The Onimusha series is known for many things, but strategic planning probably isn’t one of them. Unlike other games in the franchise, Onimusha Tactics takes the lore of Nobunaga and his demon army and puts it in a strategy RPG. This shift in genre is surprising, but the result is a fun one. For the most part, Capcom took a risk that paid off. I doubt pure action fans used to Oniumusha, Onimusha 2 and Onimusha 3 will be won over, but fans that like both genres will.
The start of this tale is Onimaru, a descendant of the Oni Tribe. After hearing word that his village of Iga was under attack, he runs back to find the village full of bloodthirsty demons called Genma. While he manages to fend them off, Onimaru learns that he must put a stop the Genma army and their ruler, Lord Nobunaga Oda. Onimaru acquires the coveted Oni Gauntlet. With his sister Oboro, Onimaru will join form a sizable band of warriors to end Nobunaga’s ambitions. While Onimusha Tactic’s story is familiar to anyone that played the PlayStation 2 games, it’s change in format and console feels fresh. This said change in format allows for more exposition and dialogue among the huge cast of characters that Onimaru meets. The interesting thing about the story is that the writing has a very modern feel to it. Slang and jargon that would normally be encountered in the United States gets thrown around; it doesn’t feel like you’re actually in Japan. Furthermore, most of the story is predictable with the exception of one moment that is equal parts tragic and heartwarming.
Onimusha Tactics is a complete 180 degree turn frmo the usual samurai and sorcery slasher. You will be placed on multiple, grid-based battlefields views from an isometric perspective. You will need to use up to eight of your warriors to battle Nobunaga and his minions. Prior to battle, you can select your team and create and equip new items, weapons, accessories and armor. There are no shops in Onimusha Tactics, but there is never any need to worry about running out of materials to create the essentials. The resources used to create new goods are called Genma Stones. Genma Souls are used to further power them up. It’s important to keep up with your equipment because options are more limited than in most strategy RPGs. However, at the same time, discovering new recipes to make new things adds some excitement. You will be able to create a team of mighty samurai, archers, gunmen, spearmen and ninjas. There isn’t a job system, per se, but there are various ways to customize your teammates.
Unlike most strategy RPGs, battles in Onimusha Tactics are over in a few minutes. Using the tried and true Player Phase/Enemy Phase format, your goal is to keep Onimaru alive while destroying all of the foes on the battlefield. There are some missions which have more strict criteria, but generally you need to wipe the battlefield clean. You can save and/or withdraw mid-battle if things don’t look so good. In some ways, deciding to withdraw from battle acts as a way of training. Usually, normal enemies are higher leveled than your team. Continuing to defeat them and restart the battle allows for quick leveling. Characters can use attack, use items or use a special skill. After all of your characters finished their action, the enemy team will act. On rare occasions, one of your characters will enter a stance indicating that they can perform an Issen. An Issen is a special type of counterattack that will instantly kill a foe. Unfortunately, they appear at random and only work when the character is hit by a regular attack, physical attack.
Combat suffers from a common problem in the genre: enemies wait for you to get in range. Most enemies have the ability to pelt you from a distance with arrows or spells. This means you have to scramble quickly as your team advances. It can get frustrating early on when supplies are scarce. As you start recruiting more characters, you start getting new skills and better gear that allow you to even the playing field.
The graphics in Onimusha Tactics look like nearly every other strategy RPG released since 1998. The sprites appear familiar at first glance, but they have their own unique animations. They don’t do the standard “walk in place”, which is a nice touch. There are various character portraits used throughout the game’s conversations, too. Special attacks in Onimusha Tactics are especially fun to watch. Even the enemies come in a larger than expected variety. It’s a pleasantly familiar presentation that you’ve likely seen and enjoyed before with some Onimusha Tactics-centric extras to set it apart. The music is nothing worth noting. You will hear the same battlefield music throughout the majority of the game. Get used to it.
Onimusha Tactics is as linear as it gets. Once you finish a chapter, there is no way to go back to it. Aside from a special area called the Phantom Realm, there is no way to train for farm for more materials or experience. The linear design coupled with the speed at which battles can end allows for the game to be completed in a little under 20 hours. It sounds short, but you will be ready to see the game end. There is no reason to go back for a second file unless you want to try new characters. Onimusha Tactics is a good distraction while it lasts. In comparison to well known games like Tactics Ogre, Onimusha Tactics doesn’t offer as much that is expected of the genre. But, it does offer something that all fans of strategy games will enjoy. Onimusha fans used to hacking and slashing just need to be aware of what they’re in for should they decide to check the game out.
Overall, 6.75/10: Onimusha Tactics takes the setting of Cacpom’s action series and puts it in a fairly solid strategy role-playing game.