Onimusha Tactics - Review

Tactical Vomit

By: Andrew Long

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 3
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 2
   Plot 2
   Localization 3
   Replay Value 1
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

12-20 hours


Title Screen

   It is perhaps unsurprising that in the wake of the recent glut of tactical RPGs Capcom would endeavour to ride the tide to glory and knock off a similarly-themed sequel of one of its more successful properties. Capcom has, after all, been guilty in the past of randomly cramming its title characters into games not exactly suited to their original material. Unfortunately, even excessive serialization can go horribly wrong and tactical RPGs are not for the faint of heart. Anyone who has played through Rhapsody will probably agree that plunking characters onto a grid-based field and dropping allies in for no apparent reason does not a good strategy game make. Lamentably, none of these people have ever met the creators of Onimusha Tactics, and the results are predictably terrible.

    Oda Nobunaga was a 16th-Century Japanese warlord who very nearly managed to unite his country. Inevitably, he failed, which is one reason why Capcom may have opted to cast him here as a demonic purple guy with a Fu Manchu moustache and really crazy tattoos who likes to drink stolen tea out of sawed-off skulls. Dietary preferences notwithstanding, they left his intended takeover of Japan intact, and since history frowns upon losers, he also gets to be evil in the bargain. This means that Onimaru, a random nobody from the town Iga, gets assigned the task of stopping him. Included in Onimaru's impressive list of general-stomping credentials are "orphaned by mother who died with mysterious last words on lips and magical object of wonder in hand", "raised by village elder who always shows up to offer advice just when it's the least plausible means of advancing the plot" and "braindead sister who fails miserably to serve as comic relief". He also has really spiky hair and a cool headband, which always seem to help out in those life-and-death situations for some reason.

The real secret to Onimaru's success, though, is the gauntlet he wears. If the GBA sprites are any indication, the Gauntlet is some sort of soul-sucking red unitard - and suck souls it does, at a ferocious pace throughout the game. All enemies defeated in Onimusha Tactics are converted into souls, which can then be used to power up weapons or armor. This "innovation" eliminates the need for towns, currency, items, and good gameplay when coupled with a mildly inventive item creation setup that also depends upon monster drops. This, needless to say, boils the game down to a tedious series of battles which are set in rigid connect-the-dot formation.

Why tedious? Well, if you take everything that's entertaining about tactical RPGs, what's left behind is what Onimusha Tactics consists of. Gone are customizable characters, customizable abilities, and entertaining gameplay. In their place are a host of issues which should never have escaped the evidently fleeting attention of the game's testers. Whether it be the excruciatingly limited range possessed by most characters, which often results in a two to five turn buffer before the majority of the party can get into position to actually do anything, or the fact that this problem is exacerbated by the quandary arising from the inability of any character to jump vertically by more than a square or two, no attacks can be executed on characters more than a single level of elevation higher or (two) lower than the attacker, in the end Onimusha Tactics always manages to take a problem and compound it awfully.

For instance, there are no magical elements contending with each other, just damage - which can be enhanced or reduced by only a precious few abilities. Ranged attacks are severely hampered because bow attacks lack range and gun attacks lack the ability to go over people, even at different elevations. Status attacks do nothing half the time and are severely irritating the other half. Maps seem twice as large as they are because monsters are too stupid to react to anything more than a few squares away from them. This isn't the major problem in this regard, however; maps primarily seem too big because of the aforementioned problem with jumping leading to traffic jams on stairs and bridges.

Of course, swords encouraged better manners...
The origins of road rage  

It is impossible to die in Onimusha Tactics. When the entire party (or Onimaru, as the map requirements often state) ends up dead, the game just dumps to the map screen, replete with experience, items, and souls pilfered during the failed battle. Come on - even Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest gave those players hopeless enough to die the option of restarting, which although technically Onimusha Tactics does (every battle starts with all characters at full health, including retries) - it fails to do in practical terms. The point of distinction here is that with no risk of defeat, this game really doesn't have much purpose, and after ten halfhearted battles or so, there really isn't much to hope for, save for the end.

