Review: Surprisingly, no French surrendered during the making of this game.
While Capcom is famous for legendary and successful game franchises, they have one small habit ? they tend to milk their cash cows dry, and then beat it like it was a dead horse to get some more cash out of it, embarrassingly. Which is why it's surprising that Capcom is actually ready to retire their most consistent franchise of the PlayStation 2 era, Onimusha. After the success and quality of the original 2 games, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege is the end ? Capcom intends for this one to be the finale of the series, wrapping up a pre-planned trilogy. Thankfully, the franchise is set to go out with a serious bang with Onimusha 3 ? simply, Samanosuke's latest adventure is his best, and by a wide margin too. Once you get past the initial groaning about the whole time-travel gimmick, you'll realize how well it works, and how much it helps the game. Capcom has struggled at times the last couple years, but Onimusha 3 is one of the best games they've released this generation.
Returning from an absence (in visible form, there were notes and words concerning him) in Onimusha 2, the game revolves around the adventures of Samanosuke, a 16th century samurai with the power of Onimusha ? the ability to kill demons (known as Genma this time around) and absorb their souls to power himself up. On a raid one day to kill revived Genma Lord Nobunaga Oda, Samanosuke gets attacked and suddenly is sucked into a vortex and disappears from his world. When you see him again?he's wound up in modern day Paris, where at the exact same time, a horde of Genma has attacked the city, decimated the French army (yes, there's a punchline here?but we'll not go there), and is set to rule the future (or modern, depending on your position). However, there's more ? Frenchman Jacques (played by Jean Reno, one of the coolest people taking frequent breaths), a French police officer, is here, fighting the Genma with his cohorts. Of course, you know what happens ? Jacques is sucked into another vortex, and winds up in Samanosuke's time, effectively replacing him there. As he arrives, he's given the power that Samanosuke uses, and meets Ako, a tengu fairy who serves as the link between eras. In order for both men to return to their eras, Nobunaga must be defeated, and whatever caused the men to switch places has to be stopped.
The plot is trite, yes, but Capcom pulls it off well because not only does the game tell a story through cutscenes and various documents, it actually uses the gameplay itself as the narrator. While early on, the duo can only deal with the situation they're in (for instance, Samanosuke is responsible for helping Jacques girlfriend Michelle and his son Henri, while Jacques is helped out by?well, that's a spoiler), the game takes a distinctive change a bit later, when the pair are in the exact same area in different time period (don't ask how). When this happens, the game unfolds by using the past to alter the future. Basically, if Jacques does something in the past, like opens a door or solves a puzzle, it will affect what's going on in the present with Samanosuke. Obviously it doesn't work the other way around. Ako plays the link ? items you find can be passed from era to era via her teleporting back and forth, both sides helping each other out with Ako as the guide. This isn't the first time a form of time travel has been snuck into a game obviously (and on PS2, long forgotten launch-era title Shadow of Destiny, you could willingly leap from period to period), but the angle works well despite the obvious need to suspend belief.
Ako serves as not just your link between Sam and Jacques ? she also plays a vital role in the adventuring aspects. You can find special Oni stones scattered around the world ? both eras ? that can be equipped on ?tengu vests' that enable special powers for Ako. These vary in abilities, though the most important and useful one is the ability to heal if you stand still in a safe area. It results in perhaps the game being extremely easy as long as you have the patience to wait for the process, and also leads to an overabundance of healing items scattered around. But with so many enemies sprouting everywhere you look?it's probably for the best. You can switch her abilities at any time barring the situation (a boss fight, obviously, you'll want her soul-harvesting skills instead of healing ability), making her useful even if you happen to find her annoying (and she can be). She'll also pick up items from dead genma, and will find treasure chests that are out of your reach.
Onimusha 3 plays the same as its predecessors ? only this time, the game is entirely in 3D, with no pre-rendered backgrounds to hamper things. The control scheme is much more akin to Devil May Cry, though you can change it to the traditional 2D controls if you feel so. The switch doesn't change the game though ? it's still a hack & slash, soul-collecting ass-wasting good time, only this time you can do it with different characters. While Samanosuke takes the more obvious swords route (acquiring all new, devastating weapons), meaning old-time fans will easily relate and recognize his attributes, Jacques instead uses a ?whip' like set of weapons, like a huge whip with a spiked ball on the end, and a sword that becomes a whip a la Ivy from Soul Calibur. This actually mixes up the game a bit as Jacques plays slightly different, especially since he can use his whip to play Indiana Jones and use Oni Bugs to chain from place to place, which Samanosuke does not. This means that when Jacques is doing his future-altering, it means reaching places in a location that Sam cannot. Both characters have magic spells depending on the element of their equipped weapon (fire, ice, lighting, etc), and all can be upgraded using souls collected from the demons you've wasted.
There's one other gameplay mechanic at work as well, when you take control of Michelle, who's not only Jacques ladyfriend, but also one tough military chick who's pretty handy with a machine gun. For roughly an hour, you can shoot the crap out of things with her, and with a Soul Bracelet, collect souls as well, which can be transferred over once you take control of Samanosuke. It breaks up the action quite well, but is probably one of the more frustrating aspects of the game, because of the aiming system. With Jacques and Sam, it's pinpoint, targeting the closest enemy to you, but with Michelle, it's all over the place when trying to hit a specific enemy. You sorta ?learn' how to manage, but it will be a tad bothersome at first while trying to get it down. Because it only lasts about 1/8th of the game though, it's hard to really complain all that much.
