Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is the fourth game in the long running series about ancient Japanese warriors kicking ancient Japanese demon arse. And while this latest entry may not have the star power of the previous outing (where French superstar Jean Reno lent his likeness to one of the characters), it does feature an all-new central hero and often excellent action that should keeps fans (and newbies) enthralled.
When you first open up the Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams case and find two discs within, you'll be forgiven for thinking you're in for a long, long game. And it doesn't disappoint -- its frenetic gameplay mixed in with plenty of good looking CG cutscenes and sometimes brain-busting puzzle solving delivers an adventure that should span more than 15 hours of playtime. Of course, that's 15 hours on your first run-through while ignoring most of the non-essential conversations with other characters and other plot points. Taking your time with the expansive story, learning about each of playable character's personalities and trying to find all of the secrets hidden within each level will add several hours more game time.
Dawn of Dreams departs from previous Onimusha games by featuring an all-new villain and main protagonist. Previous games in the series saw you take on the forces of the evil warlord Obunaga, who set loose hordes of demons (genma) in medieval Japan. The main bad guy in Dawn of Dreams is Hideyoshi, Obunaga's deputy, who takes up from where his master left off.
The new hero is a mysterious warrior (aren't they all?) called Soki, a blonde-haired sword wielder who has the rare ability of being able to destroy the many genma plaguing Japan. You'll spend the majority of your time in Dawn of Dreams playing Soki, although you'll end with the ability to control four other characters, each with their own peculiar strengths and abilities. The sprightly ninja Jubei, for example, is quick and agile, and is the only character that can access certain hard to reach areas. The monk Tenkai, on the other hand, is more lumbering, but has the ability to speak to the souls of the dead (who sometimes impart useful information and items).
Combat in Dawn of Dreams seems quite simplistic at first - there's only one button for attack, a special button to launch a combo/magic attack and controls to block and focus on a specific enemy. But the combat system's depth and intricacy quickly becomes apparent within a few levels as your enemies become more difficult and your abilities more varied. Players can upgrade their abilities and earn new moves using experience points gained from defeating enemies. These include dodge manoeuvres, combo attacks, reversals and more - all of which you'll need to utilise in the game's tougher sections.
Dawn of Dreams, in fact, can be a quite challenging experience, as some of the opponents you'll come across wield impressive and damaging moves (and also tend to gang up on your characters quite heavily). A particular highlight is some of the massive boss fights in Onimusha - we say some because not all of the big encounters in this game are enjoyable. The majority are tense and exciting, but there's also quite a few that are, frankly, boring, as they tend to reward patience over skill. An example is a large Alien queen-like boss players will encounter halfway through the game - this giant beastie is actually quite easy to defeat apart from one devastating, unblockable move which it unleashes after every three or four hits landed. The pattern becomes hit, walk away to avoid the attack, hit, walk away to avoid the attack - the creature takes about 15 minutes or so to defeat, with the process to do it becoming tedious a lot sooner than that.
But apart from these occasional boss fights, combat is generally exciting. Most of the game takes place with two characters out in combat - players take control of one, but can switch characters at any time. While controlling one character, players can also give simple commands to the other, such as follow or attack. The most nifty command is heal - telling a character to do this will see them block all enemy blows and gradually regain up to half their health bar back.
Amidst all the combat are several puzzle elements that are quite well integrated into the entire gameplay experience. Most are environmental, requiring you to do the typical pull levers/stand on blocks/find keys actions found in countless other games. There is a particularly fun puzzle players will often come across when opening certain chests - this mini-game requires them to arrange the same coloured jewels within a limited number of moves.
Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is an eye-pleasing title, with its in-game graphics featuring large, detailed characters which look and move extremely well. Some of the game's cutscenes are particularly stunning, especially the second opening cutscene which sees Soki take on a gigantic genma.
Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is a rock-solid package for those wanting a tough action-adventure game. Its good looks, replay value and long play time means it's a must-have for fans of the series.
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