In so many ways, Onimusha: Warlords for the Nintendo Switch shows us how the first release of this title for PlayStation 2 in 2001 and Xbox in 2002 truly was ahead of its time. Combining elements later seen in much more difficult titles like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Nioh but while providing the interesting (albeit campy) storyline, dialogue, and role playing characters / elements Capcom’s dark adventure titles are well known for; Much akin to Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Coming soon, players can experience the game with modern controls (or classic) on PS4 or the Nintendo Switch January 15. 2019. We’ve put hours in on the latter and have come back from the crusade against evil in feudal Japan to report on the experience.
Static camera angles, (optional) tank controls, pre-rendered backgrounds and stages mixed with 3D polygons. These are hallmarks to some of the most beloved PlayStation 1 games in history. Resident Evil 2, Silent Hill, Parasite Eve, Clock Tower, Alone In The Dark to name a few were part of a magical time in gaming in which 3D development was still brand new to most studios. During this time the Survival Horror genre of games emerged as a combination of new capabilities allowed for the predecessor to open world gaming; directed gaming. Onimusha: Warlords arrived at the peak of this period with the improved graphics capabilities of Sony PS2 and Xbox.
If you’re thinking that the difficulty wasn’t high enough to really consider this game a Demon’s Souls predecessor though, think again. As with many titles that come out of Japan, the original game is much more challenging than the North American and European versions – which are reduced in difficulty as a common practice in the industry. I was sharply aware of this as I’ve been playing the Japan version which has already been out since December 20, 2018. If you’d like to experience the game as it was meant to be played, try turning the difficulty up a notch before you start.
Gameplay direction and narrative are strong points of the game although the Japanese voice acting and localization dialogue may be panned by critics for that classic ‘campy’ feel. It’s no sweat off of my back as Onimusha: Warlords has always been a gamer’s game focusing on delivering emergent storytelling through powerful gameplay segments that still hold up to this day. An array of weapons is at the disposal of both playable characters, as follows.
- Normal Sword
- Bishamon Sword
- Shiden Orb
- Kōen Orb
- Arashi Orb
- Onimusha Sword
- Normal Bow
- Normal Arrow
- Fire Arrow
- Burst Bullet
- Sacred Knife
- Hocho Masamune
Character upgrades and abilities are unlocked through the collection of demon’s souls. When you strike an enemy for significant damage, stun large enemies, or defeat enemies there will appear souls in the area. If you manage to suck them all up into your gauntlet then the amount of red souls you collect will make leveling up and enhancing weapons possible at save points throughout the game. Other orbs will contribute to health, magic points, and finding new orbs will also lead to new areas becoming available for often deadly exploration attempts. Puzzles, lock boxes, and riddle boxes also litter the game as additional challenges for players to seek rewards that will help them to complete their quest.
There is some grinding in the game. Backtracking for XP is going to be part of the process as you enhance swords, orbs, and items with souls as well as practice your technique and tactics. Most enemies automatically respawn when you re-enter a scene but thankfully after a certain amount of killing this will cease. Likewise, mini-bosses or walking into a new camera angle can often end the onslaught. Certain cinematic moments will add or remove the usual expectation of enemies on stage and overall this aspect of the game feels perfectly balanced even so many years later.
Onimusha: Warlords also contains some items that are trademarks of the Capcom golden years, such as healing herbs seen in the Resident Evil franchise. Tank controls are on the D-pad while modern movement controls exist on the thumb-stick. the modern controls don’t really make sense and this leads players on a retro gaming quest to mastering the old school tank controls.
On my first attempts at enjoying this classic, I found it very difficult. I was also playing the Japanese version which is harder, and I haven’t played Onimusha since 2001 when I was 15 years old. Having access to the modern controls and tank controls at the same time felt like a huge hindrance. Instead of just getting good at one through practice, players may be tempted to switch back and forth trying to see which is best, especially on the Pro controller where your hand is so used to resting on the left thumb-stick. It feels like Capcom should have given us the two options separate, or at least the ability to shut off access or remap the controls altogether.
I enjoy playing older games and once I had the discipline to only use the d-pad the controls began to feel natural. There’s also a useful backslide move that works but avoids being faster than Samanosuke’s main running speed thankfully. In addition to the pursuit of fulfilling objectives put forward by the destiny of our two main characters, Onimusha: Warlords also offers an “Honors” system with various side-objectives and challenges for players who may have already beaten the game to continue increasing their list of accomplishments within the title. The game itself is extremely fun and may be worth multiple playthroughs on its own.
Capcom is giving fans the best of both worlds with the contrast of this production style, a full remake of Resident Evil 2 on January 25, 2019 which looks to be on par with the lofty expectations set by its incredibly long demand by fans. All the waiting seems like it may be paying off, we’ll find that out soon enough. If you’d like to learn more about Resident Evil 2, check out our Hands-On Impressions.
Enemy design has always been an area of expertise for Capcom and Onimusha: Warlords is no exception, with everything from headless horrors unique to this day, fast slicing enemies, large and slow but incredibly dangerous oafs, and beyond. And while the artificial intelligence seen in the game isn’t exactly cutting edge by today’s standards, dodging, parrying, and attacking enemies is never too easy to be fun. The timing of enemy attacks and the way in which multiple enemies approach the player result in typically elaborate inputs being required for victory. The final product feels something like an exercise in fencing with weak points in an animation or behavior sought out then slowly exploited with little margin for error available.
With a low price point of $19.99 USD, and the retro feel intact, this unchanged masterpiece during its time period has been made available for modern platforms in widescreen format with up-scaled resolution and absolutely deserves a play by anyone who is a fan of Souls-like titles, samurai games, Survival Horror, or just excellent games in general. It’s easy to say Onimusha: Warlords is highly recommended.
Developer & Publisher: Capcom
Preview Copy Info: A physical copy of the Japanese edition of this game was purchased by RealGamerNewZ for the purposes of this review.