Onimusha was one of those little Resident Evil engine offshoot projects that Capcom was always dabbling in, a la Dino Crisis and Devil May Cry and etc. It was originally in development for the Playstation, where it likely would have sunk into obscurity quickly; instead, it ended up being given a graphical overhaul and released as a launch title for the PS2, and garnered a sizable following based sheerly on looking damn good and being one of the best of a very marginal stable of games in the PS2's first year of life.

Instead of zombies, we get various undead samurai and mythical Japanese monsters in a feudal Japan setting. Main man Samanosuke is called by the Princess Yuki to her castle when good ol' warlord Nobunaga marches on it. Nobunaga gets an arrow through his neck in the ensuing battle, but apparently cut a deal with evil spirits to be revived as an undead monstrosity, and now holds the castle (and the Princess captive) with his infinitely respawning army.

We get the tank controls and fixed camera angles of Resident Evil, but with somewhat more of an action focus. There's no ammo to conserve, and Samanosuke is a bit more durable than your standard Jill Sandwich, but there's still heaps of enemies in most rooms, they respawn in force every time you leave and re-enter, and opportunities to heal yourself are relatively few and far between. The structure of the game is also a relatively small world padded out via fetch quests and backtracking to hunt for keys.

First of all, the point of the often unhelpful fixed camera angles and the stiff control in Resident Evil was to up the fear factor and make the player feel less in control. In a more action-oriented title, where we play a skillful super-powered samurai who kills literally about 500 monsters single-handedly in the course of his adventure, this setup makes no sense whatsoever. Your standard Resident Evil zombies were also slow and you could hear them coming. Enemies in this game literally spawn in from anywhere in a puff of smoke, often appearing around a corner where you can't see them (but they always have a lock on you), and sometimes even appearing in mid-attack right next to you to prevent you from even getting a chance to defend. There's also just a ridiculous amount per screen, which wholly reset every time you leave the screen and re-enter.

Another weird decision with the controls is to completely ignore the dual analog sticks and pretend they aren't there. All movement is handled with the D-Pad, the sticks serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever. As to what sense this decision was supposed to make, I can't even begin to guess.

A deliberate, slow-paced tank-controls action game could work, I suppose, if it was plotted around the engine's limitations. I mean, for the most part, the first AITD and Res Ev 2 worked for me. This game just seems like everything was tossed hapazardly into the Resident Evil framework, however, without a lot of thought how to fit it properly. Camera angles are frequently abysmal for where the enemies come from and what you need to see. The only thing that saves the game from being completely unplayable is that ol' Sam the Samurai automatically locks onto the nearest enemy when you start swinging, which is a lifesaver when you can't see a guy coming up behind you, but can also cause serious problems when you mean to take on a charging enemy and Sam decides to laboriously execute a downed foe instead.

The game actually has an interesting setting, good CG cinemas, good sound work, it's probably worth picking up for 2 or 3 bucks anyway just for eye candy alone. For a first-gen PS2 release it looks amazing. However, the simple tweak of free movement and better camera would have made this a essential classic of the PS2 library. As it is, it's so kludgy and primitive it's likely to wear you down and drive you off before you even finish the modest 5 hours or so of gameplay in the main storyline.

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