Onimusha as a franchise is one that Capcom hasn’t really touched lately. With the announcement of games like Nioh 2, Ghosts of Tsushima and Sekiro, I’ve always felt the time for an Onimusha return has been righter than ever. Not enjoying a mainline release since 2006, I as a fan thought that the series had been long forgotten. Enter 2019, and Capcom has seen fit to remaster the game that started it all – Onimusha: Warlords.
The story of Onimusha is unfortunately not as interesting as its general premise. The series eventually became much more cinematic and narrative driven in later installments, but what’s on offer in Warlords is pretty simple fare. Princess Yuki writes a letter to reknowned swordsman Samanosuke Akechi, suspicious that her servants have been disappearing to a demonic threat. As Samanosuke and his ninja accomplice Kaede arrive at Yuki’s castle, the princess has already been kidnapped by the demons. Naturally, it’s up to Samanosuke to save her. Groundbreaking stuff.Released almost eighteen years ago, Onimusha: Warlords plays like a weird mix of Resident Evil and Devil May Cry. Borrowing elements from the former more so than the latter, the game features fixed camera angles, backtracking and puzzle solving though not to the same severity as the Resident Evil games did. Instead, the game places more of an emphasis on action with multiple weapons to wield and weird but gross demon enemies. It’s a unique kind of game whose style has probably since evolved to a style of game akin to Nioh or Ninja Gaiden, but Onimusha still plays well today.
Combat is simple, you have three different swords to work with that each have their own magic attacks. There is only one button used to attack, which means the combo potential isn’t all that great, but it’s all about the timing of your attacks that matters in Onimusha. Press the button at the right time, just as an enemy attacks, to perform a critical damage move called Issen which takes down most enemies with one strike. It’s a simple technique but one that’s incredibly satisfying to pull off, especially on multiple enemies in a row.Defeated enemies drop souls which can be absorbed by Samanosuke’s unique armour and then used as a currency to upgrade his weapons and magic essences. Upgrading the weapons themselves improves the damage you do with them (as well as their appearance) while upgrading the essence allows you to unlock magically sealed doors to progress. You can upgrade whatever you want at any point in time too.
You’d probably think this means that you must do heaps of grinding to progress at certain points in the story, in case you haven’t upgraded your magic essences to break the seals of a door along the game’s critical path. Depending on how much backtracking you do (and thus, how many enemies you’re defeating) this may be the case, but the grind never feels that way because the combat in Onimusha is just so enjoyable.That’s not to say the game is without its faults though. Fixed camera angles ostensibly date the game quite a bit to the point where younger players might not be able to fully appreciate the game as much as those who grew up with them. Similarly, the pace of the combat means that a quick camera cut can result in a hidden enemy getting a cheap slash or a quick arrow in. It’s not a deal breaker, by any means, but it’s something that kept happening to me throughout my first run.
Another perplexing omission is all the content that appeared in the Xbox release of the game. Genma Onimusha released a year after the original PS2 release and featured new areas to explore, a new boss as well as new special moves and souls for Samanosuke but none of those improvements are featured in this version. There is some debate amongst fans as to whether these improvements result in a better game, but they do add some difficulty that feels like it’s lost with this release.The one thing I love about Onimusha: Warlords is that it doesn’t wear out it’s welcome. No doubt a bit of a polarising aspect of the game, for most players, Onimusha will be done in about four to five hours. There’re a few extra things you can do – including finding all the collectibles, completing a Survival style mode and unlocking a secret mode to play through and unlock costumes for both Samanosuke and Kaede too. Years ago, I might have been annoyed at the brevity of the experience, but at the price the game is being offered at, it feels just right.
Having pre-rendered backgrounds, much like the older Resident Evil games, Onimusha was never going to age gracefully. Thankfully the character and enemy models themselves are some of the standouts here – they look sharp as ever when rendered in high definition. The backgrounds, on the other hand, don’t look the best. Some look okay, but others look a little bit softer after being upscaled to high definition. It’s by no means unplayable and in motion it’s fine, but it’s not as pristine as you’d expect.If you’re a fan of the original game, you’ll probably notice that the soundtrack for this remaster has changed to an entirely new one. Owing to the controversy surrounding the original composer, Capcom presumably wanted to distance themselves from the drama and instead opted for an entirely new score to be made for the game. The result is a soundtrack that’s much more subdued than the original – it sounds much more modern, but it feels a little bit less atmospheric than the original score. If you’ve never played Onimusha before, you won’t notice, but it’s something that more stringent fans will pick up on.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH AND XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER ON XBOX ONE. A PHYSICAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PURCHASED BY THE AUTHOR ON NINTENDO SWITCH.
While the second and third games are arguably better, Onimusha: Warlords serves as a perfect introduction to one of Capcom’s most underrated franchises. So many minor improvements have been made here to make the game very playable by modern standards, though the fixed camera angles will remain polarising with modern audiences. Regardless, Onimusha: Warlords is a brief yet rewarding experience that combines simple yet satisfying combat and ghoulish enemy designs to create something that’s still unique.