Every week, we let Jeroen out of his cage to play a game, find something about it that is done differently than most other games, and then write about it. He seems to enjoy it, so we let him do it while we hose down the cage with bleach, fire and holy water.
Capcom’s action adventure games have always followed a set series of events. Something bad happens, hero goes out and kills a bunch of monsters, meets some people along the way, fights his way further and further into a dangerous area while solving some fetch quest puzzles and eventually goes up against the final boss in a crazy battle that’s like nothing else in the game. In the last generation, the PS2 had two major series that epitomized this formula: Onimusha and Devil May Cry.
Capcom games haven’t diverged much from this formula since. Even Resident Evil 5 and Devil May Cry 4 followed the formula closely. Sometimes little bits of it are swapped around or changed, but the overall pattern is retained. There was, however, a glimpse into complete divergence many years back with one of Capcom’s most forgotten games.
Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny came out in 2002, a year after its bestselling predecessor and Devil May Cry helped launch the Playstation 2, and was met with a disappointingly quiet reception compared to the launch titles. By no means was it a bad or even a disappointing game. It actually expanded the world created by Onimusha: Warlords, implemented mechanics that brought the gameplay closer to samurai fighting styles and was graphically gorgeous for the time. Not only did it sell less than both its predecessor and its successor, it also became one of the most forgotten Playstation 2 classics out there, with a lot of nostalgia going towards Onimusha 3 or the Devil May Cry series.
Still, Onimusha 2 had something that no other Capcom game has had since: multiple story paths. It wasn’t as major as completely changing the core plot of the game. Nobunaga still wipes your village off the map, you still end up travelling around alone for the most part and you still end up fighting something out of Ozzie Osbourne’s drug-fueled nightmare at the end. But, what did change was what side characters helped you during the game and even play some extra content related to those characters.
The implementation was almost transparent for players as well. Throughout the game players were able to collect items that were useless to them. They didn’t restore health, help attack, upgrade weapons–nothing. There was no use for them, except to give to one of the handful of side characters you meet as the game goes on. Needless to say, a lot of people completely missed this part of the game. For those who took time to drop off all these trinkets, it unlocked a nice little bonus in the form of more game.
Let’s take the fat, drunken powerhouse Ekei as an example. If you ignore him after the customary meeting, he’ll just sit in the bar and get drunk while you save the country. If you give him gifts that he would enjoy and build a relationship with him, he will come and fight by your side throughout the game. Towards the latter end, you play a sidequest where you find out more about the sidecharacter’s backstory, and finally the character helps you in the end in a touchingly emotional way. Sounds like a Bioware game, doesn’t it? But this was Capcom, back in 2002, a year before Knights of the Old Republic established it as Bioware’s standard approach to characterization.
Here’s a video of how it plays out in the game, at the end. Don’t watch it if you don’t want a ten year old game spoiled for you. Just keep in mind that this part with Ekei was totally optional and probably seen by a fraction of its playerbase.
It was also entirely possible to establish strong relationships with more than one character. One could play through more than one sidequest, so a player would not necessarily feel like they were choosing a side or a specific character in any one runthrough. There were no Kaidan or Ashley choices here, it all just felt relatively natural. Characters you put effort into would help you out in an emotionally invested fashion. Of course, it was impossible to get all the characters’ scenes in any one playthrough. It would actually take four playthroughs at minimum to see everything, and that would require an encyclopedic knowledge of the game to do that. For most, it would take upwards of six or seven times providing they could locate all the proper items for specific side characters and visit them at opportune moments. The whole system is so complex, in fact, that GameFAQs hosts a sizeable guide just for navigating through it.
In truth, the side character system did not add much more to the game, besides some interesting side stories for characters that were never revisited for the rest of the series. It also made for an interesting dynamic that broke the standard Capcom formula in a good way and added some much needed canonical depth to the story. Maybe it was because Onimusha 2 never quite took off like Capcom’s other offerings, or maybe Capcom themselves did not like the idea, but this was never really taken up again in the action adventure genre.