Onimusha: Warlords HD (Playstation 4 Review)
Like a neglected middle child, the Onimusha series has always struggled to obtain the spotlight to the same degree that it’s sibling Capcom games have; despite it being quite comparable in terms of quality. While Resident Evil 2 is getting a remake with new graphics and re-designed gameplay, and Devil May Cry getting a true sequel later this year, Capcom is continuing to return to much of it’s PS2 glory days. For the first time since those days, Onimusha is finally getting some recognition as well, albeit to a smaller extent. Warlords HD is a remaster of the first game in the series, possibly made with the intention of gauging interest for more remasters of the old Onimusha titles, or maybe even a brand new entry in the series.
Onimusha takes place in the Sengoku period of Japan, focusing on a large-scale war conflict between the Saito Clan and the Oda Clan, the latter being led by Nobunaga (based on the real-life historical figure of the same name). Samonosuke Akechi; one of Japan’s strongest warriors; receives a letter from Princess Yuki that all the servants from her castle have gone missing. Alongside the kunoichi Kaede, Samonosuke returns to Inabayama Castle to find Yuki captured and the castle run over with monsters called the Genma. After being easily defeated by one of the Genma commanders, Samanosuke is visited by the mysterious Oni, who grant him a mystical gauntlet that absorbs the souls of the Genma in order to defeat them and save Yuki.
It may be hard to believe nowadays with such advancements in video game story-telling and presentation, but Onimusha was considered to be one of the more cinematic games of it’s era. These days it’s hard to take anything seriously with Warlords’ story, and a part of that is due to the voice-acting, which is hokey to the point of being charming, in English voices at the very least. You can switch to Japanese voiceovers if you so desire, but I personally prefer the unintentional entertainment value the English voices bring. By today’s expectations, Warlords overall story and characterisation is pretty bog standard as well, with most of the characters being fairly generic in their roles. The odd exception comes in every now and then, such as the wacky Genma scientist Guildenstern and the handful of cheesy moments in the story.
The core gameplay of Warlords’ has held up much better though, being simple yet just as engaging. Samonosuke can run, attack and block with his katana as you would expect from a samurai, but upon gaining the Oni gauntlet, he can also absorb souls after killing the various Genma enemies. Absorbing souls will give you currency, magic meter or health depending on what colour they are, but be aware that Samanosuke is vulnerable while doing this. Since the souls do disappear if you don’t absorb them quick enough, part of Onimusha’s appeal comes from deciding when to absorb souls while trying to avoid enemies taking advantage of your vulnerability. Later on, Samanosuke will gain elemental weapons that each have a powerful special attack that can be performed at the expense of some of your magic meter.
The magic mirrors found across Inabayama Castle function both as save points and as opportunities to enhance your equipment with the red souls you have absorbed; ie. your currency. You can enhance not only the attack power of your elemental weapons, but also their spirit level, which allows you to enter certain doors that have a required spirit level to access them. Doing this is not only essential for story progression, but gives you access to more weapons and items. You can also use red souls to purchase healing items and ammunition for ranged weapons like your bow. While upgrade systems are seen everywhere in action games these days, for it’s time this was relatively new ground for the genre.
At times, Samanosuke will tag out of the story campaign to where you can play as the kunoichi Kaede. As one would expect with a ninja, Kaede is able to attack more swiftly than Samonsuke at the expense of having less power in her strikes. She can also access her kunai as a ranged weapon without the need of having to swap weapons in the main menu like Samanosuke has to. The main downsides of playing Kaede is the absence of any magic meter or being able to absorb souls. This can make fighting enemies as her mundane if not pointless, as you’re risking losing more health with no souls to reward you for doing so. You’ll likely find yourself just running past any enemies you don’t have to engage with as the female ninja.
What remains left of Onimusha’s main gameplay are the puzzles. Like it’s older sibling Resident Evil, some of these can be as simple as taking a macguffin from point A to point B, others require a bit more foresight and problem-solving skills. There is a handful of bosses to fight as well, most of which aren’t that difficult if you are smart with saving your resources beforehand and don’t over-extend your offence in the battle. Warlords can be beaten in less than four hours quite practically, with there not being much else to do asides the “Dark World” challenge, which is essentially a battle gauntlet in the same fashion as Devil May Cry’s “Bloody Palace” mode.
As a HD Remaster goes, Warlords has what you would expect; upscaled visuals, a smoother and more consistent frame rate, the works. It still looks pleasant for an early era PS2 title with it’s good choices of colours and tones, and well-designed pre-rendered backgrounds. Some of the oddities do remain though, most notably the hilariously out of sync mouth movements of characters during cutscenes with English voiceovers on. One feature I wish was added was a cut-scene skip option. This would have been handy in sections where I was frequently dying and having to watch the same cutscenes over and over; most notably during the trap gauntlet which then proceeds into the infamous water wheel puzzle.
If the recent revivals of Megaman, Devil May Cry and not-terrible Resident Evil games are anything to go by, then we may see a resurgence of new Onimusha games that the series deserves in the near future. For the time being, Warlords HD is here to whet our appetite for Genma slaying and soul absorbing.