Onimusha: Warlords (Review)

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Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Copy obtained via GameFly

Onimusha: Warlords was originally released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, but my first experience with the game didn’t occur until I got an Xbox a few years later and picked up the version ported to that system. I found the combat and puzzle aspects of Onimusha to be incredibly difficult at the time, so I put down the controller and never touched the game again. As soon as I saw that Capcom was remastering Onimusha for modern systems, I decided it would be a good time to finally try this game again and see if I could conquer that which defeated me as a child.

The story of Onimusha is probably the least important part of the whole package. It’s a very simple plot: a princess is being held hostage in a castle by demons and you play as a samurai named Samanosuke who goes in to rescue her. I imagine the plot is kept simple to put a larger focus on slaying demons, but I would have liked at least a little more depth or character development. Samanosuke feels more like an avatar for the player than an actual character, and the princess has the personality of a wet noodle, making it hard to be invested in her plight. There are a few hidden notes and journals scattered around the game that give some background on the demons and their origins, but it wasn’t gripping enough to feel interested.

Onimusha takes place entirely in one castle and its surrounding grounds, so you become very familiar with the location over the 3-4 hours it takes to complete the game. It’s worth mentioning that Onimusha started development as a Resident Evil spin-off before Capcom decided to turn it into its own franchise, so there’s a ton of similarities between the two games. For starters, Onimusha uses pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles. This works wonderfully to showcase the environments and keep you on your toes in case an enemy lurches at you from the corner of the screen, but I found it occasionally jarring and it made me get turned around a few times.

Similar to the classic Spencer Mansion of the first Resident Evil, the Inabayama Castle of Onimusha is full of winding corridors, utilizes multiple floors, and loops and circles around itself in clever ways, making exploration beneficial as well as satisfying your curiosity. There’s a point about two thirds of the way through where you discover a really cool loop, creating a perfect “aha!” moment and making you truly appreciate the layout of the castle.

Puzzles are another similarity that Onimusha shares with Resident Evil. A majority of the puzzles in Onimusha follow the same RE formula of searching for items to use as keys for doors, or swapping items in statues hands with other items. For the most part, the puzzles in Onimusha are incredibly straightforward and centered around solving environmental head-scratchers to earn keys for doors. However, there’s one segment early on that combines three different types of puzzles back-to-back-to-back with no checkpoint in between them, which I found absolutely maddening. The first puzzle is incredibly simple, but the second one requires a bit of careful thinking. As for the third? It almost drove me crazy due to its difficulty, which was only made worst by having to restart the first two puzzles as well every time I failed it.

This actually brings me to one of my biggest complaints about the game: you can’t skip dialogue or cutscenes. This would be fine if it was just the first time viewing them, but it’s every single time. There are multiple points in the game where you’re forced to sit through a couple minutes of cutscenes when you die, which just furthers the annoyance of dying in a boss fight or not solving a puzzle in time. The previously mentioned puzzle sequence literally got so bad that I had to put the controller down and walk away for a bit. As far as frustrating segments in video games go, this sequence is among the worst I’ve ever experienced.

The combat in Onimusha feels incredibly dated. You only start with one sword, but your arsenal expands across the course of the game. There’s three sword types (one for speed, one for heavy damage, one for crowd control) and two long range weapons. I found the speed sword to be the best way for dispatching most foes, but all three melee weapons can be used effectively in most situations.

There honestly isn’t too much to say about the actual act of fighting the demons. There’s only one attack button and you simply mash it over and over to kill things. There is the ability to hold up your weapon and use it to block incoming attacks, but you can usually make it through most encounters by attacking first and killing your foes before they can strike back. Unfortunately, there really isn’t too much of a use for the long range weapons. They’re really only useful for taking out enemies that are on platforms above or below you. You can pull them out in any fight, but you have to stand still to use them and they take a while to reload between each shot, which just leaves you more vulnerable.

Although not necessarily that difficult, the boss fights are the only encounters that actually show any challenge. These are also the only fights in the game where blocking is required to survive. Mind you, most of these fights boil down to simply guarding against incoming attacks and waiting for the right moment to strike, so they aren’t that crazy or unique.

The coolest feature in the game is the ability to absorb souls with your gauntlet. Killing enemies will result in a small gathering of random orbs. Red orbs can be used to upgrade your swords and make them stronger, yellow orbs refill health, and blue orbs charge a meter that allows you to perform a special attack. Similar to firing a long range weapon, you have to stop what you’re doing and stand still to absorb orbs, allowing the enemies to get a free hit on you if they’re close. There’s an enemy type introduced early on that can also absorb orbs, which can result in a game of tug and war that usually ends by you killing them and taking the orbs they stole.

Sadly, that’s one of the very few cool things about this game. It’s not a terrible broken game, but it just doesn’t do that much outside of its excellent exploration that feels noteworthy. It might have been good at the time of the original release, but in 2019 it just feels like a below average action game.

FINAL VERDICT

The remaster of Onimusha: Warlords is proof that sometimes potential is stronger than execution. If ever there was a game that was a perfect encapsulation of the phrase “eh, it was alright” than surely it would be this one. It’s not necessarily a bad game, but there’s just so few things it does well. Exploring the castle and figuring out the twists and turns of its layout is really cool, but everything else just feels bland and unappealing. I think Capcom could do something really cool with the franchise (like a reboot), so I’m not writing this series off yet. Supposedly it gets better over the next two games, so I’m willing to check them out if they get remasters down the road. As for this one? I most likely won’t ever play it again and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.

– Zack Burrows

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