Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams Review / Preview for PlayStation 2 (PS2)

Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams Review / Preview for PlayStation 2 (PS2)

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

Please click here to read our other Onimusha: Dawn Of Dreams Review

March 7, 2006 – Note: If there aren’t any noticeable gameplay diffferences between this import version and the North American version, consider this our definitive review for both. 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

Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, says the house of Mega Man fame. by Cole Smith

Please click here to read our other Onimusha: Dawn Of Dreams Review

March 27, 2006 – Or, don’t kill off a series until you’ve completely milked your cash cow. Capcom has decided to bring the Onimusha series back from the pasture.

So do we begin the game by finding all the inhabitants of Nobunaga taking a shower, and realizing that it was all just a dream? Did it just “dawn” on them that it was all just a “dream?” No. That would be mental. This story is all new and features all new characters. It takes place 15 years after the fall of Nobunaga. Since the story begins anew, you don’t have to have any prior knowledge of the series. For true believers, it’s time once again to take up arms and enjoy one of the best Onimusha games ever.

In the beginning we see a peaceful Japan enjoying its prosperity when a strange planet approaches bringing with it devastation in the form of earthquakes and volcanoes. The benevolent ruler, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, begins to go mad and seizes absolute power over the country as he becomes a brutal dictator. With all the strange happening the return of the wicked Genma is near. Chaos, destruction and evil are once again threatening to destroy the stability of Japan and the lives of its inhabitants as demons begin to walk the earth. But then appears a savior known as the Blue Demon. His real name is Soki and he’s a power to be reckoned with.

The story is well told through cinematic cutscenes that are some of the best in the series. The plot is thick but not thick enough that it can’t twist and turn. The writing is good but there are some translation issues. There are lots of characters involved but they aren’t all thrown at you in the first cutscene. They come in at various stages and even though you may hear their names beforehand, you won’t have to deal with them until later in the game. The premise and the role of the characters in the story is similar to the trilogy but with new characters that are successors to the previous ones. Unlike the trilogy, there is some levity in the story which makes it seem a little more fun and not so damn somber.

Not only is combat system more fluid, flexible and deep, but some of the problems that plagued the trilogy have been addressed. The camera is not fixed to specific angles. Most of the time you can move it 350-degrees so that you can see enemies that would otherwise take shots at you off screen. There are plenty of environmental puzzles where you will have to see clear to the other side of a drop or another platform to make the appropriate move to get to the other side. Moves such as these are so much easier with the manual camera.

Offering five different playable characters with different abilities makes the combat system deeper but without resorting to tons of button combo commands. You will use the same button commands for the different characters but you will access exclusive moves. Unlike so many games with multiple playable characters, you are actually going to see a need to use them all to get through the numerous obstacles throughout the stages. Whether fighting specific enemies or confronted by the various puzzles, you will have to find the right man (or woman) for the job. There isn’t one particular character that you can use to get through the entire game although most of the time you will be playing as Soli most of the time.

You can issue commands to the AI characters, but there are only four commands. One tells them to lay low while they regenerate their health. It’s funny how the enemy seems to help them out by not attacking them too aggressively. All your party members seem to do is block them as they are never provoked into battle. Another old strategy is to switch party members when one character is low on health. There are plenty of health potions available but when the demons get bigger and badder, they deplete your heath quicker.

Playing as the different characters you will use different skills, powers and weapons. Huge swords, projectiles, blades, magic, psychic powers and superhuman strength are some of the weapons and abilities that you will employ against the demons. As the demons increase in power and size, so you and your party members will also be able to gain more moves and upgrade your powers and weapons.

There are two distinct ways to level-up. One is with the capturing of souls which will increase your weapons and upgrade your armor while experience points, which you will receive for success in combat, will increase your powers and abilities. There is plenty of fighting in Dawn of Dreams but it’s offset with some interesting puzzles and side quests. The gameplay is open-ended in that you don’t have to perform all of the side quests but some will definitely be to your benefit in terms of upgrading. The map will open up in the areas that you explore. There is a sense of freedom to the game but there is some backtracking that you will be forced into. Thankfully you have a little buddy that lives in a vase named Minokichi, that will help you warp to other levels. Some of the bosses can be really tough and can send you back a long, long way. You’ll encounter some of these bosses more than once. By completing the game you can go back and encounter more difficult enemies, as well as find new unlockables and more challenging puzzles.

There is a two-player co-op mode but it’s not easy to find. I don’t know if I should spoil it and tell you where it is but I can tell you this, don’t get your hopes up. It’s not that exciting. There is a two-player arena battle mode that you will unlock when you complete the game the first time through.

The graphics are incredibly smooth. Characters display their personalities through their walk, whether it’s the plodding gait of an evil zombie demon or the cocky swagger of the hero. All of the environments are richly detailed. This adventure will take you indoors and outside both day and night through fog, rain and sunny skies. The voiceovers are good and you can select from both Japanese and English. Expect some out-of-synch lip movements.

Dawn of Dreams is a long game. It’s full of surprises, in terms of gameplay, storyline and unlockables. It’s a little more complicated than any of the games in the trilogy but consider this a bonus for die-hard fans.

By Cole Smith
CCC Senior Writer

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