Review: Onimusha Tactics (Game Boy Advance)

You know, Onimusha Tactics was released with little to no fanfare by Capcom. Not only is it the latest game in one of Capcom’s more under-rated series, they turned it into a full blown Strategy RPG.

Onimusha Tactics goes back to the days of Shining Force CD in terms of the style of Tactics RPG as well. A ton of battles intersected with story arcs. In fact the game is divided into more than 40 Chapters. There are over two dozen playable characters, but alas, none can change classes like in FFTA or Ogre Tactics. They are stuck being what they are ala Shining Force.

Unlike games like FFTA that tries to hard to do everything and succeeds only at being mediocre all the way through, Capcom focused on two things: The story and streamlined very fast (especially for Tactics style RPG) gameplay. And what came about is a very fun game with a very low learning curve.

To be honest, Onimusha Tactics seemed like the best route for the series to go. It gives it a complete overhaul, a longer life span due to a new system, a new audience, and allows Capcom fans to have an RPG series other than that god awful Breath of Fire crap on the GBA. I found myself skeptical but eventually won over by the simplicity and the beauty of this game. It kept me busy for the entirety of my East Coast tour Thanksgiving Week, and even with games like Harvest Moon, CIMA, and Fire Emblem accompanying me, this was the one that held my attention and affections the most.


1. Story.

Okay long time video game fans, you’ve played Nobunaga’s Ambition, correct? If you have, than you are cool and worthy of talking to me. If not, I suggest you get a History Book and read up on a major piece of Japanese History.

Once upon a time (Late 1500’s) there was a man Nobunaga Oda who tried to conquer all of Japan only to fall short when Mitsuhide Rkechi betrayed Nobunaga and had him assassinated. He was brutal, ruthless, and slaughtered countless people “just in case.’

What Capcom has done is take the story of Nobunaga’s Ambition and put a twist on it. What is Nobunaga was ruthless, not because he was a human warlord trying to conquer Japan, but was instead a Genma King, a Demon from Hell who planned to extinguish all hope from humanity and subjugate them as well?

It’s a very kick ass concept and one that Onimusha Tactics follows quite closely. Tons of historical characters have been converted into playable characters and enemies such as Hideyoshi Hasiba and Hatano Hideharu. This alone deserves a great round of applause for being so true to history while at the same time creating a fantasy.

In Onimusha Tactics you play as Onimaru, unknowing price of the Oni (Good demonic things) clan. You and your sister Oboro must create an army to stop the Genma, as well as locate the four Stars of Destiny.

Sadly some characters aren’t as well defined as others. They get a chapter for backstory and that’s it. But the majority get a great deal of depth and character development continues even after some die and even until the game is over. It’s a nice touch, because in every other tactics game, your characters are general disposable units. Look at FFTA and Ogre Tactics. 75% of your roster are characters that never speak or get personality. They just get hired or replaced when they died with no importance weighed to them. You and your imagination create their stories. Here in Onimusha Tactics, every character gets something. And that’s a trend I’d love to see continue in these RPG’s. Previously only Shining Force did this. And to compare Onimusha Tactics to the first Shining Force? Well, that’s always a good thing.

Story Rating: 10/10

2. Graphics

Some of the best detail I have ever seen in a strategy RPG. All the characters attack on the square filled map. But you can also actually see their attacks. Magoichi’s special gun attack alone is so vibrant and detailed, it will amaze you. Onimaru’s Onimusha transformation is quite a treat as well.

The battle background is amazing and once again, it amazes me just how much the little GBA can handle.

What’s best of all are the character portraits. Even the generic monsters and soldiers are amazing. Each character looks like a photograph from life (or undeath depending on which side you are looking at). Again, these appear to have been taken directly from the same vein that Camelot tapped when they did Shining Force. Gotta love it.

Is it the most amazing game ever made? Nope. But as Tactics RPG’s go, it’s better than FFTA and on par with Ogre Tactics in regards to attention to detail.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

The opening theme alone to this game deserves a big fat smooch on the composer’s lips. If the composer is a girl. Which is it not. So I’ll leave Pankonin to do the honours for that one.

Seriously though, Onimusha Tactics has the best RPG music I have heard in a long long time. On any system. It’s also the first GBA game that made me unwrap my SP headphones my friends at Nintendo Power sent to me. See, I’m not usually a music oriented person. I don’t need the music to play a game. I don’t need a CD in the background when I write or play games or whatever. But Onimusha Tactics made me loathe playing this game in public or a car trips or around anyone who could be disturbed by the music. And so the headphones finally got uncurled.

As I’ve mentioned the Opening Theme really gets the juices flowing and would easily be on a list of RPG tunes I wish I could burn onto a disc. Anyone know if there is an Onimusha Tactics CD available? Cause I want one.

All of the music fits the proper themes. The fight music is fast paced and energetic, but is still calm enough to allow you to put it into the background of your thoughts so you can concentrate on the actual war strategy. When a tragic event occurs, the music follows suit.

In truth, half a page doesn’t do the music justice. All I can suggest is to go get the game.

Sound Rating: 9/10

4. Control

It’s a Tactics game people. How many times do I have to tell you this. You have to be dead, dumb, or Square to ruin one of these in terms of the play control. And for the most part, Onimusha Tactics gets it’s shit right. For the most part.

