Don't call it Onimusha 4. This latest installment in Capcom's flashy samurai action adventure series delivers the same impressive presentation and fast-paced combat fans have come to expect. And it's a significantly bigger game, sucking up two discs' worth of demon killing and chatty cutscenes. About the only thing missing are celebrity likenesses--the previous game, 2004's Onimusha 3, featured Jean Reno (The Professional) and Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers) in a costarring role. In exchange, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams offers a lengthy new quest, five different playable characters, and a good amount of replay value, not to mention that distinct anime-meets-soap opera style.
The history of Japan, as told through the Onimusha series, involves lots of bloodshed, treachery, demonic infestation, and feathered hair.
Previous Onimusha games pitted you against the forces of a demonically possessed Oda Nobunaga, a Japanese warlord in league with evil forces called genma. This time around, not only is there a new villain in Nobunaga's successor, the squat and instantly unlikable Hideyoshi, but there's also a new hero. Dawn of Dreams is the story of Soki, a bleached-blond, blue-clad warrior single-handedly trying to save medieval Japan from yet another demonic invasion. He's a feared swordsman but an affable guy, though his blond hair and horned headband make him an odd sight for 16th-century Japan. His journey will be joined by an equally unlikely group of companions, ranging from a young ninja girl named after a legendary samurai, to a frilly collared Spaniard with arms like Frankenstein's monster. In turn, they'll run into many more villains than just Hideyoshi, and many of these bad guys just...won't...die.
This is a weird, long-winded story that's at times both disjointed and awkwardly translated, but it sure is pretty. You'll see frequent, well-choreographed cutscenes using the game's 3D engine. Between missions, you'll get to nag your companions for background information, though it's all in text and tempting to simply skip. There's also plenty of chatter during the missions, along with lots of optional reading material to be found--diaries, memos, and other little notes. It's nice that the game does so much and tries so hard to tell a compelling story, but the results are hit and miss. The quality of the voice acting is above average (both English- and Japanese-language options are available), but the script is riddled with clichÃ©s, from maniacally laughing villains to multiple instances of the expression "last hope for humanity." At least there's this one amazing use of profanity to look forward to near the end of the game. Other than that, though, the story just never quite takes off, despite a few decent twists and references to the previous games. It's ultimately very similar in tone and style to previous Onimusha yarns, so if you've played those games, you know what's in store.
The same can be said for the gameplay itself. You'll run through numerous enemy-infested stages, almost constantly battling demons, but also taking the time to solve various puzzles. The combat is fast-paced and responsive. It's very simple at first--you just hack at foes and block their incoming attacks. But you learn more and more abilities as you go, even as your enemies keep getting bigger and tougher, and suddenly you're using practically every button on the controller. You get to use magic, special purifying attacks, transformation moves, evasive maneuvers, and all kinds of different attack combinations. Perhaps best of all, you can dish out lightning-fast, lightning-deadly critical strikes by attacking your foe just as you're about to get hit. You can also perform critical strikes after using your magic or after a carefully timed defense. The fighting gets pretty crowded, but you can fiddle with the camera angle using the right analog stick and lock onto nearby foes at the touch of a button. In some scenes the camera angle is locked in place, which can be a little disorienting, but isn't a big deal.
Soki is a master swordsman, and he'll be joined by a number of similarly skilled companions, each with his or her own unique moves and abilities.
The same underlying mechanics apply to all five of the game's characters, but other than that, they each have distinctly different moves and fighting styles. Furthermore, during most of the game, you'll be fighting alongside a computer-controlled companion, and you may switch to directly controlling one or the other at the touch of a button. You can give basic orders to your companion using the D pad, but by far the most useful of these is the one that makes your companion rest up. When tasked to fight, your comrades will often get beat up badly, whereas if you make them stand still, they'll automatically block almost all incoming attacks while regenerating their health. You'll find various healing items as you proceed through the game, but it's viable to just keep switching characters and recovering your health that way. Of course, that little trick will only get you so far.