Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams

Onimusha Dawn of Dreams
Onimusha Dawn of Dreams Cover
Platform PS2
Genre Demonic Hack and Slash
MtAMinutes to Action 7
Score 6  Clock score of 6Gameplay: 6
Fun Factor: 5
Gfx/Sound: 7
Story: 7
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Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is the fourth Onimusha game in the main series and was released in early 2006 for the PlayStation 2. I personally love the Onimusha series and find them some of the most satisfying games around. The games are heavy on katanas, demons, and blood, and Dawn of Dreams is no exception. I was introduced to the series after the second one came out and I've been playing them ever since. I even rented the crappy Super Smash Bros. ripoff, Blade Warriors. Back to Dawn of Dreams though, this game was actually kind of an unexpected sequel. After the third game was released, Capcom repeatedly said that this was to be the final Onimusha game, even though the game's own ending seemingly contradicts this. Thankfully though, this was an outright lie and the series went on.

Dawn of Dreams is a hack-and-slash game set in late 16th century Japan. Many of the heroes and villains are based on important historical figures at this time, just imbued with generally evil and demon-like powers. This makes for a really interesting alternate history game where the timeline kind of veers off onto a crazy path and eventually meets back up when things settle down. Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams continues to use completely 3D backgrounds, thus giving the player complete control over the camera (this opposed to pre-rendered backgrounds with pre-determined camera angles, the technique used for the first two games) and overall better control over your hero. You also have a second member with you most of the time allowing you to switch between characters for combos and using different powers. Capcom may not have originally wanted a fourth game, but it seems they had enough ideas to start the series anew. But let's play the first hour of Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams and see if they pulled it off.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select New Game and the first hour begins. The classic Onimusha ringing sound effect goes off and the opening cinematic begins. It's the year 1596, two men are on a rooftop and they're about to do battle. The two look battle hardened and one appears to be wearing an Onimusha outfit, the other names himself as Mitsunari, retainer to the Toyotomi Clan.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Mitsunari

01 - The Onimusha-clad warrior is Tenkai. They exchange words for a long time and then finally do battle. Mitsunari defends himself well and then sends a wave of giant centipedes at Tenkai and holds him in the air, dangling.

02 - Tenkai strikes back and stabs Mitsunari with his polearm, but then Mitsunari swings him around and throws him off the building. Only if the Black Oni arrives will his plan be stopped, Mitsunari announces to no one in particular. Foreshadowing. We switch to a town scene, in the distance is a giant castle with something evil looking growing out of it.

03 - Suddenly the castle erupts and the town begins to cave in on itself. Destruction everywhere. A little girl is left standing alone in her kimono, suddenly a bunch of skeleton warriors run at her! Just before she is killed, our hero appears!

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Kyoto Castle Genma

04 - He destroys scores of bad guys single handedly, I wish I could play this scene but it's still the opening video. This guy is not Tenkai from the opening. Coming from the castle is a horde of bad guys: ninjas, flying creatures, and 200 foot tall colossi! Our man yells "HIDEOYOSHI!" (think "TETSUO!") and then pulls a red sword from his back.

05 - He's glowing blue now, the 200 foot tall colossus actually seems scared, rightfully so because this guy can fly! His two swords decimate the giant in one quick slice and our Japanese blonde walks towards the camera through the dust.

06 - He then bends down to give the little girl her ball back. Looks like he's not out of trouble yet, enemies rush in as he does some fancy sword moves and the title screen appears: Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Soki

07 - The first chapter is about to start, Stage 1: Dawn of Nightmares. Ah, now I'm looking at the in-game graphics for the first time, and I also get control. The game looks so incredibly different! Some hints appear at the top of the screen: Square is attack, X absorbs souls.

08 - If I hold R1 I can lock on and see the bad guys' health. More skeletons approach me. L1 blocks, that's good to know.

09 - Locking on seems to help a lot as Soki (our blue clad, blonde hero) will just start comboing his sword at thin air!

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Soki Skeleton Warrior Peasant

10 - In-game cutscene of the one of the super giants knocking down a building, Soki looks ready to fight him! But am I? He hops onto a building and faces him down.

12 - The giant is knocking down the buildings I'm trying to fight him on, but I can't attack him directly right now. I'm just killing skeletons. Ah, finally a new enemy! They just look a little fiercer and don't appear to be resurrected peasants. I also level up, interesting! Oh, now I'm facing the colossus for real! Soki glows and turns into an Onimusha! Basically a super human with glowing eyes.

13 - The giant is doing typical stupid giant stuff like getting his sword stuck in the building so I can hack at his arm. But he is shooting a chest machine gun at me... odd. Oh, I should mention that there's like rock music playing. Not as bad as Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within though.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Colossus Giant

14 - After a few hits his giant sword flies away. His health meter still has plenty of life left in it though.

15 - Okay, now his swordless hand is getting "stuck" in the roof. Lame. He also performs this giant sweeping hand motion that seems unavoidable.

16 - The brute goes down and I receive 1000 exp. Soki delivers the finishing blow by running up his arm and slashing his face, trying to be all Legolas-like The colossus explodes, haha!

