Onimusha Blade Warriors
If the Onimusha series was a comic book, Blade Warriors would represent a crossover title, with huge letters on the front extolling the fact that it brings together two previously estranged heroes to unite and face down an evil threat. Capcom’s two great heroes are of course, Jubei Yagyu and Samanosuke Akechi, and the great evil – Nobunaga Oda, but sadly for Capcom, neither leading man is worthy of much fanfare. After all, it’s not really as if either has much in the way of charisma. Steely stares and bushy eyebrows perhaps, but no real personality.
Warning: with Blade Warriors it’s advisable to have a legion of friends to take part in multiplayer bouts in order to glean most enjoyment from it, because while there’s a fully fledged solo mode which draws heavy inspiration from the likes of Street Fighter, featuring 10 stages to fight through, the fact is that the game’s fighting system, designed as it is to facilitate multiplayer rucks, takes hours, rather than days or weeks to master.
Unlike every other Onimusha, Blade Warriors operates in just two dimensions, with characters leaping about like those in traditional 2D beat-’em ups. The backdrops that they fight in front of, and on for that matter, play a far greater role than in, say, Street Fighter – they’re multi-tiered for starters, meaning they often involve leaping onto roof awnings in order to engage an enemy. It doesn’t quite provide the orchestrated beauty of films such as Crouching Tiger or Kill Bill, but it does have a very ‘Hong Kong’ feel – the waterfall stage in particular offers the opportunity to jump through the cascading water onto a bridge below. It’s almost the perfect reason to break out the adjective ‘Herculean’. Almost anyway. Other fights rage in fields of long grass and bamboo thickets, capturing the feel of top anime movie Ninja Scroll in the process, and on a galleon with a stylised, 2D backdrop reminiscent of a Kabuki set.
afforded players doesn’t quite do justice to the locales. In fact, the repertoire of moves for each character is very workmanlike – there’s a flurry of standard attacks, a kick for punting players locked in a defensive stance, a move with the capacity to disarm opponents and a couple of Street Fighter inspired manoeuvres. That said, at least the system is robust and intuitive providing a few rewarding runs through the game. Each character, however, despite varying quite substantially in terms of appearance, from the gut busting Ekei, to the malformed Marcellus and the alluring Kaede, fights with exactly the same repertoire of moves. The animations may vary, but the timing and use is the same. This has a dramatic impact on longevity; when you’ve mastered one character you’ve mastered them all.
A further quandary we have is the narrative, or lack of one. Previously we stipulated that Blade Warriors’ worth would really be proved if the solo quest offered a decent variety of scenarios and an engaging overarching plot. After all, while the Onimusha games don’t demonstrate the nuances you’d find in the works of dead Russian authors, they offer a rip-roaring adventure – like a Saturday afternoon TV show. The truth is that it doesn’t. While initial signs are promising, with cutscenes interrupting your progress early on in your mission, they add very little to the overall experience and can be skipped without any impact whatsoever. Furthermore, the variety of winning stipulations for each stage we championed in our preview aren’t quite as varied as we were initially hoping – there’s ‘kill everyone’ and ‘collect 10 souls’ by killing everyone. And there was us hoping for something in the vein of Soul Calibur II’s Quest mode.
Of course that’s just half of what Blade Warriors offers, there’s also the rare opportunity to hook up the old Multitap. However, unless you’re one of the Seven Samurai, it may take a fair amount of coercing to gather enough mates together to fill the roster. It’s a telling sign that Blade Warriors fails as a classic multiplayer game when the rest of our team were less than willing to pick up a pad. There’s a combination of factors at work here: a) As we’ve already pointed out – Onimusha’s stars aren’t exactly in the same league as Dante, Jean Reno or Mr Viewtiful and b) The eccentricities of the series don’t make for a beginner friendly combat game. Sucking up victory souls in the Onimusha fashion is a confusing condition for victory. Disabling this in favour of a last-man-standing rule eases rookie frustrations somewhat, however, one mode we believe will be severely under utilised is the Custom Versus where characters developed in one player are given a multiplayer workout. This is purely because we don’t think that the chances of getting four seasoned Onimusha Blade Warriors players into one room at the same time are as slim as the edge of Samanosuke’s blade.