PS2 REVIEW: ONIMUSHA: DAWN OF DREAMS (Import)

The next installment of Onimusha is available in Japan, coming to North America very shortly, and chock full of surprises. by StewXX

March 7, 2006 - Imagine my surprise when I discovered my import Japanese version of Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams had settings for English text and voices. Ka-Ching! I live for things like this. I wasn't expecting to have too much trouble working my way through the Japanese import as hacking and slashing is the universal language, but there is a surprising amount of good story telling here and I'm tickled that I was able to play Dawn of Dreams (hereby referred to as DoD) in my native tongue. I prefer listening to the Japanese voices while reading the text - and I expect the localization to improve with the North American release as it's a little wonky in spots.

Without ruining the entire plot for you, I'll just recap: It's been 16 years since Nobunaga was defeated at the hands of Samanosuke. Calm and order has been restored to Japan and ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi has been keeping the peace. That is until a strange planet appears in the sky, wreaking havoc with nature and causing Toyotomi to become an angry, power-hungry zealot, hellbent on doing nasty things. Cue Soki, Oni of the Ash: aka "The Blue Demon" (at least that's what it says on his bomber jacket) our hero for this period piece who happens to have a vested interest in Toyotomi. You'll have to play the entire game to find out their relationship.

If you were under the impression that Capcom was retiring the series after Onimusha 3, you're a sweet kid. Instead of resting on their laurels and spitting out a rehashed game they know fans will buy anyway, Capcom fixed a lot of those niggling issues gamers have had with the series since its inception while at the same time evolving the gameplay to infuse more replay value. The enhancements to DoD include a fully functional camera system which finally gives players the vantage point they've been craving: ANY vantage point other than the default! Aside from a few areas in the game, you will have full control over what you see, which is worth a fourth installment in its own right. Since the series originated as a Resident Evil game way back when, the franchise has been known for incorporating those RE dramatic camera angles which weren't necessary in a hack and slash game. DoD really scales back on these oddball viewpoints and the game is far better for it. Interactivity has been increased and the addition of more playable characters (5 in total) all with various strengths and weaknesses bumps the value through the roof. Capcom even allows co-op play with another player (with a secret code)! While this mode is a welcome addition, please note that adjusting the camera isn't functional as it is in the single player mode, for obvious reasons.

Playing as 5 different characters elevates DoD from being another run-of-the-mill hack n' slash, to something far more entertaining. However as we have seen in previous games that offer such experimentation, often times the limitations of the characters border on ridiculous. Characters who are incredibly powerful for example, will require a more agile character to finish a level because their "special ability" is the only thing that will suffice - which is silly as hell - but that's just the way things work. Puzzle solving will require the use of the different characters and it's in your best interest to backtrack to previous levels with new characters to see if their particular powers will reveal hidden secrets or help progress in that stage.

Playing co-op with a CPU controlled character adds an extra dimension to the series as well. 4 commands are available to your robot-pal, which can be issued via the D-Pad - Soul Absorption, All out Attack, Follow and Attack or Wait and Recover. For the most part, having a teammate along for the adventure keeps things interesting. As is often the case with CPU controlled characters, you will experience hiccups in functionality, but nothing catastrophic. Offering 5 distinct play styles and weapons for each character: heavy swords (broadsword), barehanded, katanas, staves and guns, chances are high that you won't be bored playing DoD. Each character can upgrade their weapons, armor and abilities with the collection of orbs and skill points as they progress which keeps the learning curve and experimentation factors high.

Enemy AI in the Onimusha series has never been incredibly intelligent and DoD is no different. The demonic Genma's only known use is simply to be slaughtered at the hands of the hero de jour. As long as you don't expect much of a fight out of the underlings, you'll be on the right track. Underestimate the bosses and mid-level enemies however, and you'll be an unhappy camper to say the least. The boss battles in DoD are terrific and as epic and imaginative as you've come to expect from the series.

Presentation has always been Capcom's specialty and DoD pulls out all of the stops. I can't imagine how incredible any of Capcom's games would look on the Xbox or X360. I shudder to think about it. What they are able to pull off visually on the PS2 is nothing short of brilliant. Everything about DoD shines with quality touches from the menu screens, CG cutscenes, lighting, animation, character design and models and backgrounds. It's all topnotch. The visual style of the game has been altered to reflect more of a fantasy edge, rather than the feudal Japan of the previous installments. I can only assume Capcom is intending to take the series in the fantasy direction, given the character design choices they made for DoD. Once you get a look at Soki, you'd swear you were playing a real time Final Fantasy game. Not that this a bad thing, in fact, I think the series will have more worldwide appeal by evolving the art direction.

DoD clocks in at a hefty 20+ hours for the single player mode which is almost unheard of in the hack n slash genre; that's a lot of game time. Take into account the 500 level Dark Realm mode, Valor challenges and tons of secrets to unlock (including playable Street Fighter skins!...how cool is that?) and you've got a game that will keep on giving until you just can't take anymore. If you've been a close fan of the series since its inception, the new direction won't throw you. It's a welcome change and breathes new life into the Onimusha franchise. After the stellar Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition and now this, Capcom is on a roll in 2006.

By StewXX
CCC Staff Writer

Preview By Gooseberry

Capcom announced Shin Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams for PlayStation 2, the 4th installment of the popular samurai action adventure series. This time the game will have a new setting, the story takes place in 1598, 16 years after the battles between Samanosuke and Nobunaga in Onimusha 3.

The world is in peace until one day, suddenly a red star appears from the sky, and causing natural disasters at various places over the country, and the genma monsters reappear on the land, and the ruler of the land - Toyotomi Hideyoshi also became berserk.

The producer is Inafune, the cherry blossoms is the theme of the game. The protagonist is an original character, instead of modeled after an actor like the previous games. Let's hope there aren't any real actors that look like the main guy in Dawn of Dreams, since all of the real actors used as digitized heroes in Onimusha have been deceased. Aside from Jean Reno in Onimusha 3. As far as weapons, our protagonist will wield two long blades as weapon, one is red and one is blue. I wonder if it's like Smarties....you should always kill with the red one last.

The game is currently 20% completed, Capcom is aiming to push out the game sometimes in spring 2006.

By Gooseberry
CCC Freelance Writer

Click For Media
System: PS2
Dev: Capcom
Pub: Capcom
Release: Mar 2006
Players: 1 - 2
Review By StewXX

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best