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Soki Colossus Giant

17 - Soki looks pretty sweet with white hair and evil looking eyes. Ah, a cutscene: ancient Japanese art (Okami style) appears. A woman's voice begins telling the story so far. Nobunaga had attempted to use Genma (demons, baddies, not really a Japanese word) to take over the land, but the Onimusha stopped him (this is basically a really quick recap of the first three games, minus the time travel and Frenchmen). Then Hideyoshi Toyotomi took over and united Japan (this is what was hinted at during the Onimusha 3 ending... but it also happened in real life).

18 - Hideyoshi is not a nice man either. On June 29th, 1596, the Omen Star appeared in the sky. Hideyoshi changed that day and Japan fell under chaos. Massacres and slaughter all over, including Westerners arriving there for the first time.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Hideyoshi Omen Star

19 - Then an earthquake hits Kyoto! Genma climb out of the cracks and start taking over Japan. The art shows the land on fire with demons killing humans. Ouch.

20 - I'm asked to save, nah. Stage 2, The Blue Demon. Two years later... January 1598 in the Plains of Suruga. Soki is lying in a house when some genma start walking down the center of town carrying what looks like a tree.

21 - Soki wakes up (he's fully armored out and he even has horns in his head). All of a sudden some weirdo pops out from the ceiling, Minokuchi! He's like tucked in a small sack hanging from the roof. Soki heads outside to confront the Genma.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Minokuchi

22 - He tells the lead Genma on a flaming horse to head home. Ah, they are carrying cherry blossom trees. This town seems absolutely deserted except for Soki, oh and Minokuchi, who suddenly appears flying about carrying a sword.

23 - Soki is ticked that the demons ate some bugs, not sure what that means. Soki draws his sword and challenges the Genma. Looks like a fight!

25 - The bigger they are, the harder they fall. This guy was kind of tough, guarding was incredibly important as he knocks my energy away quickly with giant hits, but I whittle him down slowly. Hitting Triangle unleashes Oni Magic which delivers some large damage using the power of Oni, or something.

26 - Another cutscene of a crow and two people standing on a building. One is a woman, the other Mitsunari from the opening cutscene. He says the Blue Demon (Soki) is famous for being a traitor to Hideyoshi.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Ohatsu

27 - Soki set the tree on fire and it seems to be moaning and crying out. Minokuchi... seriously? What is this guy and where is he hanging from? We're outdoors and he's still dangling from something.

28 - Back inside my house, our two friends Soki and Minokuchi discuss what just happened. I guess I can rest here before I head out again.

29 - I can save here along with enhancing my equipment with the souls I've collected. I level up my sword and armor a few times. I can also learn new skills from points I earned when leveling up. I put all of my points into Attack and Thrust.

31 - Geez, there's also a shop here run by some scary dude that could be Minokuchi's great-grandfather. I buy some medicine to refill my health in the future. I guess I'd better save in case I blow it.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Soki Minokuchi

32 - Next up I speak with Minokuchi for a bit. Seems like his life goal is to become a samurai... too bad he's two feet tall and hangs from the ceiling in a potato sack.

34 - I head for the door to leave, and then Soki decides to sleep. Stage 3, Jubei Has Arrived! Jubei... that's the main character from Onimusha 2. It's now February and a cutscene is playing. A young woman with one glowing red eye is walking through town when she gets approached by two drunk looking men. Guys, she's wearing a short sword and dressed like a mini samurai, do you really want to mess with her?

35 - She ends up breaking one guy's mug and basically breaks another guy's neck! She asks for the Blue Demon.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Yagyu Jubei Running

36 - Minokuchi has some sixth sense and is able to tell that there is a "child" in trouble. I think this girl can handle herself pretty well. But Soki decides to head out anyway as he doesn't know that. Time to make my way towards her, but the Genma think otherwise!

38 - I find the diary of a drunkard (literally). He writes about how the world has gone to hell and his only solace is the bottle.

40 - I find a puzzle box on the ground, to receive its contents I have to solve a color puzzle. I have to rotate these colored circles so that there's a straight line of one color from left to right. Kind of hard to explain but this one was really easy. I even received the Fire Dance sword!

42 - Woah, I just critical killed an enemy by hitting him right before he hit me! The screen went white and he went down with just the single blow, I also got a bunch of extra souls for that. This move could come in handy.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Soki Battle Skeleton

44 - Not really sure where I'm going, I find a piece of burnt wood to walk over but Soki refuses to cross because it won't hold his weight. Then I find a small hole here that someone small could squeeze through... suspicious.

46 - Some archers appear but they're expectedly weak. I reach level 6 as they fall. Nice.

47 - The game is trying to stop me from proceeding by placing a one foot tall cart in my way, lame level design. I approach another small hole and then a cutscene begins.

48 - It's the girl again, geez her red eye is creeping me out. Minokuchi sneaks up behind her and scares her. She also isn't very happy to see the Blue Demon! She starts fighting with me but Soki recognizes her fighting style.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Yagyu Jubei Soki

49 - Sweet, time to do battle with this rugrat.

