Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams First Look

We get an exclusive look at the fourth entry in the Onimusha series on the PlayStation 2.

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The last time we checked in on Capcom's Onimusha series, the engaging third-person action franchise appeared to be wrapping up in classy fashion with Onimusha 3. The third entry in the series had an air of finality to it, with its full-circle approach to the series that brought everything back to the conflict between the heroic Samanosuke and the evil Nobunaga. But as is often the case with any successful franchise, if sales are strong, it's a safe bet a developer will find a way to keep a good thing going.

Battle Nobunaga's evil successor in the latest Onimusha, Dawn of Dreams.
Battle Nobunaga's evil successor in the latest Onimusha, Dawn of Dreams.

Typically, this means one of two things: You'll either get more of the same kind of game or an all-new approach to keep the franchise fresh. Capcom appears to be taking the latter approach, based on an early look we got of Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, the upcoming fourth entry that takes the action series in a whole new direction on the PlayStation 2. Although still very much a work in progress, the demo gave us a good feel for the new experience the game is set to offer.

If you haven't been keeping up on your Onimusha lore, we'll offer you some Cliff's Notes on what's been going on. The past three games in the series have revolved around the battle between good and evil in feudal Japan. You've been cast as chosen warriors, armed with mystic soul-sucking gauntlets, who are sent to fight off the forces of evil, which are commanded by the villainous Nobunaga and the demonic Genma. Onimusha 3 saw Nobunaga finally brought down by the noble Samanosuke. As a result, peace was restored to the land...at least for a little while.

Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams opens 15 years after Onimusha 3, and it finds trouble brewing again. Just because Nobunaga isn't in the picture anymore, the Genma haven't stopped trying to cause chaos. Nobunaga's successor, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, has opted to align himself with the Genma, as he's apparently into the power and perks that come with cavorting with evil. But like any good story, no matter how overwhelming an advantage the forces of evil appear to have, there will always be someone pulling for the side of good. The main hero in Dawn of Dreams will be Soki, a young warrior who possesses incredible mystic power, but he'll be joined by a number of companions who are also looking to stamp out evil.

We got a demo of the game's story mode, which showed off the new gameplay mechanics that are being blended with familiar systems from the previous games. Although the series has always had a bit of an action-role-playing-game feel, due to your ability to power up your sword in the previous titles, Dawn of Dreams has an even more straightforward action-RPG slant. Another addition is the new playable characters that will come along on the adventure with you. You'll find a total of five playable characters in the game, including a female ninja named Akane, and all of them will possess unique abilities and weapons. Once you meet them and get their help, you'll be able to bring one of them along to help you out.

The new buddy system will give you backup in combat--and keep you from getting lost on field trips.
The new buddy system will give you backup in combat--and keep you from getting lost on field trips.

Although you'll be able to switch between Soki and your buddy on the fly, you'll also be able to issue commands to your companion via the D pad. While reps on hand weren't revealing too much information on the specifics, it sounds as though you'll be able to choose from a set group of basic actions (such as stay and follow), as well as more complex ones, to help make your companion more useful in combat.

You'll also notice another tie to the game's role-playing elements courtesy of the ability to upgrade your characters and their weapons with experience you earn over the course of the adventure. The weapon system, in particular, offers a number of different options for having the best implement of death possible. Upgrading the various members of your posse will offer a variety of possibilities in combat due to both their unique attributes and the combo attacks you can perform in tandem with them.

Two's Company

The game's structure appears to be fairly linear, since you're sent out to complete objectives and you progress once you do. The addition of a second character opens up a different sort of puzzle element than those found in the previous games, which often required you to find items to solve challenges you came across. Dawn of Dreams adds a new twist by presenting puzzles that will require you to choose a specific companion because of his or her unique abilities. How involved some of these will be remains to be seen, but they should certainly keep you on your toes.

Some puzzles will require the abilities of a specific companion.
Some puzzles will require the abilities of a specific companion.

While we weren't able to get our hands on Dawn of Dreams just yet, it appears the core of the control scheme will stay true to the previous Onimusha games. We saw the old standbys of stabbing and orb-absorption on display, along with new elements, such as swapping control of characters on the fly and giving orders to your companion.

The visuals in the work-in-progress version are looking sharp and seem like a good progression from Onimusha 3's fully 3D graphics. This time out, you'll be able to freely explore areas and engage enemies from a variety of different directions. The environments we saw, mostly exteriors with a peek at some interior bits, were detailed and featured a good bit of interactivity. The exterior areas also showed off some nice weather effects, such as rain and lightning, which gave the experience a nice cinematic flair. The effects for orb absorption and special attacks were still in the process of being tweaked, but they were looking at least as good as what we've seen in the other games. The characters, both good and evil, sported a good amount of detail, and we saw the beginnings of the quality fluid animation we've come to expect from the series. The frame rate was also fairly solid, despite the game's early state, which was especially impressive given how many enemies were onscreen at one time.

The audio was the roughest part of the game, with a mix of placeholder effects and the beginnings of the game's proper music and effects being imported in. At the moment, the game is poised to sound at least as good as its predecessors, although Dawn of Dreams will take a different approach than the previous games did. You can still expect to hear sweeping orchestral bits, as before, but this time out the game will also feature some more-modern, faster-paced tracks to match the action. We heard a rough version of a tune to be used in the game, and while somewhat different in tone, it seemed to fit fine.

Aspiring demon hunters and vanquishers of evil can look for Dawn of Dreams to hit later this year.
Aspiring demon hunters and vanquishers of evil can look for Dawn of Dreams to hit later this year.

Based on this early look, we're intrigued by what Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is bringing to the table. The fresh story sounds interesting, and it's nice to hear that it will include some nods to the previous games in the series. The gameplay looks to be a solid offering of what made the franchise so appealing in the first place, along with some engaging new elements that should work well. If you're a fan of the Onimusha series and have been hankering for another chance to face off against the Genma, you should be pleased by what Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams will offer. If you're new to the series or have been intimidated by jumping in midstream, this new game seems like a good time to find out what the deal is. Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is currently slated to ship later this year for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game at E3 and in the coming months.

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