Story-line, game-play and characters: the three main elements of any great game. For me Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny’s greatest strength lies in its characters. The incredibly life-like (by Playstation 2 standards) character designs add a sense of realism to the game, despite the fact that most of your time will be spent fighting demons. The strong voice acting and well-made character models help to gloss over many of the story-line and game-play issues – of which there are a couple, most notable being that you are forced to use the D-pad rather than the analog stick for movement. This wouldn’t be such a big deal were it not for the large number of spiral staircases which need to be navigated in the game, and which are infuriatingly difficult to get up with the D-pad alone.
Jubei Yagyu is the main character of this story: a samurai whose village is destroyed during the opening sequence of the game. This event brings about the revelation of Jubei’s destiny as heir to the ancient clan of demon-slayers, the Oni. Jubei is modelled on the Japanese actor Yusaku Matsuda who died in 1989, twenty three years before this game was released. Straight away a sense of reality is conferred onto this game, and, more specifically, its characters.
Jubei and the other excellent character designs are exhibited throughout the game in spectacular cut-scenes. There are numerous different channels that the story can take, affecting which cut-scenes are shown. This is based on a ‘friendship’ system that I did not realize existed until much too late in the game. Early on, Jubei finds his way to a village. In this village are four different characters to interact with. Gifts can then be given to each of these characters, and they all have very different personalities and tastes, from the refined Magoichi who is interested in history books, to the less refined monk, Ekei, who lists women, good food and alcohol among his interests.
The friendships Jubei forges during this stage will affect the rest of the game, as those you please most will help you out later on. For me, the fact that it was not made explicitly clear that this mechanic existed made the whole process seem more organic. Because of the choices I made for Jubei, my path through the game will be different to another person’s. For example, in my game Ekei seemed to be everywhere, Magoichi remained a distant and aloof figure, whilst the ninja Kotaro was just some weirdo that jumped off the roof of a horse’s stable to warn me about a beautiful woman and then was never heard from again. It’s this mechanic that made me feel as though I was having a unique experience, and it makes me want to leave the game at just one play-through because of it.
Onimusha 2 exemplifies what makes video games special to me as an artistic medium. Paintings, books and films are exactly the same for every person that sees or reads them. They may have different interpretations about what they have experienced, but the subject matter remains essentially the same. With video games, however, you are given a certain amount of freedom, and it is within this space that you forge your own unique experience of a game. Even with the most linear of games, your experience of it will differ from the next person.
I’d love to hear about your version of Onimusha 2, so why not leave a comment?