to do. At one point, they need to go back to Jacques’ apartment in order to check on his son, Henri, who asks who Samonosuke is when he looks behind Michelle and sees a sixteenth century samurai standing there speaking perfect French (from his perspective). Either it’s a European thing to be this friendly with cosplay actors wielding weapons following someone who you already have a problem with, or the kid has secretly led an alternate life where this kind of thing just happens all the time. At any rate, my mind was blown like a recalled tire when Henri apparently had his two seconds of confusion and then accepted the whole thing as normal.
Then there’s also one of the weaker moments in the continuity of the whole “past effecting the future” thing that had me second guessing what was going on. This has to do with the complete destruction of a particular area of the game in the past only to see it completely unfazed in the future (before it blows up again). Did they rebuild the whole place stone by stone over the centuries or what? Giant monster with a flying palace on its back, okay, I can deal with since that’s kind of expected in Onimusha especially after the last installment. But come on. Shouldn’t that at least have screwed with the timeline in a major way or something? SOMETHING should have changed.
So, in short, the story had it’s moments where it felt like an epic adventure with two heroes standing against the tide of darkness led by Nobunaga’s faithful. Other times, it felt like a time traveling train wreck that Star Trek would have had problems explaining. The good news is that most of the key moments of the story continue to hold up and support the action packed gameplay that the series does well keeping you focused on bringing down Ranmaru Mori or surviving long enough to face the sadistic genma scientist Guildenstern in a much awaited confrontation.
The Samurai and the Conqueror
“Demon Siege” is the end of a tale that starred Samonosuke Akechi and his battles against Nobunaga Oda. The action, refreshed with the introduction of Jacques Blanc and a few new weapons for Samonosuke’s return, is back along with the buckets of gore that accompanies its wake. The battles looked good, the scenery was rich, and the villains were cast in pure evil…all of that stood against a somewhat tongue-in-cheek time traveling tale with more holes in it than Schroedinger’s Swiss Cheese.
Fans of the series will find quite a bit to like here if they can forgive the somewhat all too familiar feeling that the gameplay is starting to have at this point while newcomers may take to the slash ’em up action and dramatic backdrop that the title provides. If you can forgive some of the time traveling continuity gaffes and a few of the shallower character moments in this final chapter in Samonosuke’s battle against the Dark Lord of the Genma, you still have a pretty entertaining action adventure. There are also a few bonuses that are unlocked at the end of the game including the opportunity to play as one of the other key characters in a side story that takes place while Samonosuke and Jacques are tearing it up elsewhere.
“Onimusha 3: Demon Siege” is a chapter that fans of the series shouldn’t miss out on as it rewrites history with the flash and drama that one would expect from Samonosuke’s climactic confrontation with the King of Demons.
– World 1-1