Around the time of Onimusha Warlord’s release, I was still firmly a Nintendo Fangirl. It would be a few years before I finally branched out and embraced all games, regardless of what filthy console they’re played on.
I saw Onimusha’s commercials frequently enough at the time that it stuck in my mind, but I never played it. Years later, I had even bought a copy for PS2 from a game rental store that was sadly closing down, but I somehow never once slotted it in to give it a run through. However, now there’s a remaster of it, so the time is right to give it a try
RESIDENT EVIL: SENGOKU JIDAI
You can really tell that Onimusha was pitched as a Samurai Resident Evil game since it wears that identity on its sleeve. You traipse around a big castle, solving puzzles and battling demons, and, most strikingly, the backgrounds are rendered as 2D backdrops, rather than full 3D. The biggest differences, however, are that supplies aren’t nearly as harshly limited and combat isn’t nearly as hobbled as it was in Capcom’s seminal zombie series
The plot is a pretty basic samurai plot if you crossed it with a tokusatsu movie. You play as Samanosuke as he attempts to rescue a princess from the clutches of a horde of demons, who are trying to power-up their recently acquired, undead Oda Nobunaga. That last part may be a bit of a curveball, but it all boils down to your basic “rescue the princess” plot.
Samanosuke is just a typical samurai, until a clan of ogres (really, they’re oni, but the translation is a bit shaky) slap a gauntlet on his arm that allows him to absorb demon souls to power up his weapons. He’s also accompanied by a kunoichi named Kaede, who is rad despite her lack of power glove. Together, they discover how much the demons suck and chase a boy around the castle. Beyond that, there isn’t really much in the way of plot. It really is just a case of beating the bosses and saving the princess.
It’s pretty obvious that Onimusha draws influence from a lot of places. The main character is played by a popular singer/actor, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and the motion capture performance is done with a certain exaggerated Japanese flourish. It reminds me heavily of tokusatsu performances, such as what you’d see in a Super Sentai series.
Onimusha began its development cycle as a Playstation game, before being moved over to the PS2. It’s not visually apparent, especially not in the remastered version, but some of the design sticks hard to what worked on the original system. For starters, the pre-rendered backgrounds cause some issues when it comes to actually getting around. The remaster at least allows you to go full analogue, allowing for smoother movement, but the original used Resident Evil-style tank controls. Even with the analogue movement, when the game switches backgrounds, it sometimes sticks you in a certain direction, which can cause you to get turned around.
The difficulty with controls also causes issues with the combat, which is kept extremely simple. Essentially, you’re able to back enemies with your sword, and use a special attack as long as your magic gauge allows it. There’s a lock on system to help dodging, but I always found it undependable. You can block, but it doesn’t interrupt animations, so I often was left predicting what the enemy was going to throw at me. More often than not, my only strategy for bosses was spamming magic attacks until I ran out of energy, then trying to leach enough souls out to repeat the process.
I’m not saying it’s bad; it works outside of a few frustrations, it’s just not exceptionally deep, which is something that could be said about the entire game.
ABOUT THE ENTIRE GAME
That’s exactly what makes Onimusha a bit difficult to review. I know that, at the end of the day, I enjoyed my time with the game, but when everything worked without being exceptional, what was it that I loved?
Maybe it’s simply the fact that it never goes beyond its scope. I finished the game in under 5 hours, which is dizzyingly short, but that also has the benefit of allowing the game to remain breezy, and it never really gets the chance to become stale and boring. I stayed engaged because everything flowed really well, and new things were always presented at a good rate. I didn’t get to a point where things began to feel like a slog. I never got stuck wondering what to do, and I never had to spend any time grinding for souls.
It’s a lean game, and that is pretty refreshing. The narrative didn’t nestle itself into its own ass, it didn’t make some horrible attempt to add complexity where it wasn’t needed. I wasn’t left gagging on any overdone dialogue, or stuck watching some monumentally huge cutscene, which, considering they had celebrity talent on board, shows a lot of restraint.
I don’t regret my time with Onimusha. It didn’t exactly rock my world, but it presented something that was consistently enjoyable from beginning to end.
This review was conducted on an original model PS4 using a disc based copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.