The Onimusha series has been dormant for a long while in Capcom’s catalogue, but with a HD remaster of Onimusha: Warlords it feels like the publisher is testing the waters to see whether to bring it back. Getting a bit of a rework with touched up graphics and a new soundtrack as well as a few gameplay changes, we’re looking at a callback from 2001, including all the game design decisions of the era.
Onimusha: Warlords revolves around the samurai Samanosuke Akechi who, along with the ninja Kaede, set about a mission to save Princess Yuki from a castle that is crawling with demons. It’s quite a straightforward plot with the demons needing the Princess’ blood to complete a ceremony to help Oda Nobunaga win his battles and gain control of Japan. It has a couple of twists and turns, but there’s not a lot of depth to it; the real focus is on slaying the demons to keep them at bay.
As you would expect, Samanosuke uses swords to fight, with three different elemental weapons that you find through the course of the game accompany his standard sword attacks. The swords relate to the powers of fire, electricity, and wind. On top of this, each sword and their elemental orbs can be upgraded using demon souls to make them more powerful, which you’ll want as you head to the bosses that await at the end of the game. The combat itself is decent, relying on the need to block incoming blows and attacking during openings. Some enemies can be taken down with ease while others will require a little bit of time as you work out how to break their defences, but none should be too much trouble. If they are you can always run past them.
The movement and combat are hindered by the fixed camera angles that can switch quite quickly, obscuring either your movement or concealing enemies out of view. Additionally, getting up from a knockdown requires a lot of button mashing which can be frustrating as some enemies can still do damage to you while you’re dazed on the floor. It is advised to have multiple save files and to save often, because after a game over you will have to reload a save instead of automatically picking up from a checkpoint. Another annoying throwback to the early 2000s are the unskippable cutscenes before boss fights, with monologues that you’ll have to hear over and over if you don’t beat a boss the first time.
Combat isn’t the only thing you’ll be working out, as there are puzzles that require solving to advance through the story. These can be things like finding specific objects to place in certain areas or solvnig trick boxes. These are boxes where the numbers are jumbled and you have to get them back in order within a set number of moves. Some of them are real head-scratchers, but there’s nothing particularly strenuous and you should be able to pass those barriers fairly quickly.
Of course, a HD remaster is mainly about giving a game a visual upgrade. Character models appear a bit smoother, as do the environments, but you can very much tell that this is a PS2 game that’s been given a bit of spit and polish. The soundtrack has been replaced with new tracks and it is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some areas where the music is absolutely fantastic, such as when specific plot beats are accompanied by a heroic theme, while in other areas come across as a little forgettable but in all cases the music is well tuned. Analogue stick movement has also been added, but if you want to go retro you can use D-pad controls, and you can also select easy mode from the start as well.
As an overall experience, Onimusha: Warlords can be both fun and frustrating. When it flows well the combat and exploration of the admittedly small area is entertaining, but the annoyances of the fixed camera can really slow proceedings down to a slog as you attempt to find the correct place to stand and fight. The story is pretty out there and the main villains are over the top, exaggerated evil, which just works due to the absurdity of the situation the main characters find themselves in.
For the relatively low asking price Onimusha Warlords is worth a look if you’ve ever been interested in the series or just want to slay demons in historical Japan. Just bewware you’ll have to contend with some game design elements that belong in the early 2000s. It’s not a terribly long game and you can get through it in a few hours, but it’ll keep you entertained throughout.
Version Tested: PS4