Release Date: 15th February 2019
Price as of Article: $19.99, £15.99
Game was purchased
You know what, I’m starting to love Capcom these days. A few years ago they were in many gamers bad books thanks to their treatment of Mega Man as well as their misguided attempt to put all their eggs in one basket and go full-blockbuster with their titles and aiming to please a more casual audience. This past year or two has been amazing from them though and one of their many cases for redemption has been bringing their classic games to newer consoles. One of the perfect examples of this is Onimusha: Warlords. Seeing this on a HD console is unexpected and exciting and we’re going to see how it holds up to this day.
The story for Onimusha is one based on historical fantasy. An oxymoron for sure, but it works well. Set in the very famous feudal era of Japanese history, a samurai called Samanosuke Akechi is called for help in regards to the mysterious disappearances of Princess Yuki’s servants. As Samanosuke arrives on the scene it’s clear that he’s a little too late as things have taken a nosedive with the princess being kidnapped. Accompanied by Kaede, a ninja, they set out to rescue the princess and destroy the demons invading the castle and solving the mystery surrounding their origins.
Onimusha is very much a Capcom game of its era. It’s an intriguing story and one that you’ll enjoy following if you’ve never played it before. It reminds me of Resident Evil in a sense, which is an obvious comparison considering it started out life as a spin-off of that series. The story has the same kind of beats, an evolving mystery and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Much of the background of the story is told through messages strewn around but there are plenty of cutscenes with different characters that really enhance it.
The gameplay is a more action orientated version of the classic Resident Evil games. It’s like a bridge gap between Resident Evil and Devil May Cry in many respects. It has fixed camera angles for a start which help solidify the slight horror feeling to the game and it previously had tank controls but has been updated for this release to include more natural controls. The tank controls are on the D-pad while the updated ones on the analogue stick. Which control scheme you prefer will be up to your personal tastes. I’m not sure the updated controls are a complete solution to the problem, since it’s often flummoxed by the ever changing camera angles. While I’m not adverse to tank controls, I did find myself using the more updated ones in my play time and only used the old ones during a few of the more precise puzzles that required stepping on specific areas.
As you traverse the castle and its surrounding grounds in search of the princess you’ll be greeted with a mixture of puzzle solving and demon battling. The combat is a fairly big focus and thankfully it’s enjoyable if a little antiquated. You have a basic attack button which makes it more of a hack n slash as you don’t really need to input combos. What I like about the battles against the varied demon species is that the combat can be fairly slow paced. Each one is almost like a standoff, this is not like a Dynasty Warriors game or anything. You will have to plan your battle and be wary at all times otherwise you’ll find yourself dying a fair bit. Blocking is very important, something I found early on. This is especially prevalent during the boss battles where you can’t just charge in or you will die.
Upon defeating foes you are awarded orbs of all different colours that can improve your Exp, heal you or rejuvenate your magic. This is not automatic though and needs to be done with holding a button. This seems a bit old fashioned at first, but it makes a lot of sense considering the orbs will eventually disappear if you’re not quick enough and it adds a tactical layer or decision you need to make. Do you step back and try to absorb them or do you keep going to take all the enemies out. Again, during boss battles, you will need to take a breather to absorb some stuff.
You can pretty much get by with being deft at combat, at least in a 1 on 1 situation. When it comes to fighting multiple demons at once, you’ll probably want to make use of the magic attacks that each of the equip-able weapons hold. Whether thunder, wind or fire; each with varying power, you can use these magic attacks to spread the battle and ease yourself the burden of being overwhelmed by too many foes. Again, there’s no huge depth here, but it’s nice and keeps it simple.
Despite being an action game it still feels rather limited or archaic than what you may be used to with modern games, or even ones from the same time period. You can’t jump for instance nor is there a dodge roll. There’s an awkward sidestep you can do but it hardly comes in handy for most situations. I think a lot of you will get frustrated at times with how the game controls.
There’s upgrading to do for your weapons and magic and the latter is imperative for the fact that you can’t unlock some doors until you’ve levelled certain magic up to a point. To level stuff up you head to a save point and enhance from there. I’m not sure how I feel about this aspect since if you level up too many wrong things at once, you may have to grind orbs from enemies for a long time. This never happened in my playthrough, but I was always worried about the potential.
