Given that gamers hadn’t seen a proper Onimusha game release since 2006, it would have been easy to believe that Capcom were just giving up on the series altogether and letting it die off. It’s happened to plenty of other well-loved game franchises after all and whilst fans had remained hopeful for a revival, it felt like we wouldn’t be going on any Samurai adventures anytime soon.
Imagine the surprise then when Capcom unveiled Onimusha: Warlords Remastered – a revamped edition of the 2001 original that brings improved controls and visuals to the game. Sure, it might not be the new entry in the series that some fans were hoping for and it was a bit of a shame to see that it wouldn’t get the full remake treatment that Resident Evil 2 has, but it still acts as a good reminder that the Onimusha series is indeed something special and that its gameplay still holds up well today. Plus, you can play it on the go on the Nintendo Switch: what more could you want?
Onimusha: Warlords Remastered puts you in the shoes of Samanosuke, a Samurai who is summoned to the Inabayama Castle by the Princess Yuki to investigate the sudden appearance of demons. When he arrives he discovers that Yuki has actually been taken captive, demons have overrun the castle, and that his old foe (and the presumed dead) Nobunaga is behind it all. Fortunately, Samanosuke is granted the power of a powerful weapon known as the ‘Oni Gauntlet’ to help defeat the demonic threat and rescue Yuki from Nobunaga’s grasp.
It’s a pretty bizarre tale that’s full to the brim with peculiar characters (just wait until you come across the rather creepy Gate Keeper) but it’s fun enough. Sure, there’s not much depth to it and the cinematic presentation can hit some very cheesy levels at times, but it still manages to be quirky and fits the gameplay well.
One of the obvious changes that gamers returning to the series will notice immediately is the analogue controls – it goes along the lines of the re-released Resident Evil Remake by eliminating the need for tank-like movement and giving the player the option to move freely with the analogue stick. The clunky and tank-like controls have always been a bit of a sticking point for Capcom’s releases that have utilised fixed camera angles (Resident Evil and Dino Crisis were hit with it too), so having full and free movement wasn’t only refreshing but made the whole experience all the more fluid to play. Of course, those who want a blast to the past can hit the d-pad and re-live the old control scheme if they prefer, but I think just one flick of the analogue stick to get around will quickly convince most that it’s the best way to experience Onimusha: Warlords Remastered.
It certainly benefits the game’s combat mechanics, with it proving easier than ever to not only get around your opponents to avoid attacks but also dish out some of your own too. Combat itself is simple enough to get to grips with, with standard slashes and blocking easily used with a quick button press. However, whilst it’s easy enough to simply slash out at enemies, there’s actually a level of intricacy to battling that can make Onimusha: Warlords Remastered a much more tactical affair than it initially seems.
For example, if you manage to parry an enemy’s attack at the right moment you can instantly kill them. It can take a bit of work to figure out the perfect moment and there’ll also be times when the sheer number of foes coming your way can make it difficult too, but it’s a quick and effective way to get out of sticky situations (and, of course, it’s mighty satisfying). You can also instantly kill enemies if you impale them with your sword when they’re knocked down – this comes with a risk though since you’ll also leave yourself vulnerable to any incoming attacks in the meantime. There really is a lot to think about with the game’s combat and whilst you could easily get away with just slashing away at foes, you’ll have a much better time if you think strategically and pick your moments to strike.
There are multiple weapons to use throughout the game too, with three standing out the most: the lightning-powered Raizan, the fire-focused Enryuu, and the wind-fuelled Shippuu. Each one offers something a little different as far as combat goes, whilst the addition of the powerful magic attacks that comes with them can be a good way to deal some heavy damage to a large amount of enemies.
You can also level up your weapons by absorbing the red souls that are dropped by defeated enemies through your Oni Gauntlet. Much like combat though, this can be all about picking your moment – if you leave an orb float around for too long it’ll disappear, but if you rush to absorb it immediately you can leave yourself open to an attack from an enemy. Fortunately, enemies respawn in Onimusha: Warlords Remastered, so you’ll never find a shortage of orbs to absorb. Don’t worry too much though: whilst the game can have its tricky moments, there’ll never be any instances where you’re going to have to grind orbs constantly in order to progress past a tough enemy.
That’s not to say that there won’t be tough moments though, because Onimusha: Warlords Remastered will certainly send plenty of enemies your way that want to bring a swift end to Samanosuke’s adventure. They come in a good variety too, with foes that’ll slash out at you constantly, foes that are invisible, foes that’ll shoot at you from afar, and even foes that’ll launch themselves toward you in rolling attacks – there’s definitely a diverse selection of monstrosities to take down. The fact that they constantly respawn can make life tricky for you too, though you can always just run past them if you want. Of course, no TRUE Samurai would want to do that, whilst the game’s satisfying combat mechanics ensures that each showdown with a foe is satisfying anyway. Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention the boss encounters too, which don’t only offer satisfying and challenging showdowns but also but also feature some fantastic enemy designs too… I love them.
Besides fighting a horde of enemies, there’s also plenty of exploration to take part in and even the occasional puzzle to solve. Admittedly, the puzzles themselves aren’t too tricky and never feel as elaborate as those found in Resident Evil, but they still bring a welcome change to the formula of slicing up enemies. The environmental design is absolutely on point too, with each location you visit in and around Inabayama Castle full of fascinating (and often morbid) sights – it’s definitely an interesting world to be a part of.
There are even moments where you control Samanosuke’s partner Kaede and there’s also the optional Dark Realm to venture through, which gives players a twenty-floor challenge to battle across for a great reward. It shows that there’s a lot more to Onimusha: Warlords Remastered than just slicing and dicing foes, with surprises aplenty as you work through the four to five-hour story.
Whilst there’s a lot to praise Onimusha: Warlords Remastered for, there’s no denying that it has some flaws too. One obvious one is the amount of backtracking you have to do across the castle, which is something that was common in these kind of games before but is typically reserved for the Metroidvania genre as of late. It just makes the game feel a bit more dated, whilst the ever-respawning foes can make trying to find the route to your goal more of a burden.
Then there are the fixed camera angles. Now I’ll be honest, I don’t hate fixed camera angles in a video game – maybe it’s because I loved titles like Resident Evil, Dino Crisis and even Onimusha when I was younger anyway, but I have no real issue with them. However, I will admit that they can be a bit restrictive when trying to keep on top of the action, especially when the camera angle changes in the middle of a fight. Onimusha: Warlords Remastered is a quick-paced game with a focus on good reactions from the player, so being taken out of the immediate action because of a camera change could end up feeling a little bit annoying and cause some frustrating deaths when in a particularly tough encounter.
Visually, you can see a bit of work has gone into making Onimusha: Warlords Remastered look as good as possible, with the new HD visuals making the character models look great and even helping the environments stand out a lot more. The backgrounds of the game are all pre-rendered so you shouldn’t expect miracles as far as their improvement is concerned, but it still manages to look impressive given that the game came out in 2001. The widescreen mode is a nice addition too, whilst the game manages to run smoothly throughout with a consistent frame rate which I never saw drop. I know a good performance should be a given for a remastered release of an eighteen-year old game, but we’ve seen bad remasters in the past – thankfully, Onimusha: Warlords Remastered isn’t one of them.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC