On October 26, 2000, the Sony PlayStation 2 was launched, delivering not only one of the single best software libraries to the world, but also cementing a slew of features as commonplace items in every system hence: backwards compatibility, online gaming, multimedia functionality. That none of these was originated by Sony itself is a testament to the console’s legacy.
To commemorate the occasion, TotalPlayStation has gathered some of the best and most influential journalists, from either in-house or outside publications, to discuss one of their most cherished games from the PS2’s long lifecycle.
Ten authors and ten years in ten days. Let the celebration conclude.
Author: Marc N. Kleinhenz [TotalPlayStation Features Editor]
Game: Onimusha: Warlords
Release date: March 13, 2001
To me, the hallmark of a good story has been clear and irrefutable and singular since childhood: atmosphere. Those narratives that truly and deeply create another world, whether it be the grassy plains of Naboo or the Mafioso streets of Jersey, and let the audience convincingly inhabit them, playing and exploring and enjoying, are the ones that not only resonate the most strongly with peoples the world over, but also stand the test of time for generations – even centuries – to come. And although the recent advent of the found footage sub-genre in filmdom is particularly well-suited to such atmospheric conduciveness, as the woods of The Blair Witch Project or, even, the bedroom in Paranormal Activity will easily attest to, it is videogames, by virtue of their inherent nature, that are most potently able to transport individuals to a world far, far away.
Anything Miyamoto-sama touches, for example, has a transformative or transportive effect. The simplistic question mark blocks of Super Mario Bros. intimate an entire, complete reality, particularly to a fervent eight-year-old’s mind; the fully realized Hyrule witnessed – in 3D for the very first time – in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is among the closest experiences to gaming moksha a player can ever hope to attain. Mikami-san is another world-building maestro, helping to construct the Spencer Mansion and Raccoon City Police Department of Resident Evil and RE2, respectively, as well as Devil May Cry’s marionette monstrosities.
But his most deft strokes of the atmospheric paintbrush come in the form and substance of Onimusha. The layout of its Azuchi-Momoyama castle, the gorgeous composition of its pre-rendered backgrounds, the melody of its (Japanese) voice acting, the smoothness of its character animations, the cumulative effect of its enemy designs and creepy soundtrack and sucking-souls gameplay – all coalesce to softly, gently undulate an expansive environment around the player in such a forcefully intimate way and to such a painstakingly deliberate effect. The fact that the game is steeped in Japanese history only reinforces its ability to so fully and thoroughly erect another place in another time (literally). The daimyo period has rarely been so immediate or vivid.
And neither has a survival-horror (of sorts) title been so action-heavy. Rather than detracting from the experience, as can sometimes happen with the Silent Hill series – another heavyweight in the atmospherics department – it instead creates a delicate tension between fearful-to-open-the-next-door-to-the-next-haunted-chamber and impatiently-waiting-to-get-back-into-the-fight-and-flay-some-demon-ass. It is a similar balancing act between the traditional RPG components of leveling up weaponry and spells and the action genre’s fast-paced gameplay, between exploration and storytelling, between grotesque visuals and majestic vistas. Much like an automobile’s engine, it is an unwieldy and improbable design on paper but magical and seamless in execution – the very definition of gaming gold. (And all this within six months of the PS2’s launch!)
It may not be too much of a stretch to say, when one looks back at the annals of pop culture storytelling at some distant point hence, that theater has Macbeth’s castle, cinema has Kane’s Xanadu, and gaming has Samanosuke’s castle. And even if it is, it does nothing to dispel the underlying reality: although Onimusha: Warlords may not be the most perfect game, it is among the most perfectly conjured realities to grace our collective minds, interactive or not.