Way back in 2001, I was a young, 14 year-old boy that loved playing video games. Fortunately for me, I owned all sorts of consoles, including the unstoppable PlayStation 2. One such game I firmly recall playing on the console, was Onimusha: Warlords. Back then, Capcom had earned quite the reputation, releasing massively successful hits such as Resident Evil and Devil May Cry, so it took very little convincing for me to dive on in and soak up the adventure at hand. Now, all of this time later, I get to enjoy this journey again.
Onimusha: Warlords is the first in the series, with consecutive sequels releasing in rapid succession for five years following its original release. Will we see these sequels flying in with the same HD treatment as Warlords? Only time will tell. Personally, I certainly hope so. Warlords is a wonderful opportunity to introduce the newer generation of gamers, to this outstanding IP. That said, if you’re unaware as to what this is all about, we’re stepping back to take it from the top. First and foremost, ladies and gents, what’s included in this version?
Much like any given Capcom remaster this gen, Onimusha: Warlords arrives with high-definition graphics; characters, environments, and cutscenes, all given that HD touch. There’s also widescreen support and some new display options present, as well as support for analog stick movement. In regards to accessibility, an easy mode has been thrown in from the start, making it somewhat easier for newcomers to dive on in. Outside of that, a brand new soundtrack and Japanese voices have been implemented into the game.
With the technicalities out of the way, what’s Onimusha all about? Well, there’s a merge of real historical events and fictional storytelling on show here. The game takes place in feudal Japan, in which evil warlord Nobunaga Oda surprise-attacks warlord Yoshimoto Imagawa, in the dead of night; ultimately defeating his forces. Despite being victorious, Nobunaga Oda takes an arrow to the throat and as such, is presumed dead. One year later, following a request, protagonist Samanosuke rides to his cousin’s aid, Princess Yuki of the Saito clan.
Yuki believes that demonic forces are behind the disappearance of her servants, however, before Samanosuke and ninja Kaede can do much about that, Yuki is kidnapped. Samanosuke is soon defeated by a demon whilst trying to save Yuki, and is then visited by the twelve Oni, who bestows upon him the ability to vanquish demons, here known as Genma, and seal their souls in a magical gauntlet. What follows is a sinister, dark, and twisted tale of magic, demonic greed, and corruption. It’s all struck exceptionally well with high production value.
What I do want to point out, straight off the bat, is that the game doesn’t look incredibly fresh. Despite its remastered touch, the game, to me at least, just looks less grainy than the original. Still, thanks to how well the game has aged for its time, this is relatively easy to overlook. Warlords throws you into the fields of play with no tutorial whatsoever, which, for those of you out there that are of the newer generation, is how us oldies did it. That’s right! Way back then, all of our tutorials came in thick manuals that we needed to read, to learn.
Playing around to get back into the swing of things, I was quite pleased to see how well that this twenty year old game handled. The gameplay is smooth and fluid, and holds up even by today’s standards. Hardly a shocker given that this, back then, was one of the most expensive games that Capcom had developed. Unlike Resident Evil and, to a degree, Dino Crisis, Warlords focuses much of its weight on its melee combat, with puzzle elements popping up infrequently to maintain pace. Further to that, and due to the game’s sword-play, there’s less emphasis on item management.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a robust presence on this front, but the notion of keeping your ammo replenished is sided by the fact that here, you rely on Oni weapons. Each Oni weapon comes with a special power that can be used to create unique attacks; handy for when you find yourselves surrounded by foes. The twist? You’ll need to max out your special gauge through absorbing the blue-colored souls that your demon foes leave behind upon defeat. There are other variations of souls to collect, of course; yellow to replenish health, and red to enhance capabilities.
Each Oni weapon and crystal can be leveled-up three times a piece, gradually making you stronger and more formidable. It’s a straightforward system that’s easy to pick up on. Now, Warlords’ structure is often described as Resident Evil in Japan – swapping zombies for demons. Whilst I agree that there are indeed some stark similarities, Warlords is arguably less archaic. For instance, the puzzles that are present require less guess-work. Instead, you’ll oftentimes be met with something that needs something else, so off you pop to far out places to retrieve it.