50 - This chick is quick but I corner her and give her a whallop. She says her name is Yagyu Jubei, Soki is stunned. Minokuchi starts crying that we're out of time and then a bunch of Genma approach. Is it time for a tag team battle with Jubei?

52 - I can give Jubei instructions using the D-pad, but I can't seem to control her directly yet...

54 - Jubei keeps going on and on about how no human sword can kill the Genma, but I can see her killing them with her own short sword right in front of me!

55 - Cool, another puzzle box. Just as easy as the last one though.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Soki Jubei Surrounded

56 - Genma keep flying out of the sky in large numbers. I hate unlimited enemies, but these guys are easy enough, for now.

57 - Hey, a Test of Valor. It's a challenge to kill an axeman in less than a minute. Well, this toady goes down in 15 seconds thanks to Jubei's quickness and my strength.

59 - Oh no! Soki and Jubei get separated when a ladder is destroyed. Will we make it out alive? Well, yes. I find another ladder and unbar the door so we can meet up again.

60 - One final Test of Valor in the game's final minute! This time I have to fight off three axemen, but it's still pretty easy, we take them out in 38 seconds and receive a Bronze medal, dang. My reward is Grass. What the...? Well, that's it for the first hour of Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams.

Now for some scores out of 10.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Soki Critical

First Hour Scores

Minutes to Action: 7

Gameplay: 6
Dawn of Dreams just doesn't seem to compare to a game like God of War 2, which has much more fluid action and a larger variety of weaponry, even early on. Combat is relatively simple: target, attack, block, and a super move. There are timed criticals available in the first hour but that's about it. This would have definitely received a higher score if it would have let me control Jubei directly, something that is available later on (but why not right away...?). I've also noted in the past that fighting huge bosses early is usually a huge plus, but when they're this stupid, you can't help but think of how much hand holding is really going on. There seems to be a lot of depth though with weapon and armor power-ups, along with collecting more weapons with different attributes. I believe the game has some promise there. Can't forget the puzzle boxes either, those should provide a nice side challenge later on.

Fun Factor: 5
Onimusha's appeal lies in a great setting, interesting good and bad guys, and its action-oriented gameplay. Dawn of Dreams fails at nearly all of these completely in its first hour. After the opening scene we find ourselves in a deserted town with no explanation on why Soki is staying here. The only semi-interesting character is Mitsunari but he's relegated to the back seat while crazy stupid Minokuchi and his rope from nowhere tries to steal the show. And finally the action feels really confined and sometimes quite awkward. Targeting is a must, something that really wasn't necessary in the early Onimushas, and I even felt kind of weak compared to the skeleton peasants. Why aren't I taking them down in one or two swings? Also the fact that I have a second character tailing me but all I can do is tell her to fight or just stand there is a great opportunity lost.

Graphics and Sound: 7
Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams suffers from the nasty case of awesome-looking-opening-cutscene-then-horrible-in-game-graphics syndrome. Of course, the in-game graphics aren't that bad, but after six full minutes of beautiful cutscenes, nothing will look that hot. The most recent generation of consoles is dissolving that difference quickly, but Dawn of Dreams still suffers from it. It's disappointing, and after a bunch of Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS games, that much more noticeable. The graphics were improved though since Onimusha 3 and the fully rendered environments are again welcome. This is probably one of the better looking PS2 games, but the art style is a little tired coming from an Onimusha veteran.

Sound is above average also, most notably the Japanese language option is music to my ears. Onimusha 2 only had English voices which ticked me off to no end, but is the only game in the series lacking Japanese.

Story: 7
As I stated in the introduction, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams provides an alternative historical look at a turbulent time in Japanese history. This isn't something like Call of Duty where you're just a soldier in a war, this is a total rewrite with the same characters but with many more fictional elements. I believe that this kind of writing meshes really well with video games, and Dawn of Dreams is an example of that. However, I'm disappointed in how Capcom fumbled this opportunity because Dawn of Dream's story in the first hour starts dragging at the end. We get a great opening with interesting (and real) characters doing crazy things, but then we skip ahead two years and we find ourselves in a ghost town in the middle of nowhere. The game feels more like an American Western with swords (Rising Zan, anyone?) than a 16th century retelling set in turbulent Japan. Also, what the heck is going on with the Minokuchi character? That is seriously messed up and reminded me that I was just playing an insane Japanese video game instead of interacting with alternative historical fiction.

Overall: 6
Dawn of Dream's fun factor describes my overall feeling of its first hour: opportunities lost. It is set during a super interesting period of Japanese history, and the best story Capcom can come up with is that there are evil cherry blossom trees and that bugs are the cause of the genma? And why can't I control Jubei? The game's first hour is slightly above average though: the graphics look great when you don't compare them to the opening and the Japanese voice acting is stellar. Onimusha is an action game at heart and so it's not that huge of a loss when the story is underwhelming. There does feel like there is something lacking in the gameplay but it is still a solid hack-and-slash. Give Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams a try if you've played any of the others, but I would recommend starting at the beginning of the series if you're new to it.

Onimusha Dawn Of Dreams Art John Devlin Soki
Art by John Devlin - used with permission.