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Posted on Jan 25th 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Onimusha, Capcom, PS2, PS4, Switch, Xbox, Remaster, HD


The Onimusha series has strangely slipped under my radar throughout the years. I played the first three back when they were originally released on the PlayStation 2, but I don't recall having any particular fondness for them and have mostly forgotten about them over the years. Last Spring, while looking for a shorter game to play, I pulled the original title in the series off my shelf and decided to revisit it. I was absolutely blown away by how much I enjoyed it. Now, with the recent remaster of Onimusha: Warlords, the time is right to give my thoughts on this classic.



Onimusha: Warlords was released on the PS2 in early 2001 and was a critical and commercial success. Developed and published by Capcom, it was originally conceived as a Resident Evil spinoff set in feudal Japan but had become an entirely new IP by the time it reached development. An updated port titled Genma Onimusha was released for the Xbox approximately a year later that introduced new features such as improved graphics and sound, new areas, and new gameplay elements, among other things. An updated HD remaster was recently released for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Set in Japan during the Battle of Okehazama (1560 AD), warlord Nobunaga Oda defeats Yoshimoto Imagawa but is killed during the battle. A year later, main character Samanosuke Akechi receives a letter from Princess Yuki of the Saito clan requesting his help involving the disappearance of her servants. Upon arriving at Inabayama Castle with his partner Kaede, Samanosuke discovers that Yuki has been kidnapped and that demons led by a resurrected Nobunaga are behind the disappearances. After losing a fight with a strong demon, the twelve oni grant Samanosuke a gauntlet with the power to defeat the demons and absorb their souls. With his newfound power, Samanosuke must defeat the demon threat and restore peace to the region.


As was typical of Capcom plotlines of the era, Onimusha's story is about as over-the-top and ridiculous as you might expect. However, it's foundation and references to actual historical characters and events helps add a layer of seriousness that keeps it more grounded. In typical fashion for this style of game, much of the backstory of the demons and their world is told through journal entries and other documents that are scattered throughout the environment, and these do a great job in fleshing out the finer details of the plot. This isn't a story that you will get emotionally invested in, but I did find it to be an interesting and entertaining adventure.

Some may be quick to label Onimusha as simply Resident Evil in Japan, and while the two games do share some similarities, there are a fair amount of differences between them as well. Both games task the player with exploring a large environment while finding key items needed for progression, but Onimusha feels a bit more streamlined than Resident Evil in this regard, so getting lost or confused should be less of an issue. Item management is also nonexistent in Onimusha as inventory space is unlimited. Similar to Capcom's remaster of the Resident Evil remake from a few years ago, the option to use the standard camera-relative 3D control scheme was added as an alternative to the tank control scheme of the original, so navigating the environments should be less of a concern for those with an aversion to tank controls.


One of the game's easy puzzles.

Combat is also significantly faster and more fluid than in a Resident Evil title. Melee combat is satisfying, and there is a small variety of different combos and abilities that can be used, although the options available may feel a bit restrictive by today's standards. Samanosuke has three main swords at his disposal: a lightning-based katana that has average strength and speed, a fire-based broadsword that is slower but deals more damage, and a wind-based naginata (double-bladed pole weapon) that is faster but deals less damage. All three weapons have a distinct feel and also have their own powerful magic attack that can be used at the expense of a magic bar. Samanosuke also gets a couple of ranged weapons in the form of a bow and a matchlock rifle, but I found ranged weapons to rarely be preferable to melee weapons. You also get to play as Samanosuke's partner Kaede a couple of times who controls similarly to Samanosuke, although she is a bit faster and has a couple of unique abilities instead of magic. Defeated demons will release souls that can be absorbed for upgrades or to refill health and magic.

The souls that are collected during combat can be used to upgrade various items and abilities at save points. Each of Samanosuke's three main weapons can be upgraded to deal more damage, and each weapon's associated orb can be upgraded so that magic attacks deal more damage. Items such as herbs and ammo for the bow and rifle can be upgraded to their more effective counterparts. Souls cannot be used to upgrade Samanosuke himself, although Power Jewels and Magic Jewels can be found and used to upgrade his maximum health and magic pools.


Absorbing demon's souls before it was cool.

Onimusha's visuals looked great for an early PS2 title from 2001 and hold up well when played on original hardware. The visuals received a bit of an upgrade with the remaster, but the game really begins to show its age when blown up on an HD display. I was initially put off by the visuals of the remaster, as the pre-rendered backgrounds tended to look blurry next to the character models, but I quickly adjusted and didn't have a problem with it for the rest of the experience. Many of the character models and the FMV sequences look noticeably dated on either version.

The audio presentation is fairly good as well. All of the music and voice acting was re-recorded for the remaster, but the music is great in both versions, and most of the same voice actors from the original release reprise their roles for the remaster, so the voice acting is also of similar quality in both versions. Both releases feature both English and Japanese voice acting, and I personally chose to go with the Japanese since it feels much more natural given the setting. The Japanese voice acting is well done, but the English dub tends to sound like a low-budget anime. It's not the worst I've ever heard, but it is far from great.

Onimusha: Warlords has quickly become one of my favorite games for the PlayStation 2, and I would highly recommend it even to those who are not fans of the Resident Evil series. While the HD remaster is a bit disappointing overall due to the lack of polish on the visuals and the exclusion of features from Genma Onimusha, the new control scheme and trophy/achievement support will make this a worthwhile upgrade for some. Many would be fine sticking with the PS2 original, but the added features of the remaster along with its wide availability and budget price of $20 also makes it an excellent way to revisit this classic. Clocking in at approximately 5 hours, it is also an excellent option for those looking for a shorter adventure. Onimusha: Warlords is a classic title that should not be missed.



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Comments
 
"While the HD remaster is a bit disappointing overall due to the lack of polish on the visuals and the exclusion of features from Genma Onimusha"

Thanks for this!  I haven't seen anyone actually confirm this anywhere lol.  I've been holding off on the remaster but looks like I'll just pick up the OG Xbox version to get the extra content.
 
The games that really sold me on the PS2 were Devil May Cry, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Onimusha. I played the hell out of Onimusha 1-3 back in the day and they have a special place in my game library for sure. It does seem kind of odd they wouldn't keep the extra stuff from the Genma version, but since I grew up with the original it's no skin off my nose. It's been a really long time since I've revisited the Onimusha games though and will people talking about it again after all these years it's got me craving another play.

Maybe if I can finish the February Playcast game of Bayonetta early I'll clear an afternoon to dive back in with Samanosuke. Thanks for the insight into the remaster!
 
I loved Onimusha back in the day, even despite hating tank controls. I've been having a lot of fun with the remaster. I agree it's disappointing they didn't give it a better treatment, but I never played the Xbox version so I'm absolutely loving the direct control scheme. Down with tank controls! I've been surprised at how clearly I remember all the areas I've been to so far (I haven't played since the original came out) and how quickly it's coming back to me. I'm enjoying it enough that I may try for the platinum trophy.
 
Why all the tank control hate?? Tank controls rule!!

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