That may sound impractical on paper, but in actual practice, it does work in the game’s favor. I should point out that Warlords is on the short side. There’s an achievement that tasks you with completing the game in less than three hours. That being said, the classics could typically be nuked in this time-frame, so you’re getting what you pay for either way. Speaking of achievements, much of Warlords’ replay value is present here, collectively tasking you with running the game through, many times, making different choices along the way.
The general crux of play sees you moving from one area to the next, defeating a dizzying array of demons, acquiring new abilities, solving the occasional puzzle, and then being met with a story moving cutscene; rise and repeat. I’ve already lightly touched upon the game’s visuals, but I want to take a moment to express how well varied and neatly detailed the game’s design is. Twenty years ago, Warlords was cutting edge, and it’s hard, even now, not to appreciate how gorgeous the game is in regards to its distinction.
Everything from the character models to the rendered backgrounds, seamlessly stands out. Granted, you are constantly reminded that this is a two decade-old game, but if you allow yourselves to be fully immersed and look at this through the lens of its date, you’re in for a visual treat. It helps, indeed, that the game’s pacing is outstanding. The game rarely slows down, offering a wonderful blend of diverse gameplay sections that are broken up by magnificent, jaw dropping story beats, at just the right time.
Through all of that, Warlords is a fascinating tale. Nowadays, we don’t get many games that take on the ground of feudal Japan. I don’t know about you, but this, to me, is easily one of history’s most interesting eras. Despite the fact that Warlords takes some liberties on occasion, it’s a tale that proves to be deep and immersive, yet surprisingly grounded at the same time. Newcomers may struggle due to the lack of guidance, regardless as to the game’s easy mode, but even so, it doesn’t take too long to get a firm grasp of its mechanics.
Combat is largely based upon reaction time and damage control. There’s an attack function, a kick, a special attack, and the ability to block. Fights are usually over and done with in a pinch, though, the game’s tougher enemies and bosses can put up quite a scrap. It pays off to know your enemy here. Some foes can attack in such a way that it negates your ability to block, whereas others can dish up damage output like there’s no tomorrow. Rule of thumb? Perseverance and firm understanding will often see you through.
The game sports a solid variation of enemies, keeping you fresh on your toes and holding repetition at bay. Simply due to Warlords emphasis on melee combat, general traversal is less tankier than that of its undead franchise peer. The end result, as alluded to above, makes for a much more fluid ride. There’s a few light metroidvania sections to contend with, being that you’ll obtain abilities that allow you to visit new areas, but this is achieved with such style and panache, that it feeds nicely into the game’s overall design.
Whilst Samanosuke is the leading role, you do have the occasional section that throws you into the role of Kaede; though, both control equally as well as one another, each housing different play-styles. The game’s camera work can be a blessing and a curse. Warlords functions well for the most part, but there are moments in which you’ll suffer a cheap shot. Namely, stumbling around a corner to take damage from an enemy that was hidden from view before the camera shifts. Yes, this is a product of Capcom’s classic formula, but it’s still irritating.
I’ll also commend the game’s audio design. Sure, the voice acting is still pretty poor, but the game’s audio cues and its exceptional transition from area-to-area and scene-to-scene, is still top notch. When all is said and done, Warlords is a classic. Take the progression system from Devil May Cry and simplify it, the action (albeit, lighter) from Dino Crisis, and the pacing and style from Code Veronica, jumble it together in a compelling, fantastical feudal Japan setting, and you have Warlords. If that sings to you, this is absolutely a no-brainer.
Onimusha: Warlords still holds up exceptionally well nearly twenty years since its original release. Capcom’s ability to merge historical events with such a fantastical and engaging plot, together with a gameplay foundation that’s well paced, deep, and constantly exciting, is precisely why this classic is so highly regarded. Whilst Warlords is indeed unforgivably short, this is one Capcom comeback that you simply must have.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.