Here's the dilemma: do you chastise a sequel regardless of achievement because it fails to significantly push its series forward, or do you accept the few tweaks and additions typically displayed by follow-ups as sufficient evolution, given that the game's very nature discourages daring development? Fans yearn for more of the same, while the game enthusiast tends to favour innovation over franchise loyalty.
The latest Onimusha mostly treads a path well travelled by its commercially successful predecessors, but does at least attempt some considered deviations. Most significant in this respect is the narrative, which involves the player taking control of two characters in two timezones. While most of the action occurs separately within each temporally divided setting, occasionally collaboration is necessary. Ultimately, this puzzle-solving component (with the activities of the one in the past affecting the one in the present) is mostly underused, relying on the core demon-slashing mechanic instead.
Here, not much has changed. The cutting down of enemies and the timing of soul collecting (for weapon or equipment upgrade purposes) remain finely implemented and as satisfying as ever. Granted, the introduction of analogue control has done much to improve overall fluidity in terms of navigation and combat, but it also serves to highlight the limitations of the interaction available - the fight system may be enjoyable, but pales in comparison with that of recent competitors.
Also disappointing is the constant to-and-fro progression, a cheap and rapidly ageing dynamic. More positive is the inclusion of Ako, a fairy-like entity who can be tasked with a variety of helpful duties (such as health regeneration or faster soul absorption) and therefore serves a genuine strategic purpose as well as allowing simple resource management through the occasional exchange of items between the characters.
Which brings us back to that opening paragraph. Most of what Onimusha 3 does it does well, yet little within it is new or unexpected and series veterans are unlikely to share the level of enticement that a newcomer will invariably experience. It's easy to forget just how precious few of the genre's many exponents ever attain this level of competence, of course, but that said it's not unreasonable to have hoped for a little more innovation from Capcom.
Onimusha 3: Demon Siege is released for PS2 on 9 July