Just in case this wasn't bad enough, though, there's more trash to heap on the pile. Onimusha Tactics is rigidly, almost completely linear. There isn't any backtracking, and there are no sidequests to speak of. The only thing approaching discretionary playtime is the Phantom Realm, the unholy teachers' lounge where Nobunaga's minions hang out while waiting for Onimaru to wander by and kill them. Even this little slice of hell has its issues, though; while sixteen floors long, the sidequest forces players to start on the first floor upon each entry, regardless of previous accomplishments. It's basically just there to provide extra monsters anyway, which really could have been accomplished by allowing repetition of levels or random battles. Even this, then, doesn't really qualify as non-linearity.

   Compounding the pain of the battles of Onimusha Tactics is the way the story progresses. It's as if somebody looked up the term "Deus Ex Machina" and then made a bet with their best friend to see how many times they could jam the concept into a plot. It's truly mindboggling how many times issues are conveniently solved throughout the course of the game by solutions that pretty much drop from the sky. From mysterious fighters to mysterious monks to mysterious golf carts from space, all manner of enigmas wrapped in riddles show up in many of the game's episodes to provide utterly unrealistic resolutions to the plot. It gets just a little tiresome to be led around by the nose after a while, and somebody showing up and just happening to know where to go next gets old pretty quickly. Just in case that wasn't annoying enough, however, most such characters get the opportunity to be a lasting reminder of this irritation by becoming party members.

Why do I employ youuuuu?
"My head is on fire and you just stand there? Fools!"  

As for the actual details of the plot, they will forever remain a mystery to the English-speaking world thanks to the abysmal translation provided by the least talented localization team ever compiled. Dialogue goes that step beyond campy into "so bad it's actually bad" territory, with little gems like:
(Person) became the person of destiny.
Onimaru: (Person) was the person of destiny!
(Person): So I Was the person of destiny...

Yes in-deed. The person of destiny is who she was, and damned if it wasn't apparent after the first mention as opposed to the utterly unnecessary second and third. It's not hard to imagine expecting a fourth after that kind of showing, and it's actually a little surprising that there wasn't one. This passage is actually a benign example; this translation is just so very bad in its execution and mechanics that vague generalities like "ultimately awful" are pretty much sufficient.

   Often, terrible games are partially redeemed by decent soundtracks. Unfortunately, Onimusha Tactics cannot even hope for salvation by this particular means, because the soundtrack, while containing a couple of decent pieces, features painful instrumentation and is complemented by NES-era sound effects. Granted, the GBA has never been a bastion of sound development, but some of the sounds here have been conspicuously absent from the videogame world since Bionic Commando, and with good reason. This should not lead one to the impression that the soundtrack stands on its own, either; there are fewer than ten tracks throughout the course of the game, and of those, more than one feature sequences where the music actually goes off-key. Yes, in this day and age of orchestrated soundtracks, some talentless hack managed to turn out a piece of music where the bloody notes clashed. By that alone one can tell what's in store for those unlucky enough to bear the fortitude to complete this steamer.

   To recap thus far: Onimusha Tactics is a giant ball of borrowed bad concepts, bad execution, and tired ideas. There is little to recommend playing through it once, let alone inflicting a repeat performance upon oneself. There aren't even enough characters to wonder what it'd be like going through the game a second time - most of the second-stringers would die anyway, so there's really only about twelve characters or so that can be used effectively for the most part. Granted, it is possible to use the others, but ranged attackers lose the advantage of distance in their horribly limited mobility, so using most of them ultimately results in disaster.

It would be years before another coat of paint would dare be painted
Nobunaga shows that lousy fence who's boss  

Even graphically, Onimusha Tactics can't really save itself. Not since Paladin's Quest has such a repulsive color scheme been employed, often eschewing such hues as red and green and blue for the contents of somebody's technicolor yawn. Artistically things aren't too bad, except for the fact that the lead female character looks rather mannish and the color scheme doesn't do much to sell the overall art design. Interface art is reasonably clean, and overall, this is perhaps the one area where the game rises to mediocrity.

As for the rest, though? Definitely not worth the twelve to twenty hours it'll consume to play through this monster. Ultimately, the problems with Onimusha Tactics all feel like they could have been solved with a little more development time. Unfortunately, the rushed product ends up a terrible one, and will likely disappear quickly from the RPG scene.

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