Onimusha: Warlords is a game that I clearly remember playing, yet almost remember nothing else about. I recall that there were samurai and that demons are also involved, but everything else was kind of a blur. Upon its original release, it was well received both critically and commercially, though, as Capcom would later produce three sequels, and two side spin-offs across a single console generation. As with many franchises, though, it would disappear over the years. Until now, that is, as the first entry in the series has been remastered and reconfigured for 2019.
The most-welcome change for this re-release of Onimusha is the addition of analog-stick controls. The original used the classic Resident Evil-style tank controls, which made sense then but would feel drastically out of place now. Giving players the option to use the analog stick to handle movement is both a smart and necessary change. You can still use the old controls if you are feeling nostalgic, but after utilizing both, the more modern approach was definitely the way to go for me.
While the updated control scheme is the biggest change included in the remaster, that’s not all Capcom has done to improve the original. The graphics have been updated to a degree, mostly to make the title more appealing on larger displays. Easy mode has also been unlocked from the start this time around. Lastly, a new soundtrack has been recorded for the game, as well as new Japanese voice acting. I have no memories of the original soundtrack, so I can’t compare, but what’s included here sounded pretty good to me.
Obviously, Onimusha was not going to look as good as a modern release in 2019. It’s almost 18 years old, and from two console generations ago. No amount of remastering was going to bridge that massive gap. However, I was surprised at how well the visuals managed to come out for the re-release. The character models are a little wonky, sure, but they generally look alright. The pre-rendered backgrounds came out great, though — the blurriness of the original assets have been cleaned up, and the final product is clean and easy on the eyes. They may be lacking in detail at times, but considering this started development on the original PlayStation, it’s remarkable how well it looks with some proper polish.
In 2001, Capcom was going for a very specific cinematic look with Onimusha. The pre-rendered backgrounds were a part of that, but not as much as the fixed camera angle was. Another carry over from the title’s Resident Evil roots, the static camera angles have aged about as well as tank controls have. While they do give Warlords some cinematic flair, they often get in the way of the action. Even if you’re still in the same room, walking from one spot to another can cause the camera to shift wildly. It’s disorienting and cumbersome to deal with, and it also adds frustration by hiding enemies off screen, which can let them take potshots that you can’t see coming. Keeping certain elements out of sight worked for Resident Evil, because that was pure survival horror. For the more action-oriented samurai thriller, though, it’s just annoying.
Outside of the obnoxious camera, the gameplay of Warlords holds up well. Over the course of the story, protagonist Samanosuke acquires three different swords: Raizan, Enryuu, and Shippuu. Each one corresponds to a different element, specifically, lighting, fire, and wind. All three have their own characteristics and magic abilities, and a good samurai will make use of each of them when necessary. Each weapon can be improved and upgraded by collecting the souls of fallen enemies, and there are two long-range weapons that come into play later on. Additionally, some parts of the story place you in control of Kaede, Sama’s kunoichi ally. She’s faster, but lacks the strength and ability to collect souls, unlike her male counterpart.
The biggest slight against the gameplay is that it’s not particularly deep — at least not in comparison to modern action games. There are only two attack buttons; one for regular strikes and one for magic attacks. As such, combos are boiled down to tapping one button repeatedly with little variety. Looking at it now, it’s easy to see how Onimusha bridges the gap between Capcom relatives Resident Evil and Devil May Cry. It’s more fluid and enjoyable than the former but lacks the depth that the latter would introduce later in 2001. I’m not saying it is bad, but if you come into this expecting something deeper than surface-level mechanics, you’re going to feel underwhelmed.
There are additional aspects of Onimusha that were criticized back when it first released, and those shortcomings are still present. The storyline, which takes a supernatural bat to Japanese history, is not as interesting or engaging as it should be. For something that alleges that brutal general Oda Nobunaga was a demon, you’d think the plot would be more memorable. The English voice acting is terrible — worse than most B-movies. The option is there to use the original Japanese voiceovers, which is certainly the way to go. And while it doesn’t feel as egregious now as it probably did back in 2001, the title is surprisingly short. I completed it in less than five hours, and I was taking my time with it. It’s a tight five, but I feel like there could have been more added to flesh out the experience.
Onimusha: Warlords may not be as groundbreaking or as exciting as it was when it first arrived on the PlayStation 2, but it still holds up fairly well. The remastered graphics look better than you would imagine, and the gameplay, while simplistic, is still fun. The addition of analog stick controls is a godsend, even if purists will cry foul. If Capcom is willing to go into the vault for this, though, it gives me hope that others may follow. Re-releases of the sequels would be nice, but who knows, maybe we’ll get a brand new entry in the series somewhere down the line.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy was provided by Capcom.
Onimusha: Warlords Remastered can feel as dated as you would expect from a PlayStation 2 era title, but Capcom has done a solid job of improving the visuals and reworking the gameplay in order to make it worth revisiting in 2019.