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|[ 08/29/05 ] = Conflict Of Interest
Back when the PlayStation 2 had just been released, there were rumors that Capcom had a Power Stone title in development for it. At the time Power Stone 2 was about to be released on the DreamCast, so the rumor wasn't hard to believe; but unless Capcom has saved it for the last years of the PS2's life, it was just a rumor. Instead Capcom developed another chaotic, 3-D multi-player fighting game based on the Onimusha series. That game was Onimusha - Blade Warriors, and it kicks ass. The preliminary screenshots were interesting, and I had seen friends play the game briefly, but I didn't make it a point to get it until a while after its release. And when I did get it, I played it for a short while and then went back to Chaos Legion. My initial impression was that while it was good, it was a little more simplistic than most other Capcom fighters. That is, until I started to play it regularly and gradually realized the amount of mastery the game's depth demands. Nothing could have prepared me for the endless depth of Onimusha - Blade Warriors; like Gotcha Force, it has infinite replay value. Onimusha - Blade Warriors grew on me the more I played it, and it has grown on everyone I've played it with and/or shown it to. Fuck what you've read up until now, this is the truth.
Capcom probably had most of the game finished before it was even complete on paper; graphically, OBW looks like Onimusha 2 and Onimusha 3. The character models look like they were taken straight out of their original action titles and put into OBW. Is that a bad thing? Not at all; anyone who has played the Onimusha games knows how good the characters look and animate. Many were surprised to see an Onimusha fighting game, but taking characters across genres is nothing new for Capcom; in the past they have made fighting games with characters from titles of other genres. Back in the day they made the stellar 2-D versus fighter Cyberbots with characters originally from the equally stellar side-scrolling fighter Armored Warriors (of the same hardware), as well as a Mega Man - The Power Battle, which was completely different from that of the action title some of its characters originated from (Mega Man 7). They also made side-scrolling fighters X-MEN - Mutant Apocalypse and Marvel Super Heroes - War of the Gems with characters from the CPSII fighters X-MEN - Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes. Even characters like Jill (the original bombshell from Resident Evil), SonSon (classic Capcom), Captain Commando (from the side-scrolling action game of the same name), Strider, and Arthur (Ghouls 'N Ghosts) made it into the cast of Capcom fighters. Probably the most recent example of this is Cannon Spike, a white-knuckle action shooter featuring Charlie and Cammy from Street Fighter, B.B. Hood from DarkStalkers, and Arthur from Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Most notable, however, is how well Capcom characters make the transition from genre to genre.
When they made X-MEN - Mutant Apocalypse and Marvel Super Heroes - War of the Gems with characters from X-MEN - Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes (respectively), the transition was smooth because Capcom retained the way each character played in their titles of origin. Even with fighters like Mega Man - The Power Battle or Marvel VS Capcom 2, Capcom managed to transplant characters and their signature characteristics from the action realm into the fighting realm with great success. With OBW, it's no different; Capcom took the Onimusha characters from the realm of hack 'n slash puzzle action to the realm of fighting, and they did great. Even after all these years Capcom still has it. Sure, it may have a different face (3-D, as opposed to 2-D), but they are still innovating and making their franchises just as interesting as they always have. Even though it was a different type of game than that which its characters originated from, Capcom made Cyberbots just as good as Armored Warriors, and they have similarly made Onimusha - Blade Warriors just as good as Onimusha 2 and Onimusha 3. Onimusha 2 is my favorite of the series, and in OBW being able to play as Jubei is awesome. Even more awesome is being able to pit Jubei (the "Ken of the game") against his rival Samanosuke (the "Ryu of the game"). I live for battles like this.
The transition from action to fighting was particularly successful in this case because the Onimusha action games already had a good combo system, and it fits like a glove in OBW. Another complimentary attribute is the Soul system, which is unique for a fighting game; in OBW players can choose to slay or suck the souls of their opponents to win. The weapon system is also great, not just because you can collect and upgrade weapons, but because it was carried over from the Onimusha action series successfully with little modification. The button layout from the original games has also been carried over, but with slight modifications that round the button count out to eight (kick, jump, drop item, and change target). Critical hits also look as cool as they did in the original games, the charging moves have been carried over, and tons of weapons and items from the original action series affect the attributes of each character. The combo attack system in the Onimusha action series resembles that of which is often found in side-scrolling fighting games, so it comes as no surprise that in OBW it has also been left intact, and that it works well. There are also moves equivalent to that of the Super Moves in many of Capcom's other fighters; by sucking in colored orbs (which is often a pain in the ass), your character can unload a deadly elemental combo (wind, lightning, or fire) attack that obliterates the receiver. These moves are one of the best parts about the game because if you perform them when the screen is full with motion slowdown occurs. Magazines always shit on games with slowdown, but anyone who grew up in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras remembers slowdown in some of the best titles ever, and that it's cool. OBW brings back memories of how slowdown in older titles often showed just how far the hardware was being pushed; slowdown allowed me to see every single frame of quality, 2-D hand-drawn animation in classic Capcom, SNK, and Konami games. I like the nostalgic slowdown in OBW.
