Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams – Excellent Graphics and Solid Gameplay!

Say what you will about Capcom and their tendency to produce too much of a good thing, (you have only to observe the store shelves and count the seemingly numerous Mega Man titles that are there), when it comes to producing quality software and giving consumers what they want, few companies can do better. It is this philosophy that has allowed them to create franchises that have left a lasting impression on the gaming scene; Mega Man, Resident Evil, and Devil May Cry are a few that come to mind. Ironically, it can be argued that in some cases, Capcom is a victim of its own successes.

A few of Capcom’s other products have caused gamers to form the impression that the company took certain aspects of their successful items and adapted them to specific circumstances. For instance, due to the success of the Resident Evil game series, Capcom’s next venture, Dino Crisis, was billed as ‘Resident Evil with dinosaurs.’ The same was true when Capcom released Onimusha: Warlords as a Playstation 2 launch title; it was immediately dismissed as ‘Resident Evil with samurai.’

Both Dino Crisis and Onimusha would become best-sellers for their respective systems. Faced with these circumstances, Capcom crafted sequels for each adventure. A second Dino Crisis adventure appeared on the original Playstation, with the third episode debuting on the Microsoft Xbox. As for Onimusha, Capcom would release an additional sequel on the Playstation 2 before bringing the series to its ‘conclusion’ with the third Onimusha game, subtitled ‘Demon Siege.’

While ‘Demon Siege’ was billed as the final Onimusha adventure, Capcom has never been a company to rest on its laurels for any series. This rationale has led to the release of the fourth Onimusha adventure, ‘Dawn of Dreams.’ How does it stand up against its predecessors?

In crafting this fourth Onimusha adventure, Capcom pitched it as ‘a completely new Onimusha, with a new hero in a new era.’ These proves to be the case, since this episode takes place in a feudal Japan where Nobunaga Oda is vanquished and his retainer, Hideyoshi, has succeeded him. However, despite Hideyoshi’s fair policies, he falls prey to outside forces, leading to the rebirth of the Genma, the same evil that plagued the heroic samurai in the previous Onimusha episodes.

Tasked with restoring order to Japan is Soki, Oni of the Ash. He is a blond haired samurai who initially comes across as brash, but eventually shows his true colors as the quest progresses. He is later joined by Jubei Yagyu, Ohatsu, Tenkai, and Roberto. Each of these members has specific strengths and weaknesses, and while they may fall into standard group archetypes (one is best for long-range attacks, while another is the group’s muscle), they each have their own unique personalities. Minokichi, Soki’s monkey companion, is also on hand to give the group advice, along with serving as a means of transport to previously-visited areas.

The graphics in Dawn of Dreams are smooth. In fact, one looking at this game would be hard-pressed to classify it as a Playstation 2 adventure. The character designs possess great detail, and the locales show great attention to detail as well. The sound, which consists of sword slashes, enemy grunts, and item collection chimes, is sufficient, although the voices of the various characters, specifically Soki and Jubei, can come across as annoying. The game’s music fares better, with riveting scores accompanying boss battles and cut-scenes. The music also varies its pitch depending on the situation, which does its part in adding atmosphere to the adventure.

Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams may be similar to its brethren in terms of graphics, but it distinguishes itself in two key areas: control and replay value.

Previous Onimusha experiences have used a control scheme that was made common in Resident Evil. This interface relied on using the digital pad for movement, an unpopular choice in three-dimensional action games due to the lack of quick response. While the third Onimusha game allowed the option of analog movement, the fourth Onimusha game makes it standard. The game also allows camera control with the right analog stick, an improvement over the fixed system used in previous Onimusha games. The result is a smoother, efficient experience.

Dawn of Dreams also separates itself from the previous Onimusha games through length. Contrasting with the brevity found in previous episodes, Dawn of Dreams spans two discs of play, leading to an estimated 15-20 hour quest. Although initially impressive at first, this length is achieved by reusing areas and bosses, which may not delight gamers expecting constant freshness.

While the above factors make this new Onimusha adventure a dream come true, two main factors threaten to turn the adventure into a nightmare. The first is the story’s presentation. While action games are not necessarily known for epic tales, they are known for how those tales are presented. Onimusha’s tale is lacking because it relies too much on action movie clichÃ?©s (The main villains laugh almost constantly and the main character is frequently referred to as ‘the last hope for humanity’). The second factor is the game’s inherent complexity. Players will end up using every button on the Playstation controller to do everything from basic attacks to purifying attacks, to combo attacks. While many will welcome this challenge, new players may feel overwhelmed.

Despite these faults, this new Onimusha experience is certainly one that can be enjoyed by all. While this new adventure may have its differences from the previous games, it does share one similarity: combining sharp action and puzzle solving with excellent production values.

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