CaPCom could not have realized in 1996 that they were about to change the gaming landscape with the release of Resident Evil. Though, in many ways, the game itself paid considerable homage to the Alone in the Dark series by Infogrames, Resident Evil rejuvenated and, in truth, (re)created the modern iteration of the ?Survival Horror’ genre. Sporting wonderful graphics, atmospheric sound, and violent, creepy gameplay, it was bound to be a hit. Several sequels and numerous imitations later, Resident Evil continues to prove itself worthy as the defining template for the genre. Despite the success of the RE series, the programmers at CaPCom went on to develop a new, more action-oriented game that would bear the hallmarks of the seminal series, but would stand alone as its own quality product.
Upon its release in 2001, Onimusha was applauded for its unique twist on the Survival Horror genre. Eschewing many of the conventions of the genre, Onimusha focused on swordplay rather than gunplay, and replaced a city crippled by contagion with a demon-infested feudal Japan. The digital representation of Onimusha’s lead character, Samonosuke Akechi, was a strikingly original element used by CaPCom. In a genre touted as being visually cinematic, CaPCom decided to cast Asian heartthrob, Takeshi Kaneshiro, in the title role. This decision was made, in part, to try to get female gamers more interested in a largely male dominated genre. CaPCom’s, perhaps risky, tactic proved to be a huge success.
This year, Xbox owners are lucky enough to get their own remade version of this now classic game. Genma Onimusha represents CaPCom’s first foray onto the Xbox with one of their flagship titles. Sharing the same introductory movie as its PS2 cousin, Genma Onimusha does an excellent job in setting the scene for the coming game and introducing the character of Samanosuke. Control is similar to that of the Resident Evil titles and, unfortunately for this version, CaPCom has chosen to leave movement to the directional pad, rather than utilizing the analog control stick of the Xbox controller.
Like the controls, gameplay will be familiar to anybody who has even a passing interest in the genre. The basic game style is heavy on combat, and puzzles represent the usual CaPCom flair – find the key to a door, slide puzzles, etc. However, it is the fundamental changes the in original gameplay mechanics that fans of the series will really notice. There are several new elements that have improved markedly upon an already solid gameplay experience. Perhaps the most talked about alteration is that the difficulty of the game has been elevated significantly. Tougher enemies that once appeared quite far into the game, now appear almost from the very start. As in the original, the color-coded souls of these enemies will need to be absorbed into the gauntlet on Samonosuke’s right arm. Previously there were three types of souls – red, yellow, and blue. The red enhanced the power of orbs and items, the yellow recovered Vitality, and the blue replenished magic power. Genma Onimusha incorporates a fourth soul type: the green soul, which grants invincibility for a short period of time. Once an enemy has been laid to rest, Samonosuke is then free to absorb any of these released souls for use at a later time; however, the new green souls can also be collected by an enemy and instantly used by them for an immediate power up. The most interesting feature of green soul collection is that, if the playable character and an enemy try collecting one at the same time, a tug of war ensues. It can become very stressful to hammer away at the control pad buttons desperately trying to absorb a soul faster than your enemy, as his allies circle around you ready to attack. While these are perhaps the most immediately noticeable additions, there are also others. CaPCom has inserted an entirely new area, as well as a ?Nemesis’ type character that will chase you throughout portions of the game. All of these new features really help make Genma Onimusha an attractive package.
Graphics are not a huge advance over those found in the PS2 version. The general quality is a little cleaner, and several elements tend to look sharper. Perhaps the nicest little detail is that, instead of the main character’s armor being represented in a variety of colors to distinguish the multiple sets, the individual suits all now actually make the character model look different. A nice touch, indeed. Yet, overall, the majority of this title looks little different from the original. The scenery is still pre-rendered and, although this kind of display does help to create a solid cinematic feel, it can be disappointingly static. The new areas, however, are all well drawn and fit into the existing world easily, with no evident discrepancy in quality.
Audio has also been shown a great degree of care and attention, too. The aural effects are vibrant and sound as they should. The clashing of swords and death rattles of the fallen all lend an admirable sense of solidity to the game. Perhaps Genma Onimusha’s greatest audio achievement lies in the traditional Japanese score, which capably conveys the peril or desperation of any scene it accompanies. Another nice feature, which this title has in common with all versions of the original Onimusha, is that the spoken language track can either be enjoyed in English or Japanese. It is a wonderful feature that lends authenticity and graVitas to the setting – though not one usually offered by development companies.
Replay value for Genma Onimusha proves to be reasonable thanks to several unlockable features. In one mode, staying alive long enough to release trapped souls from vases, by staving off monsters, with only the contents of pots to help you stay alive, will earn you a nice surprise that will make a second run through of the game a lot less stressful. Also, this would not be a CaPCom game if there were not a couple of very strange alternate costumes to unlock for both Kaede and Samonosuke (available through expert completion of the game, or by collecting the correct items along the way). So, if you like bat wings and clapping pandas, you will be well catered for here.
As mentioned earlier, Genma Onimusha has several new features that will undoubtedly endear it to fans of the series and set it apart from the previous title. It is tougher than the original certainly, and the new elements that CaPCom has added definitely warrant a few more visits to a title that gamers may, unwittingly, disregard as a mere PS2 port. Make no mistake, though, this is no port – in fact, calling it a director’s cut would be far more accurate. Pick Genma Onimusha up today and your collection will thank you tomorrow.