Shit! People are reading now…and they seemed to like the “Every Game In The Series” stunt I pulled with Resident Evil. What other series do I have? Mega Man? Nah, they’re all the same. Final Fantasy? Goodbye, next five years of my life. Fire Emblem? Where were you when I did that the first time! Damn it! I’m just not ready to be done with Resident Evil! I need more! Isn’t there anything like those classic games, where you wander back and forth through a haunted mansion looking for keys and solving puzzles? Screw this! I’m playing Onimusha.
Onimusha, if you didn’t immediately catch the joke, is a game set in feudal Japan where a samurai, Samanosuke, wanders back and forth through a demon-infested castle looking for keys and solving puzzles. It’s survivally horrorish, except that a mainstay of survival horror is the conservation of ammunition. As one tends not to reload a sword all that often, the game adopts a more adventure-y feel.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that it was based on actual historical figures and locations. Oda Nobunaga really did fight the battle at the beginning of the game, and then laid siege to the Saito clan’s Inabayama castle. He was, as we find out in the third game, finally defeated at Honno-ji, by Mitsuhide Akechi (uncle of the fictional protagonist, Samanosuke Akechi), possibly over a contention with another of Nobunaga’s retainers, Mori Ranmaru. Of course, saying that Onimusha is based on historical events is on par with saying that William the Conqueror won the battle of Hastings with a contingent of trolls and a magical amulet provided by Doc Brown and his Delorean. The real Nobunaga is respected as one of the great unifiers of Japan, while the Nobunaga of the Onimusha series is basically the child born after Hannibal Lecter raped Satan at Auschwitz. And also, I’m pretty sure he didn’t make a pact with demons after they resurrected him and drink the blood of a Saito princess from her own skull. But I wasn’t there. Don’t quote me on that one.
So the game plays out pretty much like a Resident Evil game with a little faster pace. The only complaints I have are that the game feels too short, and also that the sequels played with this design like two monkeys flinging shit at each other. For instance, the second game, Samurai’s Destiny, takes the God-of-War-2 style cliffhanger from the first game—Nobunaga, imbued with fresh demon powers, menacingly approaching Samanosuke after he transformed into the Oni Warrior—and runs it through an industrial garbage disposal, washing it down with a steady flow of sulfuric acid. They never come back to that. It feels like that game where you tell a story one sentence at a time, and then pass to the next person for the next sentence, except one of you is trying to write a Game-of-Thrones sex-murder scene while the other one is channeling the more conservative parts of Jane Austin.
To be fair, both Onimusha 1 and 2 are good games, but in the way where Final Fantasy 7 and Grand Theft Auto are both good games; you’ll play them both, but when someone tries to tell you they’re related, you react the way you do to the people who accost you on the street to tell you that Jesus is returning in his flying saucer as soon as the shadow government decides to release flux capacitor technology to the public. Samurai’s Destiny just straightens out the map like it can’t waste time wandering around some damn haunted house because it’s got somewhere to be. And then it ramps up the difficulty to ensure it won’t get there on time. In my defense, though, I made it all the way to Nobunaga’s final form before I collapsed like a pavlova with bad knees and lowered the difficulty. So…almost good enough, I guess?
Onimusha 3: Demon Siege is where things start going hilariously off the rails.
“You know what we need in our epic historical samurai series?”
“Is it it modern day French guy?”
“Is it a modern French guy and 21st Century France?”
“You know me so well!”
“Hey, isn’t there a tough guy in France?”
And so they hired Jean Reno to play—wanna guess?—a bad-ass French cop…who was chosen by the Oni clan to fight Oda Nobunaga, the great unifier of Japan and accused demon colluder. Meanwhile, Samanosuke gets a well-deserved vacation in 21st century France, chumming around with Reno’s son and girlfriend, helping them resolve some deep-seated resentment between the two. Because the core of any game about surviving an onslaught of demons is a relatable, human conflict about the potential usurpation of an absent mother. And what better vehicle for resolution than a hapless time-traveling samurai who somehow speaks fluent modern French? And while he’s there, Samanosuke gets to take in the sights: Notre Dame, the Arc D’Triumph, Mont-Saint-Michel, and the Eiffel Tower, all of which currently suffer from a Genma demon infestation.
Meanwhile, Jean Reno (what was his character’s name? Give me a moment. I have to look this up…Jaques Blanc. Wait, seriously? Jack White? Did Capcom literally name the only European in Japan “White”? I’m sure there’s also a White-Stripes-Seven-Nation-Army joke in there somewhere, but I’m too lazy to find it right now.) Anyway, Jaques gets dropped into feudal Japan, where a radioactive KISS fan tells him to go slaughter the head of state, and Jaques signs up without so much as checking Wikipedia for potential historical ramifications. But hey, to prevent any zany cultural mishaps (you know, other than murdering their de facto shogun), they send Jacques on his way with…Navi.
Well, not quite Navi, but basically the same thing. A tiny little girl (ostensibly a tengu, but actually a discount Barbie with wings) who buzzes your head like a mosquito at a rave. Because those first two games were apparently so terrible that they needed to add the only character more obnoxious than Slippy Toad.
And…honestly, I can’t even begin to describe how weird this is. Your obnoxious guide spontaneously gains the ability to travel through time and carry objects back and forth, but not Samanosuke or Jaques. You land on a 17th century ship in Japan sailing to an underground Shinto temple in Paris. Jaques’ motorcycle appears out of nowhere for no reason other than a kick-ass scene where he guns it off a dock and onto the departing ship. And the Genma somehow build a device on the Eiffel tower to fold time. I’ve had more coherent mushroom trips.
So yeah…the hole in my heart left by squishing zombie heads was sadly not filled by Onimusha. I guess I have no choice but to plod on and hope RE7 goes back to its roots, as they say. And now for something completely different…