What do you get when you merge Capcom with Sengoku era Japan? As it turns out, an action-oriented Resident Evil game featuring samurai and demons, instead of reanimated corpses. That’s the best way I can possibly describe Onimusha: Warlords, a remastered version of the original title from 2001.
This new-and-improved iteration brings forth several updates for current-gen consoles and PC. Including high definition character models and environments, as well as widescreen aspect ratio support.
Alas, even with these visual improvements, the character models look dated by today’s standards. Facial animations lack expression, and eyes and gestures seem lifeless. On the contrary, pre-rendered backgrounds have aged well and are somewhat reminiscent of those found in the Resident Evil Remake.
The soundtrack has been completely re-recorded and sounds positively amazing. Ranging from traditional, calm Japanese tunes involving a flute to powerfully epic compositions accompanying the many boss battles, the music is definitely among the strongest assets of Onimusha: Warlords on Xbox One.
Minor improvements include analogue stick support and an in-game Honor system. Honors represent an equivalent to achievements and trophies, and don’t possess any real purpose beyond that, unfortunately.
Onimusha: Warlords begins when demons ambush the royal Inabayama Castle and kidnap princess Yuki for the purpose of a dark ritual. This ritual intends to bestow unimaginable power upon warlord Nobunaga Oda, now possessed by demons.
Voiced and portrayed by Japanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers; Returner), samurai Samanosuke Akechi must save the princess from demons and send their tainted bottoms into oblivion. Along with his female ninja companion, Kaede, the young samurai will travel to hell in order to thwart Nobunaga’s plan.
Because Onimusha: Warlords supports two voice-over options, I decided to switch to a Japanese version early on. The English version sounds like a poorly executed play from the 16th century.
During the game’s short storyline, which lasts approximately 6 hours, you will explore the Inabayama Castle and reveal its many mysteries. Exploration has certain Metroidvania aspects to it; many locations become accessible only after obtaining a particular ability, while the environments are largely limited to Inabayama Castle and its surrounding area, but they’re a joy to explore for anyone obsessing over Japan.
Predominant with the traditional architecture of its period – towering pagodas and bamboo gardens – outdoor environments may be second only to their indoor counterparts. Authentic interior design features furnishings and decor, like tatami and ornamented sliding doors; no two rooms look alike. Quality over quantity – or scale, in this particular case.
Many objects can be examined closer, after which Samanosuke reveals his thoughts about any particular one.
Puzzles and various contraptions also populate the castle. Some require finding pieces of a specific item to unlock a door, while others utilise Samanosuke’s various abilities. And my personal favourite – the trick box – requires aligning numbers in a sequence within a limited amount of moves.
In the beginning, clashing blades resound in the halls of the castle, as valiant samurai struggle against relentless hordes of demons. But as you progress the story, the noise subsides and nothing but corpses and walls smeared with fresh blood remain. Most of the castle’s inhabitants have either fallen prey or succumbed to demons. Hardly any human interaction occurs beyond the prologue and Samanosuke stands alone against demonic samurai swordsmen, archers, ninja and other supernatural beings.
Combat consists of simple hack and slash mechanics, strafing, blocking, and special attacks which consume magic. These actions transition smoothly into one another and never break the flow of battle. Many are executed depending on context; if Samanosuke performs an attack right before an enemy strikes, then that attack is an instant kill, though understandably, it doesn’t work on bosses. Enemies are also susceptible to being impaled if brought down on the ground.
Samanosuke gradually builds up a selection of multiple swords and a scarce number of ranged weapons, like a bow and musket. Collected weapons are interchangeable during combat and each sword has its own special attack possessing a unique element. These elements also allow Samanosuke to access previously locked areas.
Battles may be avoided by simply running away, but doing so neglects the acquisition of souls – an essential part of developing your arsenal. Early on, Samanosuke comes across a gauntlet which allows him to consume the souls of defeated demons. Red souls, in particular, are used for weapon upgrades.
Each melee weapon can be enhanced with collected souls and not only becomes stronger but also changes appearance. Orientally themed save points scattered throughout the castle provide platforms for performing these improvements. Along with saving your progress, of course. Saving frequently is a good idea because numerous bosses regularly challenge Samanosuke’s abilities. Among them, a huge lumbering demon who barely strings two words together. And a gorgeous woman who teases the samurai with the holiest of sights, right before transforming into a despicable demon.
Special attacks come into the spotlight during these encounters, as each sword bears a separate magic meter. By switching weapons, multiple powerful attacks can be executed in sequence to bring an opponent down.
Onimusha: Warlords tends to be difficult, particularly in the early stages of the game. Which is why an Easy mode is available from the start this time around.
Roughly halfway through the game, the Dark Realm becomes accessible. It’s an alternate universe with numerous floors, each presenting several challenging waves of demons for you to defeat. Progression is rewarded with items and equipment not found anywhere else in the game. A simple, yet welcome addition to the main story.
Gameplay similarities with the Resident Evil titles are not immediately noticeable; I certainly wasn’t aware of them right off the bat. Familiar puzzles and pre-rendered backgrounds, the collection of items, documents and green herbs, and at times harrowing musical score. All of these aspects have obviously drawn inspiration from Capcom’s acclaimed horror series. With Resident Evil 2 making a comeback and Devil May Cry 5 right around the corner, Capcom fires from all cannons with the release of Onimusha: Warlords. Admittedly, the game’s visuals have seen much better times, but solid mechanics don’t age.
The plot provides an enticing struggle between humans and demons, complemented by an easy-to-grasp and enjoyable combat experience. Engaging exploration and combat, and authentic environments ensured that – after half an hour – I no longer cared about the awkward character models. In fact, its only serious downfall is in regards the longevity; coming in at around 6 hours, the story is just way too brief. Additional modes and costumes don’t contribute enough to compensate for it, either.
Onimusha: Warlords reminds me of simpler times; when games focused on the aspect of fun, instead of pure realism. Hence, the Inabayama Castle is a welcome destination for anyone who longs for the good old times.