Onimusha: Warlords Review

Richard Walker

Onimusha: Warlords hasn't dated all that well. In 2001, it transposed the Resident Evil formula to a feudal Japan besieged by marauding demons, with katana blades and magical weapons taking the place of handguns and herbs (yes, I know there are herbs in this too). Boasting the same fixed cameras and pre-rendered scenery as Resident Evil (indeed, the game was originally conceived as a 'Sengoku Biohazard'), Onimusha is a curious beast. It’s also one definitely worth visiting, if you haven't already - as an interesting piece of video game history, if nothing else, if you can get past the hoary old mechanics.

Telling the story of Samanosuke Akechi and his quest to rescue abducted Princess Yuki, Onimusha: Warlords is a fittingly outlandish affair, in a way that's quite rare these days. It's also a surprisingly deep game. Its seemingly simplistic combat soon gives way to hidden complexities, like being able to time a block and counter for a lethal strike or quickly sidestep an attack to wrong-foot an opponent. As soon as you acquire the game's soul-sucking Oni Gauntlet, you'll also be able to start enhancing weapons and expanding your arsenal with magic-imbued swords and such.

As you upgrade Samanosuke's suite of samurai hardware, combat comes into its own, and there are enough puzzles and other asides to keep things interesting. Like short sequences in which you play as Sammy's female ninja buddy Kaede, packing only a short blade and throwable kunai. Still, Onimusha is a game that shows its age in a variety of ways, be it the clunky movement, ropey animations, and the inherent annoyances that come with the fixed camera angles. You'll soon grow weary of being ambushed by enemies lurking off-screen.

Then there's the inability to skip cut-scenes, meaning death after one means traipsing back to where you got to, then enduring the cinematic sequence all over again. Joy. Still, the game feels far more fluid than its original incarnation, thanks to the addition of simplified movement on the analogue stick (like the 2002 Resident Evil remake), even if it does bring with it an annoying flaw should you opt for this over the traditional tank controls, available if you use the d-pad instead.

This remastered version of Onimusha: Warlords adds a new irritant by having the map button on the left stick, so accidentally clicking it in – which normally happens during a tense encounter with a demon or a boss – brings up the map, leaving you vulnerable for a split second while mashing the button to go back. You can't customise the button layout (or choose a different controller option beyond the default) either, so you're stuck with it.

This is a minor gripe in an otherwise solid remaster job, which despite flaws that have become so much more apparent now in the intervening 18 years, remains a genuinely good game. Deserving of a place in the same camp as Capcom greats like Devil May Cry and Resident Evil, it's a shame that the Onimusha series has been put on ice for so long. But then again, the same could be said of Dino Crisis, and we're not quite sure how this jumped the queue when so many are crying out for some remastered/remade (or indeed brand-new) terrifying Jurassic japes. Hey-ho.

There's plenty of enjoyment to be wrung out of Onimusha: Warlords, with its flimsy, lightweight narrative, magical weaponry that enables you to conjure lightning, flame and tornadoes, and legion of cackling demons. And there are also a number of extras to encourage repeated playthroughs, like tougher difficulties and alternate costumes to unlock. And, of course, there's the warm glow of nostalgia that fans will get from revisiting a beloved series.

Nostalgia value only goes so far, and if anything, playing Onimusha Warlords in 2019 with a lovely HD sheen only serves as a reminder that time hasn't been kind. That said, if like me you played the game back in the day, then you'll jump at the chance to revisit the adventures of Samanosuke, and you'll properly pine for Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny and Onimusha 3: Demon Siege (and maybe even Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams) remasters too. But everyone else might be wondering what all of the fuss was about.

Onimusha: Warlords

Still thoroughly good fun, Onimusha: Warlords is nonetheless showing its age, and unfortunately doesn't really hold up in 2019. For a fan like me, revisiting Capcom's samurai survival horror is genuinely welcome, but anyone experiencing it for the first time might come away perplexed.

Form widget
65%
Audio
60%

In these heady days of performance capture and high quality voice acting, Onimusha's English audio sadly hasn't stood the test of time. We'd recommend opting for the Japanese VO track. Audio has been nicely remastered too, and the soundtrack is very good indeed.

Visuals
60%

A new 16:9 widescreen option is enormously welcome, but despite the high-definition spit and polish job, Onimusha: Warlords still looks all of its 18 years. As remasters go, this is a fairly rudimentary one, although it does ensure that this new version remains faithful to the PS2 original.

Playability
70%

Still remarkably enjoyable, slicing up demons with Samanosuke's elemental blades and exploring Inabayama Castle is compulsive, as is upgrading your weapons and orbs to smash demons and unlock new paths respectively. You can't help but think how good a brand-new Onimusha could potentially be.

Delivery
60%

Short but sweet, Onimusha comes from a time when a 4-5 hour AAA game was entirely acceptable. There are extras to unlock and bonus content to encourage repeated playthroughs, which given the budget price tag, means you shouldn't feel too shortchanged. That said, some additional bonuses wouldn't have gone amiss.

Achievements
70%

A list that should help extend your Onimusha: Warlords experience, with various challenges to complete, like beating the game in under three hours, tackling Ultimate difficulty, or finishing the game without enhancing any weapons or using power and magic jewels. Tricky, for sure, but worth a pop.

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