For all the hard work the heroes of the Onimusha series have had to do, slaying countless demons and zombies in their effort to vanquish the power-hungry warlord Nobunaga, they've been woefully unable to finish the job. Nobunaga returns once again as the main bad guy waiting for you at the end of Onimusha 3: Demon Siege. However, this time the adventure doesn't just take place in medieval Japan, but also in present-day France. The game stars Samanosuke, the noble samurai from the original Onimusha, and it also introduces a new main character, Jacques, a French commando bearing the distinctive likeness of actor Jean Reno (The Professional, Ronin). In addition to the unlikely cast and the time-twisting premise, Onimusha 3 also features a control scheme that's vastly improved over its predecessors, and it ultimately offers up a substantial single-player action adventure filled with impressive visuals, lots of fast action, and a few clever twists. Fans of the Onimusha series will certainly enjoy this episode, as would just about anybody intrigued by the premise of the game.
Onimusha 3 begins as Samanosuke, along with a small army, is assaulting the fortress in which Nobunaga has been pinned down. It would be a very short game if this were to be the warlord's last stand, so instead, a temporal rift suddenly appears during the confrontation, and Samanosuke is whisked away to Paris in 2004--and he's not the only one. The sorts of demonic fiends--called genma--that have plagued medieval Japan now appear in droves in the streets of France, and they begin slaughtering everyone in sight. One of the survivors of this onslaught is Jacques, who unwittingly becomes Samanosuke's counterpart. Both men gain the favor of the Oni, in the form of a soul-sucking gauntlet and the ability to wield elementally imbued weapons. And even as Samanosuke ends up in the present, sure enough, Jacques ends up in medieval Japan. Now, with the help of a little winged spirit named Ako (basically a black-winged Tinkerbell), who can conveniently whisk her way across space and time, these two warriors will need to put a stop to Nobunaga's nefarious time-traveling schemes--and hopefully find a way back to their respective eras.
The story starts strong, and all the time-bending business is a good setup for a few of the puzzles later on in which you'll be able to transfer key items across the ages and affect the future by accomplishing tasks in the past. In a few key sequences, Samanosuke and Jacques will find themselves in the same place, but hundreds of years apart, yet they'll still be able to assist each other thanks to Ako. Perhaps due to all the space/time conundrums, sometimes the plot loses its course. For instance, Jacques frequently has occasion to concern himself with the strained relationship between his young son (who gets way too much screen time in the game) and attractive fiancée, even while he's fighting for his life. Meanwhile, Ako's spunky schoolgirl attitude is presumably there for comic relief, but she's just annoying, despite being so darn useful. You're probably not expecting Onimusha 3 to be the greatest story ever told; still, the story could have been a bit less ham-fisted, if it only kept to the point. And in spite of the unorthodox premise, the story mostly just goes through the motions you'd expect, especially if you've played the previous games in the series.
Apart from the plot, there are two main differences between this Onimusha game and previous Onimusha games. One is that, this time, the graphics are all 3D, whereas previous games in the series featured 3D characters on top of prerendered 2D backgrounds. The 3D backdrops here are a bit of a trade-off. They do lend the game a more cohesive look, but at the relative expense of some of the visual richness of the past episodes. Make no mistake--this is still a gorgeous-looking PlayStation 2 game, featuring great-looking character models, lots of believable settings, and some impressive visual effects. Onimusha 3 plays fast and smooth for the most part, though there are times when the action noticeably and significantly slows down, which is unfortunate. This usually happens when there are more than four or five enemies onscreen, which isn't often. Also, while the 3D backgrounds are ultimately a step in the right direction, it would have been nice if they were more interactive. Apart from the odd button, breakable garbage can, or treasure box, there's nothing to do in these environments. Your character won't even come to a halt if you run into a wall--he'll just keep running in place, like a mime going against the wind. Onimusha 3 does a much better job handling the interaction between your weapons and your enemies. The animations look great, and most importantly, the controls are tight and responsive.
