Onimusha Blade Warriors is an unlikely offshoot of what has traditionally been an action adventure series with, above all, very sharp production values. Blade Warriors takes characters from the Onimusha universe and drops them into a basic four-player fighting game in the same vein as Nintendo's successful Super Smash Bros. series. But the simplistic fighting found in Blade Warriors, combined with some bland audiovisual presentation, adds up to a competent but uneventful game.
Like any fighting game, Blade Warriors gives you a number of different characters to choose from. Initially, you'll be able to choose from 12 fighters, including the series' two main characters, Samanosuke and Jubei. You'll also get secondary characters, like Kaede and Kotaro, as well as some demons like the zombie warrior and Three Eyes. Along the way, you'll unlock additional characters. Many of these are charged-up versions of the game's standard cast, but you'll also get the evil boss man Nobunaga, as well as various incarnations of one of Capcom's famous mascots. Each character fights differently from the others, but they all have the same basic moves, like charged-up slashes, upward strokes, and so on, so it's pretty easy to move from one character to the next.
The fighting system in Blade Warriors is pretty basic. You've got an attack button and a kick button, both of which can be modified by holding R1. In the case of the kick button, hitting it at the same time as R1 will let you use a fire, wind, or thunder orb for a special attack. Like in Smash Bros., you'll come across items and weapons as you play. Most of these are pretty standard, such as a long sword or some other appropriate samurai weapon. But you'll also encounter wackier stuff, like a large fan, a baseball bat, or a machine gun. The game has a combo system of sorts, which basically allows you to string together a few different attacks. Since an opponent's guard can be broken with a handful of fast attacks, performing combos like these is useful even on a blocking opponent. Also, kicks are unblockable, which makes them more useful than they would be otherwise. Aside from attacks, there are positional moves to be made, including dashing, changing planes, and slipping behind an enemy.
Plane changes are a big part of player movement in Blade Warriors. While you can normally jump (and double-jump) by hitting the X button, double-tapping up or down will cause you to hop up or down to another spot on the playfield. This manifests itself as moving from the rooftops down to the ground and vice versa, though there are a few spots where it looks as though your character is merely hopping four feet to his or her side, similar to SNK's Fatal Fury. Changing planes has a tactical advantage, since you can usually get in a slash on a player if he follows you to another plane. The game's many different backgrounds offer a lot of different designs for this sort of positioning, so you'll have to learn the stages individually to figure out where, exactly, you can stand.
A big part of the Onimusha games is the ability to absorb souls. Souls essentially acted as power-ups and other help in the previous games, and that's pretty much what they do here, as well. The circle button is devoted to absorbing souls and other floating gems that have an impact on your speed, power, energy, and more. There are also victory souls. In some matches, you'll have to claim a certain number of these to win.
Onimusha Blade Warriors has a story mode, but it's almost as if Capcom wanted you to forget it was there, because the game's menu defaults to the versus mode. But in story mode you'll take any of the game's characters through a multifight process, and you'll occasionally see some very meaningless cutscenes between fights. The main object here is to collect as many souls as possible, since you can use those souls as points to upgrade the game's fighters in three different categories. Aside from the story mode, you can also play a brief tutorial that gives you some time to mess around with your chosen characterss moves.
Versus mode is the bulk of what you'll be doing in Blade Warriors. The game is playable by up to four players via a PS2 multitap, but you can also play alone and fill up the empty slots with computer-controlled opponents. There are a wide variety of options here, so if you don't like certain souls or certain weapons, you can disable them before going into combat. There are two main options in the versus mode--one where you simply eliminate your opponents and one where you must collect a specific number of victory souls to win. The game allows you to play either game in a team mode, as well.
Graphically, Onimusha Blade Warriors is a letdown. The characters still look OK, but they just don't look as good as they do in the other Onimusha games. The animation is smooth, but it tends to lack variety. The game's backgrounds are varied and neatly designed, but even they seem to fall a little flat. And the cutscenes--something the Onimusha series has been famous for--are bland. Even the game's intro is merely a collection of fighting sequences captured using the game's engine. Everything, from the fighting to the menus, has a rough draft sort of feel to it.
On the audio side of things, the game does have a pretty good soundtrack. The music is appropriate and fits with the action. The sounds of actual fighting, too, fit right in. The game's voice work, however, really sticks out. Each character has only a few basic phrases, so you'll hear them repeated quite often at the start and finish of a fight. In story mode, you'll get some cutscenes with a little more voice in them, but this only serves to put a brighter light on how flat most of the voices really are.
When characters get lifted out of their main genre and dropped into another game, the transition can be a little awkward--especially when you consider that the most overused transition puts action game characters into go-karts. While it's nice to see that Capcom's idea for an Onimusha offshoot didn't get turned into some generic wacky racing game, the fighting game that the company has developed isn't really too much better. Extreme Onimusha fans will probably find something to like here, and anyone after a Smash Bros.-like fighter on the PlayStation 2 will have some fun, but in the end, there simply isn't enough to Blade Warriors to keep anyone interested beyond the time span of your average rental period.