At points in the game you’ll take control of Kaeda who’s like a faster version of Akechi, not surprising considering her role as a ninja. In someways she’s more interesting to play as thanks to her backflip and throat slit abilities which makes the game feel more advanced than it otherwise is. If I’m going to be critical I think the game could have involved her even more.
The puzzles found around the castle are hardly brain teasers but they do well to change the pace of the game. I didn’t find myself getting stuck at any point due to the pretty linear progression of the game. There is one very, very brutal tile sliding puzzle that I needed multiple attempts at before overcoming it, but that’s because I absolutely suck at those types of puzzles. All the areas of the game are connected and you can traverse between them and indeed, there’s the dreaded back tracking at points, but I think it’s difficult to get lost or stuck in terms of progressing.
Overall, the gameplay is very fun if a little archaic these days. I guess comparing it to something like Bloodborne or any of those types of games is unfair considering the advancement in technology and development teams. It’s a lot of fun though, although as I’ve said, some may be a little frustrated by some of the stiffness but it’s a step back in the past worth having I feel. The fixed camera angles may also irk many gamers who aren’t used to not being able to see the enemies at all times. When you’re sometimes swiping in the darkness, attacking God knows what, then the game does have its issues.
The soundtrack to Onimusha is fantastic. What should be noted is that Onimusha has a very interesting history with its music. The soundtrack in this HD release has been redone. Not out of enthusiasm to do better, but because the credited composer of the original game, Mamoru Samuragochi, was a complete fraud. The original soundtrack was absolutely fantastic but it was written by a ghostwriter Takashi Niigaki. It turns out Mamoru Samuragochi was living a lie and he was pretending to be a new age Beethoven as a deaf composer to enhance his status. I highly advise you read up on the situation because it’s genuinely astounding.
I’m a bit ambivalent about this because the original soundtrack was genuinely very, very good, despite it not being written by the person it was supposed to be. The new one is pretty good too and still retains the style of what it’s going for, utilising the Japanese historical theme very well with traditional instrumentation of that time.
There’s voice acting too, both Japanese and English are available. Personally I just played with English which is a mixed bag. Some of it is okay but there’s a lot of cheesiness too that even other Capcom classics would be proud of.
Visuals & Performance
From a visual standpoint Onimusha may not be the greatest looking game in the world these days. Back in the day it was a bit of a looker as it utilised pre-rendered backgrounds. On smaller CRT TVs it looked great I’m sure. My memory is a bit blurry, but I would have been well impressed back in 2001. Now blown up on a big TV it’s obviously not aged perfectly. The backgrounds are very blurry and pixelated. It’s not great if I’m being honest and I think the team that ported this maybe had very little to work with in terms of what they could offer. The character models look fine although kind stick out like a soar thumb from the background these days, the game design being revealed by the sharpness of today’s TVs. Overall I’m not overly enthusiastic about the treatment the game has received from the transition between standard definition and high definition. I think more could have been done but as someone who played games from this era it doesn’t bother me too much. Maybe younger people will be put off by it. It’s not in the same league as the port of Okami, but those are very different games. Aside from the opening, the mid-game cutscene hold up very poorly.
Performance-wise Onimusha seems to run very smoothly as you’d expect. Still, you can never be sure looking at something like Katamari which is also a PS2 release and had a hiccup here and there.
For value, well I do need to applaud Capcom for their pricing stance on releasing these older games. At £15.99 in the UK and $19.99 in the US, I’m very happy with how Capcom are handling this and games such as Okami which are priced perfectly. Not overpriced and not so low that it’s insulting to what the game is, Onimusha: Warlord is at a sweet price for what is a classic. One often overlooked at that. Had this been a Nintendo game, this would no doubt have been 3 times the price if not more so I think Onimusha is certainly worth that hard earned cash and is well worth supporting to show Capcom they are doing the right thing here. Sure it’s not the longest game in the world from beginning to end and you’ll probably finish it up in a couple of sessions but I think it’s worth it for sure.
Visuals don’t hold up