The controls haven't been this responsive in the past. When Onimusha first debuted as a hack-and-slash samurai-themed Resident Evil spin-off, one of the main tie-ins between the games was their shared control schemes. The old, antiquated Resident Evil-style controls are still available in Onimusha 3 if you use the directional pad as opposed to the left analog stick to maneuver your character. However, there's no question that the analog control is much, much better. The game has a few occasions in which transitions between camera angles may cause you to take a cheap hit from an offscreen enemy, but for the most part, you're afforded a high degree of maneuverability, and you can easily conduct battle on your own terms. The action itself follows Onimusha's strong formula. It's simple and streamlined, allowing you to merely mash on the X or square button to execute effective attack combos, but there's also incentive to play with finesse.
By properly timing an attack just as your opponent is about to strike, or by immediately attacking after deflecting an enemy's blow at the last possible moment, you can execute a deadly critical hit that causes your fallen foe to let loose a much greater quantity of soul orbs than usual. As in past Onimusha games, souls are used as currency for powering up your weapons and defenses (as well as for restoring your health and magic), so there's constantly good reason to be pulling off these instant-kill moves. Optional training sequences will give you plenty of practice with these and Onimusha 3's other combat techniques, such as Jacques' ability to entangle his enemies with his energy whip, shoot them a bunch of times with his pistol, and then slam them into the ground. The action here isn't complicated or terribly deep--you'll fight many of the same types of enemies over and over, and most of them aren't particularly challenging. But Onimusha 3's gameplay is fast and good looking, rewards careful timing, and offers up enough variety between the playable characters and their various weapons so it's consistently quite fun.
Besides dueling against various demonic goons and the occasional boss opponent, Onimusha 3 presents some light puzzle solving. Like in previous games, some of the treasure chests are puzzle boxes, where you'll have a set number of turns in which to slide puzzle pieces around to complete a circuit. These can be pretty challenging. Most of the other puzzles aren't very difficult, though, and the game's linear structure means it's usually pretty obvious where to go or what to do next. There's a fair amount of backtracking in Onimusha 3, which is usually considered a bad thing in today's games, but in this case, it's disguised by sequences in which Samanosuke and Jacques will have to retread the same ground at different times--so it's more interesting than tedious. Overall, Onimusha 3 offers a reasonably lengthy single-player adventure that will take you about 15 hours from beginning to end; there's a generous quantity of unlockable bonuses to keep you busy after that.
While there's only the default difficulty level available at first, if you die a few times an optional easy mode is unlocked. A hard mode becomes available once you finish the game, along with a side quest involving one of the game's ancillary characters. There are some other extras, too, such as unlockable extra outfits and minigames. Onimusha 3 also lets you choose between red, green, and no blood, and adjust between low and high levels of violence (specifically, volume of blood spilled). Annoyingly, the toned-down settings are the default, and you can only change your settings when you begin a new game--so if you only happen to notice the green blood a couple of hours into the adventure, you'll need to start over from the beginning to see the game as it was originally intended. At the same time, it's nice that Onimusha 3 lets players (or parents) adjust the graphic nature of the content if necessary.
One option you don't get in Onimusha 3 is to hear the original Japanese voice-over. At the beginning (and end) of the game, the French characters can be heard speaking their native language. Thanks to Ako, though, Samanosuke and Jacques will soon be able to understand each other as they magically switch over to English. It must be said that the voice acting in Onimusha 3 is markedly better than that of the previous game. But that's a relative compliment, since the previous game's voice acting was dreadful, and some of the performances here definitely sound forced. Sadly, Jean Reno only provides the French dialogue for Jacques, though the voice actors for him and Samanosuke put in some of the better performances.
Like its predecessors, Onimusha 3 has plenty of dialogue and story sequences in it, though by far the most impressive cutscene is for the game's cinematic introduction, which is actually some of the best, most lavishly produced in-game CG to date. Overall, the game's graphics are generally well matched by its audio, which consists of appropriate anime-style sword-slashing effects (which may sound familiar from the previous games). There is also a musical score that appropriately flits between European-style orchestral and Japanese-style instrumentations.
Onimusha 3 maintains the series' very high standards for production quality, and it features vastly improved controls, an entertaining premise, and Jean Reno, who's good in pretty much everything, including this game. Those are a lot of good selling points right there, and Onimusha 3 doesn't have any significant shortcomings to compromise them, either. So, if you're a fan of the series or just want to play an action adventure in which you can hack up tons of ugly monsters--with style--then this game is just the ticket.