I have been vocal about my stance of remasters. They are most valuable to players who didn’t get a chance to play them when they first released. I didn’t get a chance to play Onimusha Warlords, but I am no stranger to the franchise. I played Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny and Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, both on the PS2. So when the remaster came around, it was the perfect opportunity to complete the trilogy (albeit in the reverse order).
When Onimusha Warlords first launched, it became the first game to reach 1 million sold units on the PS2. It was so well received that it went on to sell 2 Million units worldwide. A bug within Warlords inspired game designer Hideki Kamiya in the making of the action game Devil May Cry. And the fact its 18 years old, it makes the game an obvious candidate to rekindle the franchise in modern time. But does the remaster stand the test of time and the vigors of new hardware? Let’s find out.
Onimusha: Warlords, released in Japan as Onimusha (鬼武者), is an action-adventure video game and the first entry of the Onimusha series, first released for the PlayStation 2 in 2001. A remaster developed and published by Capcom, for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows via Steam is scheduled to be released on 15th of January 2019.
Story & Narrative
One thing about the good old days was, that there wasn’t a lot of layering when it came to story-telling. You play as Hidemitsu Samanosuke Akechi, a samurai who is trying to save Princess Yuki from Oda Nobunaga who wants to sacrifice her. The next few hours are spent in uncovering and foiling this sinister plot.
There are no double-crosses, no unforeseen twists, and the story unfolds linearly and in a predictive manner. Though I have to say the subversion of Oda Nobunaga is a creative take (considering the original game came out in 2001) and taking inspiration from real historical figures do add a pinch of interest into the whole narrative. Which is why its a little disappointing to see Nobunaga appear rarely in-game.
Having said that, all the protagonists in the game, namely Samanosuke Akechi, princess Yuki, and the Ninja Kaeda are all very well developed. Most of it is down to the tight (to the point) dialogues and various journal entries which you don’t have to look around for much. Just going through the main game will give you enough information to understand the characters and the setting. I enjoyed this non-hidden, non-explotary and non-branching narrative where you don’t have to explore every nook and cranny to find out exactly what’s happening.
And it’s not a long game. Clocking in between 3-6 hours on the Normal Difficulty with no alternate endings, you can go through the entire game in a single weekend (or 1 sitting depending on your preferences).
The replayability, however, does not come from the multiple endings or the hidden easter eggs. Instead, it comes from various challenges.
While the Easy mode is unlocked from the start (in the old one, you had to die at the same place 6 times, before the mode was unlocked), the crux of the game is in the Normal mode and the Expert mode that it unlocks once completed.
The game goads you to take it on. Complete it in under 3 hours (an achievement for that). Complete it with upgrading all the weapons and your meters to the max (an achievement for that). Complete it without upgrading any of your weapons or meters (an achievement for that too). And then complete it without using any item at all (another achievement if you are up for it).
Then there is the option to challenge the Dark Realm, a stage based gauntlet mode, where you fight waves of enemies. Divided into 20 levels, you are rewarded with a special ornament which can then be used to unlock the strongest weapon in the game, so there is an incentive there to try it out.
Another challenge mode called the Oni Spirit game is unlocked after you are able to collect all the Fluorite from the main game. This mode involves you saving other Oni spirits before your enemies can get to them. Clearing out the Spirit game, unlocks the Ultimate difficulty, which can then be completed to (you guessed it) get another trophy. So there is synergy there between all the activities and they tie and lead up into each other, with each one opening doors for another one.
The fact that none of these challenges seems unfair is because even in
2018 2019, the game has some simple and robust mechanics.
Gameplay & Mechanics
At its root, Onimusha Warlords is an action-adventure hack and slash. You start the game with a sword, but throughout the game, you will be able to equip 3 different kinds of melee weapons, and 2 different kinds of range weapons.
And between all this is the Oni gauntlet. A mystic gauntlet bestowed upon Akechi, the orb absorbs demon souls. Some type of souls heal you, others can be used to upgrade your weapons while another yet can be used to charge the magical abilities which different weapons offer.
Each of the 3 melee weapons (based on the elements of lightning, fire, and wind) come with their own unique special/magic attacks, with each weapon having its own independent magic bar. Which means that once unlocked you have potentially 3 full bars of special attacks available at your disposal. Plus, the magic orbs you can collect in the game are pretty generous, which means you are more generous with your magic attacks and consequently makes the combat more fluid and varied.
In order to discourage button mashing, the game also implements some tactical mechanics. The biggest of these is the instant kill mechanic, where if you attack just before an enemy is going to attack, you get an instant kill, which is pretty handy if you get the timing right. You can also defend and strafe using the Left and Right Trigger, but button mashing is still the best strategy in my opinion.
All is not hunky dory though. The ranged weapons are difficult to aim, and I mean really difficult. I have never really understood how a ranged weapon works in an over the top no reticule/crosshair game anyways, but this game is a poor advocate of the decision anyway. And then there is the camera angle.
Graphics & Sound
Inspired by the Resident Evil series, Onimusha Warlords implements fixed camera, pre-rendered 2-D background with 3D sprites. Which means there are plenty of narrow corridors and blind spots in the game. Which are irritating, when you are the edge and someone swipes at you from the abyss. Or on the flip side when you turn the corner and run into a demon with no breathing space.
Visually though, I have to say the game has aged decently. 2D art though not detailed still remains beautiful. And makes another good case for choosing a good art style for the game. The fixed camera also makes for some decent looking shots.
The 3D models, on the other hand, have the reverse effect. They look more detailed and objectively better than their 2001 counterpart, and yet they are definitely just PS2 quality. Especially that sinister grin that Akechi has throughout the game, its as if he is going to be revealed as the main villain at any point.
The background music is definitely Japnese, and the strategic use of drums and flutes to build up tension has to be commended. The voice acting though does sound a little silly, but I am pretty sure they didn’t re-record any of the lines, so going by 2001 standard, it’s acceptable.
In a world of games which want to consume your life, Onimusha Warlords can easily be completed on a weekend, which is a breath of fresh air. Onimusha Warlords Remaster is a decent game with robust mechanics, a linear story and short playtime. Though I am not sure if its the best buy at its current price. Maybe on a sale.