Gamestyle Archive Intro: it has been a while since we had a writer debut in the archive so I’m pleased to welcome Anna Williams into the fold. Hopefully this is the first of several great reviews from her in an era when gaming was perceived wrongly to be a male activity. If my hazy memory is correct she loved the Capcom games and characters. This review dates from July 2004.
This game gets off to a good start before one’s even opened the box – Capcom are well-known for producing stellar titles (barring a few exceptions like Glass Rose and Devil May Cry 2), and Onimusha 3 is sourced from vintage stock: a duo of games which possessed gorgeous graphics, frankly astonishing FMV sequences, joypad-throwingly hard puzzles and slick combat. Onimusha 3 could have been just more of the same – and Capcom would have been safe in the knowledge that it would sell well – but this game goes the whole ten yards (oh yes!) and elevates itself well above its predecessors.
Demon Siege is the first in the Onimusha series to make use of the thumbsticks (finally!), but in an admirable nod to user-friendliness, one can still ape the style of the first two titles (ie, playing with D-pad) should one wish to. Indeed, one can even use them in conjunction: the stick for movement and evasion, and the pad for combos such as the ten-point slash. The game once again features good old Samanosuke, the hero of the first ‘musha (although he’s aged a bit since then). Joining him are Jacques Blanc (a French policeman who has been rendered in the likeness of actor Jean Reno – presumably to capitalise upon the European market), his girlfriend Michelle Aubert, and Ako – a faerie-like creature related to the ‘Tengu’ species. Sadly, Jubei Yagyu is conspicuous by his absence. As well as feudal Japan, this game also takes place in modern-day France, as one switches between the two main characters. Jacques and Samanosuke are teleported into each others’ times courtesy of a machine called the Time-Folder, created by mad scientist Guildenstern – one of the most high-ranking of the evil ‘Genma’ demons (as opposed to the ‘Oni’, who are the nice ones).
Gameplay alternates between Jacques, who is trapped in medieval Japan, and Sam in France, both of whom are accompanied by the cheerful tengu Ako (who can conveniently hop between time periods). At certain checkpoints, she can even ferry items from one man to the other; this is necessary in order to solve puzzles (as actions taken by Jacques in the past can affect Sam in the future) or to resolve the disparity of healing-items (herbs in Japan, med kits in France). Additionally, one can also play as Michelle Aubert, an elite grenade-toting policewoman with big ‘woo’ guns, who needs to rescue Jacques’ annoying sprog Henri (when he goes walkabout in search of his father).
Onimusha 3 offers a great deal of variety in locations (especially when compared to the first two games, which pretty much took place in the same village and its surrounding countryside): Japan showcases the forests of Mt. Hiei and the seaport town of Sakai, as well as castles, a frozen lake and an underwater temple visited by both characters in both times. France will see you climbing the Arc de Triomphe and then descending into the sewers of snot-demons below; and later to Notre Dame, Boulogne Zoo (where Guildenstern has unleashed some gorilla/tiger demons he’s created), the Eiffel Tower (which is covered in electrical ooze), and Mt St Michel. Mt St Michel is also visited by Jacques in the past, and he and Sam must pass keys and cogs back and forth (as an aside, surely that phrase should be the other way around?) in order to gain access to the Time Folder and destroy it. Confusingly, the Mt explodes in both the past AND the present. And there’s another Sam in the past along with Jacques; he doesn’t get transported to our time until a few days after Jacques’ medieval adventure (erm, just don’t ask, alright?).
