Jeremy Jastrzab
17 Mar, 2006

Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams Review

PS2 Review | Dare to dream.
The Onimusha series has been a real success story through out this generation. You don’t get to a fourth title without gathering some very faithful followers and decent plaudits along the way. With Nobunaga’s ambition being taken care of, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams breaks some of the shackles of the original story line and takes it to new and exciting places. It certainly has come a long way from the days of being something of a Resident Evil copy-cat. With more crammed into this game than ever before, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams really does take you on an extraordinary journey.

Since Nobunaga has been defeated and Samanosuke has hung up his fighting boots, we fast forward some fifteen years after the end of Onimusha 3: Demon Siege. After a period of relative peace and unity, things go pear-shaped once again as the new ruler is seduced by the Genma power. This leader is someone we've met before – it happens to be Hideyoshi Toyotomi. If you’ve played the first two Onimusha, you’ll recognise this guy as the little bitch that cleaned Nobunaga’s boot straps and whinged and ran away every time either Samanosuke or Jubei got to him. Well, now he’s running the land and using the Genma forces to take over the world. You play as a rogue warrior that is only known as Soki. So your basic asim as Soki, is to go and put Hideyoshi back into the place that he belongs.

Compensating for something?

Compensating for something?
Having being somewhat released from the confines of the original, the story explodes into an extravagant tale with many layers. In fact, the way it’s presented and how it unfolds makes it seem like an anime. The story itself is good because it keeps you interested for most of the way and you’ve got plenty of extravagant and colourful characters – including a Spanish guy with a frill and a side-kick that lives in a jar and hangs off a piece of rope. However, the experience is marred by a few plot holes and even though it’s a sizeable story, it takes a few twists too many for it to be plausible.

Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams breaks out a bit from the traditional Onimusha mould by adding numerous new aspects and changing some old ones. You’ll still be cutting your way through hordes of demons and monsters and you’ll still be drawing on their souls to feed your health, magic and experience. The essential nature of these activities hasn’t changed but there are numerous other additions. One of the big things to be said about the game is that it’s evolved from just an action game to something of an action-RPG.

Every single enemy that you defeat will now yield some experience points, as well as the essential souls. With experience points, come levels and with each level you gain a point that you can use to boost numerous attributes, including your attack power, evading skill and speed on soul absorption. To add to that, there is an absolute tonne of weapons and equipable items to be found and bought, each with it’s own subtle difference or powers to give you the choice of how you want to play. Rather than letting all your moves and abilities to be available at the start, you’ll steadily unlock them as you go. Often you’ll find yourselves at a small crossroads as you choose the best weapon but that’s not a bad thing. One thing that can be said against this new approach is that it feels a bit light. Sometimes it’s neither here or there.

Beams of light attack!

Beams of light attack!
Combat has been upgraded as well. The basic elements have been kept, Square to attack and Triangle for Magic, while the kick has been moved to Circle and you absorb souls using the X button. You have control over the camera at most times and it can be moved left and right. This helps when you’re targeting (R1) and now the targeted enemy is highlighted with a reticle and health meter. Most weapons will handle differently. Magic is used in a slightly different manner, rather than using it to take big chunks of enemy health, at lower levels it’s used to stun more than anything else. The guard finally allows you to move. While holding L1, dart and evade in all directions but are vulnerable when moving. The guard still feels a bit slow at times but it is a significant improvement. An attack button has been added on R2 and to transform, you need to press L3 and R3 simultaneously but these abilities are unlocked later on.

There have been two incremental improvements to the combat. The Issen or “Critical” attack has been made in such a manner that it is no longer an issue of luck of extreme skill. Sure, it can still be done using the traditional evade and block methods. Now, after you stun an enemy by kicking through their defences or by stunning them with magic, with the correct timing you can perform a good ol’ critical. However, it no longer ends there. By pushing the analog stick in the direction of an enemy that is close enough and properly timing the attack will allow you to chain the criticals together. Soul collecting has never been so efficient. Add to the entire mix, a bunch of new moves and a pacing that is much more furious and accommodating to huge hordes and it’s pretty damn good. Too bad there isn’t a friendly tutorial like there was in the last title to help you through.

You no longer are left to your own methods. As Soki, you will gain the companionship of four other fighters who will join you to save Japan. You’ve got a fifteen year-old ninja, a monk that can commune with the dead, a giant Spanish guy with a frill and a gun-totting armoured lady. At any one time, you’ll be accompanied one from this colourful bunch and not only do they help you fight through the monsters but they will also come in handy, as each comes with an ability that will help you get to previously unreachable places and to solve puzzles. They can be switched around, given one of four commands or you can even take control of them by pressing L2. This can be done to link up massive attacks or just to take on the feel of the character. It’s good because they all feel very distinct from one another despite the fact that the move sets are similar. You have to take care of them with an ample amount of souls and upgrades, otherwise you may regret it later on.

