Onimusha Tactics - Staff Review  

Tactless Tacticness
by Anna Marie Neufeld

10 - 20 hours


Rating definitions 

   The Onimusha series had originally been known for its fast-paced action games coupled with amazing visuals. Not something an RPGamer would necessarily be attracted to, until the series decided to take a right angle and an RPG being added to its ranks was annouced. Thus, the title Onimusha Tactics was born amongst much surprise. It certainly wasn't the first time a Chinese myth would be used as the basis of a game; Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth as well as Saikyuki: The Journey West both tried, with varying degrees of success depending upon who was asked. So, the title was announced to be a GBA game, joining the ever-increasing ranks of portable Tactical games. While it certainly tries hard to live up to the standards set by similar titles, it lacks all the key qualities of a good TRPG. It feels like every element of the game fails to attain its real potential and in total it makes a rather lackluster game.

   Unless you like battle, steer clear of Onimusha and every other tactical RPG. There's going to be plenty of conflict found here, and good TRPGs know how to make those battles enjoyable. In this case, however, while the game begins with much novelty it quickly wears thin, and simply defeating the game can become somewhat of a chore. Chapters begin by the main character, Oni, moving himself and his troops to a new area on the map. This triggers a section of the storyline which will attempt to justify the battle ahead. Once it's done so, the player is brought to the battle menus. This is where characters are prepared and chosen for the battle ahead. Each may be equipped with a weapon, armor, an accessory, and two items - these are the only items that will be available during the battle. Therefore, it is very important to choose the best equipment and items for each character. Any of these may either be found on the battlefield as spoils, or they can be created. Items are created using "spirits," collected by Oni's special powers, along with jewels dropped by the same enemies. Recipes for these items are hidden on the battlefield, won after battle, or received during story segments.

Thwack! When Zombies Attack

   Once all the characters are selected and properly equipped, it is time to actually sally forth onto the battlefield. Anywhere from five to seven characters may be chosen, depending upon the map. While a blue area shows where a player's troops will be deployed, there is no real way to choose who begins where; it seems that the order in which troops are selected will determine where they begin in the player area of the battlefield, but this order changes every map so it is nearly impossible to set up troops in a desired manner outside of a lot of luck. Allies move first, then enemies, then any events going on during the battle occur. No "high-tech" weaponry will be found here; this is ancient China, where swords and demons are the primary focus. While sometimes bordering on the unbelievable, a wide variety of weapons can be found: guns, cannons, and a plethora of martial arts techniques. Characters, as well as some enemies, will also have special abilities which require SP. These abilities can be anything from more powerful versions of a character's regular attacks to far more elaborate, specialized moves. They can affect the enemy, or bolster an ally. Lastly, some special attacks will allow the enemy to change, either by evolving into a tougher enemy or by splitting into many smaller enemies. These abilities are the most frustrating to deal with, as they drag out the length of the battle, sometimes to a frustrating length. Thankfully, saving is allowed within battles - a necessary step considering both the length of the battles and the portability of the title. The biggest problem the battles runs up against is that there is nothing that is unique to it. Everything within the battle system has been seen in other titles, often repeatedly. It is as if someone chose to grab characteristics from many previous TRPG titles and simply glue them together into one package. While it is not flawed on its own, its lack of originality hurts it greatly.

   The music in Onimusha isn't just bad, it's also boring. There's very little variety, resulting in a constant overlapping of music between different tracks. It is often more humane to simply turn the volume of the game off rather than suffering through the uninventive music and cursing the game for it. The same problem occurs with the graphics, as well. Though the sprites are different, the art style used for the character portraits during conversations aren't particularly appealing and the characters look very similar to each other. The landscapes also lack variation; in fact, many of them look oddly identical to levels found in Final Fantasy Tactics. A lot more variety within both the music and the graphics would have helped the game's appeal immensely.

   If there is one thing that Onimusha chose to do that many other TRPGs don't, it's that the game is very much on the easy side. While this means players can breeze through the game, the lack of challenge means that doesn't do a very good job of keeping the player enthralled, especially considering the poor way the story is presented. That being said, those that barrel through the game by creating a couple of tanks and ignoring the rest could probably jet through the game in as little as 10 hours. Those that choose a more traditional role of keeping characters around equal levels will find that the game may stretch out as long as 20 hours. This, of course, doesn't include the optional dungeon that players may choose to travel through.

   Much like the storyline, the localization has a lot of unecessary material. The sorts of speeches that the characters give don't seem very natural, even considering the history that they come from. There are a few errors here and there, which would normally be of little note, but considering how lackluster the localization is, they stand out horribly and inevitably detract from the game. The interface is, thankfully, much cleaner than the localization. Though it requires nearly all of the GBA's wealth of buttons to access everything, information is received in an organized manner. The menus, however, are on the plain and spartan side; perhaps all the frivolity found in the localization should have been put into making the interface a little more appealing.

Big Range Ranged Attacks

   The story, as mentioned previously, is based off of ancient Chinese myths. The problem with the narrative is not what it is about, but how it is presented. Characters show little emotion when talking to each other thanks to the unchanging character stills. In addition, there is needless repetition of all facts as the storyline progresses. For example, a new character will divulge an important piece of information, and two or more current party members will delight over the revelation in the exact same fashion. In the end, little information is revealed with too much fluff around it; even worse, the originality suffers from a similar fate. While it seems to be wrapped tightly in the myths it is based upon, it has the same characteristics found in many other TRPGs with little to no changes in how the gameplay works and progresses. Again, monotony hurts this title in ways it shouldn't have.

   Onimusha's biggest problem is that it did nothing to set itself apart from the other TRPGs available on the Game Boy Advance. While it seems novel at first, it is very difficult to remain interested in the game while there are so many other quality titles than an RPGamer could choose to play instead. While those who are enamoured with Chinese myths will enjoy the ambience, and those familiar with the other Onimusha games may find it interesting to see some characters found in the action games making a return, those simply looking for another portable game will definitely want to steer clear of this particular title, as there are many others which are far superior.

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