Speaking of souls, the process is familiar to Onimusha 2, meaning you can collect purple souls now to become an actual Oni and be invincible for a time. Collecting six purple souls will allow you to trigger this, either by actually activating it, or waiting to die, as it will be used as a Phoenix Down of sorts and let you come back super-strong and hopefully wipe out what wiped you out. Pink souls are for leveling up weapons and armor, blue souls are for magic, and yellow for health ? all usual trademarks. There's actually nothing new, and no tug of war aside from the flying soul-sucking things that steal from off-screen.
There's the usual mini-games returning as well, though a few less than Onimusha 2. The puzzle boxes return (groan), and they're fairly tough, as you have to line up the blocks until a turquoise line goes from one side to the other ? it always looks easy on the surface, but damn, they can be real head-scratchers until you figure it out, then you look like a moron. The infamous Dark Realm returns as well, with the weird-ass guy from Onimusha making both Jacques and Samanosuke the offer in their respective eras.
Effectively, if you are an Onimusha fan, you'll be very happy with Onimusha 3. However, there are some very positive changes, with one possible minor one, that might actually help the game appeal to new fans who perhaps were turned off by the quirks of the original 2. For one, the game is much longer than the previous pair?combined. In some aspects, it actually runs a bit long, but considering the first 2 were ridiculed for their length, this is a welcome change. The move to full 3D is also a very positive move, as the game flows much more freely and there's none of the wild camera shifting that could lead to blind attacks. Onimusha 3 is as far from a Resident Evil game as you'd imagine, shifting from what was RE with swords to its own unique action/adventure slant ? the slow evolving process is outstanding. Disappointingly (or thankfully, depending on your view), Demon Siege is a tad easier than before, sans some crazy-tough boss battles but the length of the game makes up for it. 10-15 hours of play with quite a bit of replay (including a harder setting to unlock, and an easier one if you find the game difficult) and quite a few unlockables, like the usual mini-game and bizarre alternate costumes (the panda suit returns for Samanosuke, and you can get a ?Michelle soaking wet' look as well, for those who're into fantasizing about video game girls). It doesn't have the alternating storyline paths like Onimusha 2 that could lead to entirely different altercations and actions, but it's definitely replayable to get higher rankings and find stuff you missed before. But on the whole, the game feels much less difficult than the previous installments that were shoeleather-tough most of the time.
Anything else bothersome with Onimusha 3 is more or less personal preference ? the time travel element is great, yes, but I'd imagine someone getting annoyed with the constant back-and-forth item-shuffling to solve puzzles in order to progress, especially since there are times when you can get easily lost. Early on, when it's just a storyline shift, it works out well, but once you start the era-swapping all the time, it becomes the lone gameplay mechanic ? without it, there's no progress. This reliance does get repetitive from time to time, especially later in the game when the puzzles become occasionally tedious & obscure (and of course, there's one of those famous ?solve or die' timed puzzles the series is famous for). If this doesn't bother you, then it's not an issue, but beware that the time-travel is not only a storyline element, but also the main method of progressing through said storyline.
Despite the change to full 3D, as opposed to the pre-rendered backdrops, Onimusha 3 looks great, and actually better than the originals despite the supposedly lesser-detailed real-time backgrounds. They didn't break the bank upgrading animations and character designs or anything, but the worlds of the game are lush and detailed, and the game runs smoothly. When Samanosuke is in Paris, familiar landmarks that define the city are there, in perfectly realistic glory, while Japan is colorful and organic, with tons of natural effects to really make the game shine. While this is probably one of the best looking PS2 games around, you won't be wowed by them anyway, unless you skipped the opening CG, which is unquestionably the most ridiculously awesome CG in recent memory (and this comes from someone who thinks the FFX/FFX-2 CG's are worship-quality). At about 7 minutes in length, the scene explains what's going on when you first take over as Samanosuke, and serves as a way for you to drool all over yourself. It's difficult to put into words, so check it out yourself, and dare to be wowed by non-interactive computer animation.
Led by an epic, sweeping soundtrack that's as much a trademark of the series as puzzle boxes and timed death puzzles, the audio does a competent job of rounding out the experience. Many of the sound effects are swiped straight from the originals, but they were fine, so why change it? The voice acting leaves something to be desired, however. While it's okay?decent, it's still a bit awkward in places, especially when dealing with the French characters (when they're not speaking French, anyway?I guess they do all right in French, seeing as I don't know the language all that well). When speaking French, Jean Reno handles his character, but once Ako does some magic trick so they all speak the same language, some other guy takes over. And the guy sounds bad, nowhere near as good as Reno. Obviously Capcom didn't pay enough to get an English voiceover for Jacques, or it would have been there, I'd guess. It's not embarrassing or anything, really, but it's still not a top-notch effort like we've seen out of fellow publishers like Square or Konami.