As with any good Onimusha game, the action is broken up by puzzle solving. You start with the usual puzzle boxes, which seem easy at first but eventually get tougher and work your way up to key and crest hunts. Even later, you’ve got entire levels that are pretty much one big puzzle and others that require the whole group to get together. The game is divided into seventeen levels and you’re left at something of a “base” where you can save, buy, sell, enhance all of your stuff and interests. Your little side-kick lets you go back to previously completed levels or jump into the dark realm – which feels a lot fairer now but you’ve lost a lot of goodies on the way. For Onimusha veterans, they’re likely to find the puzzles quite simple (one actually explains in detail in notes how to find the answer) and at times, the game itself tends to be a bit linear. However, this is not the biggest of issues.

That's one way to get rid of them

That's one way to get rid of them
Despite having a handy new offset, the difficulty of the game is an issue. Unlike previous titles, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams doesn’t get hard roughly half way through the game. No, the game spikes in difficulty at around the fourth stage and this continues to the tenth stage. Apart from very aggressive and overwhelming enemies and the feeling that your characters aren’t getting any stronger (despite efforts of enhancement made in the interim), the main issue that hurts the game is that there are too many bosses and they’re too unforgiving. You’ll come up against several bosses more than once and even one who you have to take on FIVE times. To add to that, pretty much all of them have a huge meter at the bottom and it can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes to beat one. This would’ve been all good and well, if it wasn’t for the fact that most can take you out in a matter of four or so blows. Two things save this from being a disaster. One, the game now allows you to restart form the point that you enter a room, rather than a save point but this can happen several times and not just with the bosses – normal enemies can be just as cheap and unforgiving. Two, the game gets to a point around the tenth/eleventh stage where it looks like the difficulty plateaus and it seems that your characters are able to catch up with the enemy to a certain degree.

Consequently, this difficulty makes the game very difficult to recommend to casual gamers and to Onimusha newbies, despite the fact that you need no previous experience to play. However, this series is successful and there are probably a great deal of Onimusha vets who are game enough to take the beast on. The game can probably be considered Onimusha: Deluxe. This is backed up by the fact that there are a good twenty hours of first time through gameplay, the precursory bag of goodies at the end, a well-hidden co-op mode and that it spans two discs.

Effectively, the things that hamper the game are minor but when added up, they dampen the package a bit. The story has a few holes and the usually sharp dialogue feels rushed and is a bit dodgy at times. Then there’s the scatterbrain difficulty, and a few questionable design decisions that make the puzzles a bit too simple and the game in general feel a bit too linear. Combat is much sharper and better paced, but outside of combat the pacing is not as sharp. Finally, the RPG elements at times feel arbitrary despite being relatively well placed. Still, the good far outweighs the bad, especially if you’re a fan of the series.

It's raining monsters!

It's raining monsters!
One area that is difficult to find fault is the graphical presentation. There are only a couple of FMV’s but the rest of the in-game cut-scenes measure up extremely well. The developers have really outdone themselves here with some of the finest and most impressive graphics ever produced on the PS2. Techincally, the game shines with an unmoving framerate, great attention to even the smallest details, excellent and varied animations and things like texturing being almost touchable. Artistically, the game retains the Onimusha but takes it to unseen places by being both distinguishable and extravagant. The only dampener is the repetitive use of environments, lack of lip-syncing and a few other not-so-obvious PS2 ailments. Otherwise, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is a superb looking game.

The sound doesn’t quite measure up as it had in the past but it’s still good. The dialogue isn’t as sharp as it has been and the voicing suffers for it. Still, the quality of voicing is good in general. The music choices that have been made can be a little circumspect but in general, the quality and variety is good. The sound effects of demons being sliced in two is just as satisfying as it has been throughout the series.

Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams shows that there is life a plenty outside of the original trilogy. With numerous throw backs to the originals, refinement of the game with numerous changes and additions, this game is sure to please the Onimusha faithful. Others who aren’t familiar with the games probably will have a tough time accustoming to the steep difficulty. There really are a few too many things that have been fitted into the one package. Still, anyone who follows Onimusha, considers themselves a seasoned gamer and is a fan of Japanese fiction games and other media, owe it to themselves to check this game out. Just be warned, there’s no easy mode to bail out on this time.
The Score
Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is one for the fans. Despite some issues, it's damn good action game as well. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 years ago
Good review man, I liked that you took the time to talk about some gameplay elements in-depth, which seems to be rare these days for some reason.

Also good to see that someone who's played the other games in the series finds that there's still a great challenge to be had in dawn of dreams. When I heard that it was a good entry point for people new to the series I was afraid they'd make it a little more accessable, which tends to mean too easy.

Less than a week to go, can't wait icon_biggrin.gif
8 years ago
Call me crazy... I still cannot get over the blonde samurai issue. Even though I love Onimusha 1, 2 & 3. I'm not going to pick this up.
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