| paleface [sys=GBA; cat=Strategy; loc=NA] |
|This has gotta be one of the most basic strat RPGs of recent memory--but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.|
Set in the usual Onimusha (see entry 192) mileu of medieval Japan and the depredations of the "evil warlord" Nobunaga, with soul-absorbing and magic thrown in with ninjas, demons, and spirits, Onimusha Tactics dresses itself in the trappings of the typical strategy RGP, with isometric, grid-based battle maps, numerous playable characters, turn-based action, magic items and inventory management, special attacks, hit-points, and so forth.
But Onimusha streamlines the whole process. You don't have to choose a path between battles: the game just goes to the next story point, and that's where you're at, like it or not. There's no "shopping" or recruiting as in other games in the genre; rather, characters simply join your party of their own accord as you progress through the story, and you win all your supplies in battle. Similarly, there's no shopping for or choosing skills, or deciding what aspect of a character to power up after gaining a level--skills and attributes just come along as pre-determined by the game.
Now, if you don't have that much time to sit down with a game at any one time, and if you just want a nice pleasant, almost soothing distraction for a little bit, Onimusha Tactics is right up your alley. With a simple and fast command menu, battles go quick: on my one-hour lunch breaks I could get in two battles, complete with equipping/crafting phases and story bits before each one.
In that light, it helps too that the game is really very easy. There's no perma-death, so if you lose a character in battle, they'll be right there ready to roll in the next one. For the most part, I used the same eight characters (the usual max you can take in with you) in every battle, and I think I only had to retry one or two battles out of forty-five. In fact, usually I could get through a battle without losing a character or even having to burn a healing item.
This didn't bother me, though. It was kind of nice to know that I'd probably come through each battle okay, and the fun, for me, came in beating each battle as quickly as I could. Even so, the game went on longer than I'd counted on: nearly 19 hours, to get through the forty-five battles. Not bad, really. In terms of play length it doesn't come close to something like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, I suppose, but it isn't really the same kind of game, even though it fits in the same genre.
Graphics and sound, though, could have been better. Everything here is mostly brownish or greyish, which gets sorta old. The maps, composed usually of brown or grey dirt blocks, usually don't have much going on in terms of excitement on their own. The few magical abilities you'll use (mostly you can just whack things with swords/spears/arrows/axes) are distinctly lacking in pizzaz. A weird kind of slowdown occurs if you move the cursor over a largish ledge, or across a ravine. The characters are even punier than most games of this type (but at least they animate pretty well). Battle music and sound effects are nondescript, although on the plus side the music is so bland that it doesn't get annoying. Menu sounds, though, suck.
On the plus side, I like the simple, straightforward strategies. There are no combo moves or counter-attacks or back/side attacks or anything like that, you just move people up to a monster and hack them. But the game does a good job of giving you weapons and abilities of different ranges: swords and axes for short range, bows for indirect ranged attacks, a musket for direct-fire ranged attacks, spears for medium-range melee attacks, and then spells of various ranges. Get a party that uses a good mix of these and you end up finding all kinds of nice little chess-like battle formations as you run around stabbing monsters.
On the other hand, some aspects of even this simple battle system could be better. A greater variety of special attacks would have been nice, for one thing--each character usually has about three special things, but they often do almost the same things, and they also use so much mana that you can only do a couple per battle, unless you want to burn energy-restoring items. And greater character mobility would have been nice: most characters can only move four squares per turn! And that's on level ground: toss in a map with a big hill and you'll spend most of your time climbing your party to the top. Bluh.
There should have been more area-effect abilities, and the ones that there are are annoying because their effect plays on each target character separately, one at a time. Slooooowww. And then when they wear off, you have to click several times per character to get past the "spell wore off" message that pops up.
The enemy AI is pretty stupid. The UI helps them, though: the game will show you the enemy's movement range, but not their attack range, so, combined with the easy difficulty, it isn't really worthwhile trying to do stuff like move up to just outside of their attack range. But they don't usually fall for that kind of thing anyway: if you aren't in their attack range, they usually just stand there like posts. The rarely coordinate attacks and rarely, in fact, do anything really interesting. Oh, and I hate how, even if an NPC isn't going to do anything in a given round, the game still has to make you wait while it centers the screen on them and flashes their movement range for no particular reason.
As I mentioned, a story bit prefaces each battle, as main character Onimusha and his samurai and ninja buddies chase Nobunaga around Japan. These usually consist of a mixture of plain text screens, slideshows, and little scripted conversations or battles. Some of the lines are occasionally funny (there are a few romantic involvements between some of the twenty playable characters) but usually it isn't that interesting, and over the course of the 45 story bits, the story seemed to get muddled a bit, and you couldn't really tell what was going to happen in the next section; not because the writing kept you on your toes with clever plot twists, but rather because the plot just sort of rambled around arbitrarily. Oh well.
I suppose the game was a little more complicated than what I experienced, since I didn't bother playing most of the characters (why spread XP around to a bunch of them when you can only take eight into battle anyway?), didn't use the always-available demon training world to level up, and didn't really much around with the simple crafting system much.
For the crafting thing, basically as you play through you loot precious stones and item recipes, and use the recipes to combine different stone types together to form new weapons, armor, and items. I was always behind on having even just my normal eight characters equipped with the latest stuff, though, because you don't get that many stones if you don't do optional training battles. You also don't get that many soul points (from enemies, absorbed by Onimaru's gauntlet when they die) to level-up the weapons/armor much. But the game is easy enough that you don't need really strong items anyway, so yay.
Onimusha Tactics doesn't stack up to the other strat RPGs out there these days in terms of depth, presentation, or features, but for my occasional lunchtime play, it fit the bill nicely.