I personally hate how you can attack but not move, but can’t move without taking an action. However, I do like they did away with agility as a basis of what order characters go in like in EVERY OTHER Tactics game, and just let you use any troop in any order you want. So you can bum rush if you want to get the perfect tactical effect.

Onimusha Tactics for the most part plays like any other Tactics RPG, but with slight changes like the ones mentioned above that do in fact change the way you play the game dramatically. It’s amazing how much quicker a tactics game can play when you have complete control of the order in which your guys kill things.

Other changes are the fact you buy absolutely nothing in this game. Nothing at all. Instead you harvest souls and stones from your dead enemies and use those. Stones are merged to create new items such as swords and potions and their souls are used to enhance the power of weapons and armour. It’s an interesting touch. And again, streamlines the game to focus on the plot and killing of evil demon spawn beasty monsters.

Overall it’s good. It’s different enough in play that it stands out against other Tactics games, but still feels familiar.

Control Rating: 7/10

5. Replayability

Two ways to look at this people. The first is that with over two dozen playable characters and the fact you can have a team of 8 characters out at once, the game can be played over and over again for a slightly different experience each time.

The other side is that with only one ending, and the fact that your end team makes no difference on the story, is that there really is no point in replaying Onimusha Tactics at all.

My personal opinion? I loved this game. I really did. I was addicted big time to the story, characters and the missions. But I probably won’t replay it. Any twists or turns or fascination I had with the game ended once I beat it. Maybe in a year or so when things have died down with all the other games I need to play and beat!

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

Balance is usually the category I’m meanest in. But Onimusha Tactics does a good job here. All the battles go up slightly in terms of difficulty and requires you to level up with them. As well, the more powerful your character gets the less XP he or she earns for fighting a weaker enemy, ensuring that the standard RPG fare of fight retreat and repeat will hold no mustard here.

As well thanks to the method of infusing souls and creating equipment, you can end up with one super strong weapon or piece if armour, or you can spread the love around equally. Whatever floats your boat.

There’s even the alternate universe shadow realm to level your guys up in and gain new recipes for items. Caution though, you have to be in there for the long haul and if you bring your most powerful guys, except a lot of 1XP rewards.

Onimusha Tactics is one of the best laid out Tactics games. With no random battles, it manages to escape my big fault that I found in both Ogre and FF Tactics: That of the ability to level up to the point of insanity. Again, Onimusha Tactics is basically Shining Force for a new generation of Tactics fans. Grab it while you can.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality

It’s a new twist on a lot of classic themes. Oda’s Ambition has been recast into a tale of demons, darkness, and love. The Tactics style of gameplay has been returned to its glory days of 16 bit perfection instead of being bogged down by needless feature after needless feature. Simple is good people. Things don’t need to be convoluted all the time.

The only problem is that there is no real way that a sequel can be down without cheapening the entire game. But that’s not really a problem, is it?

Sure it’s historical fiction. But the key word is historical. Besides, you young whippersnappers don’t learn Eastern history anyways, so what does it matter that Capcom added Genma and spirits, and alien lasers. For all you know, this is exactly what transpired centuries ago!

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

I could put down FFTA gladly. I could put down Ogre Tactics because the battles were so long. I could put down Brigandine and Hoshigami and other games in this genre. But I was never able to put down the original Shining Force. And Onimusha Tactics really recaptured a lot of that love for me. Fast paced Tactics battles. A great story. Excellent characters. Interesting battles and map layouts. Every time I’d say, “Just one more battle. Just One.” And five would go past. This really is a game for the classic tactician in your gaming kliq.

Addictiveness Rating: 9/10

9. Appeal Factor

And ouch. There’s a lot of bigger name Tactics games out there. And sadly the most popular is by far the worst of the lot with FFTA. As well, Onimusha is one of the midlevel chains at Capcom. Especially when compared to Resident Evil, Mega Man, and Street Fighter. Sadly it’s usually Capcom’s midlevel franchises that actually are their best (Darkstalkers, Dungeon and Dragons, Onimusha Tactics, Rival Schools, etc.) and I wish that a lot of handheld gamers would pick this up, but in fact, it’s going to sit on a lot of shelves.

Too bad though. A good RPG for people that can appreciate RPG’s is waiting for a good home to be loved in.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Onimusha Tactics is a good step into turning this series into an RPG franchise. Most likely it’s just a one shot, but it would be nice to see Capcom do more with this engine. Possibly for other games. I’d love to see a good RE Tactics RPG personally. Or even a Street Fighter one. Yummy.

Before Onimusha Tactics, I thought Capcom was only capable of subpar role playing games. And I’m very happy to admit that I was wrong.

Miscellaneous: 8/10

Short Attention Span Summary
There are five games I feel everyone must own for the GBA right now. Pokemon Pinball, Ogre Tactics: Knight of Lodis, Ham Ham Heartbreak, Lunar Legends and Robotech. Nope. Onimusha Tactics isn’t in that list. But it’s got a big honourable mention by its name. It really is a game I recommend to all Tactics fans, and also a game that I think is a great “So and So’s first RPG.” So if you know someone who has never played an RPG before, especially a tactics or strategy style one, this is for sure the game to get for them. With a classic historical story and a very easy learning curve, if you want to convert your friends to Role Playing Madness, Onimusha Tactics is the game to buy.