Sam and Jacques have very different fighting styles, and you’ll likely end up having a favourite. Jacques fights with whip-like weapons: namely a sword, spear and mace that unfurl in lengths of chain to greatly increase their range (and handy for swinging from the Oni fireflies to reach higher or distant platforms). His weapons conjure up the standard videogame elements of fire, ice and electricity, while Sam’s swords invoke light, wind, and earth (and he also has the advantage of long-ranged arrows which can be fired at either airborne or ground-based enemies). Fighting earns you Genma souls: white ones top up your magic power and yellow ones your health – and big purple ones let the character turn into his Oni form (when he’s got five of them), which makes him temporarily invincible and capable of some serious arse-kickery. Handily, once you’ve acquired five purple souls you don’t transform into an Oni immediately (as was the case in Onimusha 1 and 2): you can keep them for as long as you like until you decide a transformation would be appropriate. Souls are absorbed by the chaps’ Oni gauntlets, and by Michelle’s soul bracelet (she doesn’t get an Oni form), but this isn’t done automatically.
Combat is a balancing act of deciding whether to attack or defend, or whether to absorb souls – which leaves you vulnerable. Perhaps the most important are the pink souls (the game says they’re red, but they’re definitely pink) which can be spent at save-points on increasing your weapons’ power, your armour’s strength or the speed with which your gauntlet absorbs souls. As you need a lot of souls to obtain these upgrades, you should choose wisely. Tactical thinking must also be employed when deciding what Ako should wear. During your travels, you’ll find waistcoats (aka ‘vests’ – obviously translated for the American market) for Ako, and each imposes a different effect. The most useful of which is the white one, which heals you when you stand still (thus meaning you can save your herbs and med kits for the heat of battle). Other waistcoats enhance absorption speed or the number of pink souls released. Deciding what to use – and when – is important, however it is unfortunate that one cannot change them (or your weapons) on the fly.
Having to access menu screens can disrupt the flow of the game. As well as fighting, puzzles can also provide some entertaining avenues for thought: while some are obvious – in the form of locked boxes which can only be opened by sliding some tiles around – they are far less vexatious than the ones found in the previous two titles. Most of these boxes yield jewels which can increase your health or magic gauges, but they don’t do this automatically – innovatively, you must choose when and whether you want to use them, so you can decide how hard or easy you want to make it on yourself. You can also give jewels to the other character via Ako. However, much of the puzzling is hidden within levels themselves (ie, paths and structures) and is usually nothing more than glorified quests to ‘find this key to open that door’ – or ‘find this crest to open that gate to go back in time to find this gem for that statue forwards in time which opens a logic puzzle to that door which yields this key which is needed in the past’ – but is no less enjoyable for it.
As enjoyable as Onimusha 3: Demon Siege undoubtedly is, it can get very frustrating when it all goes wrong. Some enemy AI just plain cheats: one type of enemy (once he’s knocked you down) continues hitting you – not giving you the chance to block or even to get back up. Many of the boss battles are also very hard compared to ordinary enemies, and will eat away at your herbs and medicines (and most require that you call upon the Oni form). As a result, instead of feeling triumphant upon their defeat, one tends to feel moreover exhausted and “thank smeg that’s over with”. A battle should be fun to endure, not a chore.
Thankfully, most non-boss fights are a great deal of fun – especially the Genma hordes at the epic battle for Honnoji Temple, where you can fight for as long as you like because the enemies keep respawning, enabling you to gleefully string together chain combo-after-chain combo (and the enemies piss you off just enough to make destroying them very satisfying). This game has obviously been a labour of love for Capcom; replete with so many finishing touches that add up to a stunning experience (you can even turn the blood off or make it green). Replay value is also high: fighting well in the Dark Realm earns you the weapons from the first game, which Sam can then use when starting a repeat file. There are also extra costumes to unlock (including Sam’s cowboy outfit with a toy panda strapped to his wrist in place of the Oni gauntlet) and bonus levels showing what happened to the other characters.
Coupled – quadrupled? – with the fact that the game also rewards you for being mad-skilled (eg, beating it in a short time, or without saving, without dying, etc), Onimusha 3: Demon Siege is double bastard-woo with hot custard on top (and those who allege otherwise are suffering from cranio-rectal inversions).
Gamestyle score: 9/10