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PS2 Review: Onimusha – Dawn of Dreams

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If Mega Man were to die tomorrow, Capcom would figure out a way to revive him. If the Street Fighters all succumbed to some obscure international plague, Capcom would find a way to make sure the tournament continued. And if Capcom decided to end a series themselves, we’re guaranteed a sequel. That’s what happened with Onimusha, and Dawn of Dreams proves why the promised ending after Onimusha 3 was the right way to go.

To their credit, Dawn of Dreams does try to separate itself. There is little mention of the previous games, and if they didn’t exist, there would be no problem following the plotline here. The mission structure has changed; putting the gameplay inside strict levels instead of the open world we’re used to. They’ve also implemented a hit or miss squad control that mostly ends up being a miss.

The key issue here is that these new additions defeat the point of calling this Onimusha. The linear levels are the largest complaint, restricting the player significantly, and causing a failure when attempting to refer to the gameplay as a “quest.” It’s hard to miss anything here.

Stages generally revolve around a puzzle, sometimes large in scope. With such a strict restraint on the player (levels rarely open up or branch out), the solution is generally easy, making these feel like work rather than entertainment. Given the game’s epic and completely unforgettable opening, figuring out which switches to flip is a definite step down.

Re-spawning enemies curse what action is here. While a usual staple of the franchise, the puzzles here require the player to enter and exit countless doors, and bring with it more foes. This cheaply pushes the difficulty higher, and as one of the first in the franchise not to offer an easy mode, you’ll be crushed.

It’s even worse when dealing with multiple boss fights back-to-back. Without the ability to regain some health in between, rare yellow souls (which restore health as in previous Onimusha’s) and cheap shots, winning is secondary to losing. Epic boss fights are here only because the developers made sure anything less than an hour spent slashing is a glitch. Many require the slaughtering of hundreds of Genma before the boss falls, simply because one or two attacks from the level guardian will drain an entire life bar.

Combine that with the large problem of re-spawning, and you have a 20-hour game that’s screaming to be cut in half. While two discs of Onimusha sounds like a great idea, that would only ring true for any other game in the series. Production values seem to have been slashed too, inserting still pictures with text in place of CG, while the in-game cinematics are unforgivably muddy and washed out. It’s in jarring comparison to the jagged, yet acceptable engine used everywhere else in the game. Repeated locales, enemy models ripped from all three previous games, and character designs that go way off base make it difficult to accept this as something new.

Dawn of Dreams does do things to earn some commendation; there just aren’t enough of them. The leveling up process is the deepest in the series, offering superb customization. It’s enough to make the player feel like they’re making progress, even after they’ve taken down the 1,000th base-level enemy.

That extends to the other playable characters too, all ready to be equipped and upgraded as needed. This system allows for new characters to be brought into the action at save points, and with varying abilities and skills, they can make their way into spaces other characters can’t. Sadly, for completists, this will cause far too much backtracking. Things that are impossible to reach will need to be revisited later via the stage select when the new characters are unlocked, only adding to the repetition.

When the player is not in control, the character tagging along can be ordered to perform certain commands. It’s a simple system that fails to connect because the AI has no common sense. If it’s ordered to attack, that’s all it will do. Blocking only enters into its mindset when you tell it. You’ll need to swap character control in the middle of a battle to fix what the AI has broken, though only when the game says you can. Certain areas don’t allow for switching.

The final change is the free camera. While Onimusha 3 was the first to offer full polygon backdrops, Dawn of Dreams is the first with a partially player controlled camera. There are jarring moments where the control is suddenly out of the player’s hand for a fixed perspective, but these moments are kept to a minimum… sadly. The new system is awful, making it impossible to assess an entire armada of enemies as they spawn. Boss fights are doubled in difficulty when you can’t see them, especially when they’re mobile. Taking your finger off the attack button to constantly re-adjust the camera simply isn’t acceptable in Onimusha. The targeting system is an inadequate solution.

While it’s commendable that some steps have been taken to change this series, it’s arguable that no changes were needed in the first place. A great, wild, and fun combo system is the only true improvement. Capcom needs to stick to their promises and let their franchises die where appropriate. Dawn of Dreams is proof of that, and it’s going to be difficult to get excited about the next entry after this.

Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is a rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Violence.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • Tom

    Great review! I too share your opinion. I feel this game is a cheap shot at getting more money out of Onimusha fans. It didn’t give me a sense that I was on a quest. The story was weak so I felt like it was mindless hack/slash. Especially when considering the repetitive reincarnation of level bosses. This got excrutiatingly painful in the Dark Realm where on every level the enemies of each level kept reappearing after you kill them. I gave up and never got to the 100th level because it just took too long, got too monotonous, and simply got too boring. Consequently, I never got to use the items that can only be found along the way as you reach the 100th level. Additionally, the cool weapons/accessories aren’t available until towards the end of the game. I can go on and on, but I’ll wrap it up with this: The closer I got towards the end of the game, the more frustrated/bored (rather than entertained) I became; I was only interested in finishing it so I can sell it before it drops in value further.