Sometimes I wonder how Capcom came up with the idea for OBW, or why Nobunaga is such a cheap motherfucker, but more than anything I wonder how such a great game got such shit reception upon release. The publications I read call it "shallow" and a bunch of other lame shit, but it's obvious that they never played the game enough to understand it. With all the different attacks, weapons, items, unlocking, and leveling-up, how could magazines say this game is "shallow?" Well, for the same reason that they say a lot of great games are shallow; because they probably didn't get past the title screen. While OBW isn't as deep as SFEX3 or CFE, the battles are furious and the level of customization is alluring. OBW is chock-full of customization; you can choose from various unique weapons, items, banners, and colors to separate your character from everyone else's. It doesn't stop there, though; each of the game's weapons can be leveled-up and have unique attributes that grant your character(s) special abilities like poison resistance and increased power. These special abilities, combined with various attacks, Special Moves, items and many weapons, are what make OBW such a deep game; the possible combinations between each are endless. There is one thing that should have been in the game, though, and that's blood. I've played Onimusha 2 a lot, and there is a generous amount of bloodshed in the game (especially when sealing the deal with a two-handed ground-strike), but what happened with OBW? Why wasn't the blood retained? Would it have even influenced the consumer rating tag? It should have at least been optional. Spraying blood would have complimented several of the game's moves in their devastation.
The subtle, familiar battlegrounds in OBW are great, as well; most of them are portrayals of majestic Japanese scenery often seen in post cards and books, but there are a few that really stand out. In one stage you fight on a beautifully-animated traditional woodblock print of a ship being tossed about the sea by crashing waves (similar to the famous Hokusai print). The other is a towering bamboo forest that extends to the heavens as far as the eye can see, while soft, ambient rays of light pour through; truly one of the best 3-D battlegrounds in a while, and definitely a sight to see. The plane-shift fighting system is also a unique attribute that is rarely seen in titles that run on a 3-D engine (especially now). And while it may seem slow and awkward, the system works well and plane-changing quickly becomes second-nature during heated battles. Maybe I like this game so much because it reminds me of the Fatal Fury series...
The traditional Japanese music is ambient and calm, and the sound effects are carried over and sound just as good as their action counterparts, but where is the "you win" voice after each round? OBW should have had a victory voice at the conclusion of a round like other Capcom fighters, even if the announcer wouldn't have sounded as cool as the one in DarkStalkers. The crashing echo of thunderbolts, deep slashes, the sparking collision of blades, and various other sounds of warfare are all brought to life with clarity, and some were even brought over from the original Onimusha titles. The coolest sound effect in the game is when a critical attack connects; the sound of it is so rotten that you can almost feel the paralysis of the poor bastard who just got cut. Some may say that the audio isn't "gripping" enough for such a title, but in actuality the game's soundtrack is both calm and tense, suiting it well. Some tracks may not be as memorable as that of the audio in SF games, but it suits the traditional theme and sounds good, nonetheless.
OBW fits in well with current Capcom 3-D PS2 fighters SFEX3, Gundam: AVST, Chaos Legion, Beat-Down, and in the near-future with Final Fight: Streetwise. The only qualms I have with this game are that Nobunaga is a cheap motherfucker, that there is no fight announcer, and that the programmers felt the need to put in a painfully long and generic "Now-Loading screen between rounds. Other than that, though, the tons of character customization features, several unlockable characters, branching paths, good story, and 4-Player support have the potential to grow on even the most rigid fighting critics. OBW is a quality fighter that has been overlooked and disregarded by many, but the few who have actually played the game enough are drawn to its intricacies. The game is deeper than critics have given it credit for, and while it's not quite as deep as SFEX3, it's just as customizable, and the fighting is just as good. All in all, OBW sits well next to titles like Bloody Roar 3 and Soul Calibur II in the growing family of System 246/PS2 fighters.