marino's Onimusha 3: Demon Siege (PlayStation 2) review

The Returner and The Professional Slay Some Demons

The third and final installment of Capcom's Onimusha series has arrived.  Is it the best yet?  Yes, yes it is.  The first game was a good action title for the young PS2, but the second game replaced the main character and the graphics and gameplay didn't change enough from the first one to stand up to the current crop of games at the time.  The third installment takes the game out of the 2D backgrounds and puts you in a fully 3D environment.  That's just the beginning because Capcom has thrown in some star power to help solidify Onimusha as an epic masterpiece.  Takeshi Kaneshiro returns as Samanosuke from Onimusha Warlords and Jean Reno (The Professional, Mission Impossible, Ronin) joins him as Jacques Blanc, a French police commander. 
So how exactly does a Frenchman fit into 16th Century feudal Japan?  Time travel of course.  The evil inventor Gildenstern has created a way to fold the space-time continuum in order to unleash the Genma on present day France.  The only problem is his method has not been perfected, so as Samanosuke approaches Nobunaga for the final encounter at the beginning of the game, a portal opens in the middle of the room and Samanosuke gets sucked in.  He lands in Paris, France on May 8, 2004 while the city is being ravaged by Genma demons.  Jacques Blanc is trying to help defend the city as most of the police officers have already died.  Samanosuke is understandably confused by his surroundings, but demons are demons, so he helps Blanc.  But almost immediately after they team up, as Blanc checks on a fallen commrade, another portal opens and sucks Jacques into 16th Century Japan.  He arrives 10 days prior to Samanosuke's encounter with Nobunaga, so he does meet up with Samanosuke in Japan rather quickly.  The god Oni has bestowed the same power of magic to Jacques through the special soul-leaching gauntlet that Samanosuke has.  Oni says that Samanosuke alone cannot defeat Nobunaga, so together they must destroy Nobunaga once and for all in order for each of them to return to their own time.     
Easily one of the most strikingly beautiful games on the PlayStation 2.  The face mapping is superb and the intro movie is one of the best CG cutscenes ever produced.  The new 3D backgrounds aren't completely interactive, but there are destructable objects and points of interest.  The animations are fast and fluid, but the only problem is that with the highly detailed environments, if you get 5 or 6 guys on the screen at once, the framerate drops significantly.  Luckily, there are hardly ever this many guys on the screen.  Overall, Onimusha 3 is a stunningly beautiful game. 
The gameplay is probably the biggest improvement.  The past two Onimusha games were fairly slow and sometimes described as "Resident Evil with a sword."  Not anymore.  Onimusha 3 supports analog control instead of the old two-directional digital layout.  You can tell immediately that Capcom wanted a fierce fast-paced action game for the finale of their series.  And while the buttons themselves don't actually change when you swap between Samanosuke and Jacques, you do get the distinct feel for how to use each character differently.  Samanosuke, being a Samurai, obviously uses an array of blades and bows.  But Jacques, has a energy sword/whip, which works alot like Ivy's sword in Soul Calibur, that he can use to slash or tangle up enemies with (he eventually acquires one almost exactly like Ivy's).  Both characters gain new weapons along the way.     
Sadly, for some unknown reason, Capcom decided to remove the original Japanese dialogue.  Because of this, the speech can get rather confusing.  The game starts in Japan, so you expect everyone to be speaking Japanese...then when taken to France, they speak French...but when Jacques and Samanosuke meet in Japan, they both begin speaking plain English.  The game explains this with the magic of Oni, and the faerie companion he gives Jacques to help him in a foreign land.  But the real problem is that Jean Reno only did the voice-overs for the French dialogue, so when it switches to English, it sounds <i>nothing</i> like Jean Reno, not even a sound-alike actor.  It's almost disturbing looking at a perfectly mapped Jean Reno face, and hearing a mid-western American accent.  Having the two characters be able to understand each other by way of magic is fine, but I would have much rather had them keep the French and Japanese voice-overs with subtitles.  Some people just won't care, so I'm not putting much weight on it and the voice acting is actually pretty good either way, and the soundtrack is incredible.     
Replay Value 
The game isn't "Ninja Gaiden Hard," but you will die occasionally.  One of the cool things is that if you die too often, the game opens up a previously locked Easy Mode.  Once you actually beat the game, it unlocks a Hard Mode.  In addition to the multiple difficulty levels, there are tons of mini-games, secret weapons, costumes, and even different endings to find.  Still, I doubt anyone but the most hardcore Onimusha fans will be seeing this game a second time through.     
Easily the best game in the Onimusha series.  The controls are responsive, the graphics are beautiful, and all the best stuff from the previous two games has been carried over (i.e. puzzles, elementally imbued weapons, etc).  Jean Reno's whip-sword has to be one of the coolest weapons ever in any game.  There's just no way to describe how much fun it is to wrap the energy whip around an enemy shoot him in the head several times with a pistol, then sling him to the ground as you retract the whip.  Switching back and forth between 21st Century France and 16th Century Japan is a lot more fluid than you may imagine.  The load times are smooth, and there are even puzzles that require you to do something in the past to affect the future.  If you've been a fan of the Onimusha series since it's inception, this is the game you've been waiting for.  If you're new to the Onimusha franchise, you can jump right in for a great action-adventure game featuring an engaging story of war, friendship, sacrifice, love, and all-out demon-slaying soul-leeching action which adds up to one great finale for Capcom's epic saga.     
*** This review was written for shortly after the release of the game. ***
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