This title was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, but is also available on PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One.
Let’s get this out of the way right out of the gate: I never played Onimusha: Warlords back when it first game out all the way back in 2001. With it being on PS2 and Xbox, and me growing up with a Gamecube and Dreamcast, I ended up missing it the first time around. I certainly heard my fair share about it during my Resident Evil obsession a few years back, largely because the game was born from a cancelled Resident Evil 4 version, and shares many of the original game’s gameplay. So, with the remaster out, this is the perfect time to jump into it with fresh eyes. Does this PS2 classic hold up today?
The similarities to Resident Evil start right at the visuals, largely due to how the game uses pre-rendered backgrounds, with 3D models on top of it. It worked back on the PS2, and has been improved on its transition to current gen. The pre-rendered backgrounds look much sharper now due to the bump in resolution, and they’ve been rendered in a higher aspect ratio, meaning that they now move with the camera as opposed to being completely static. However, the 3D models look out of place in comparison, and while the high resolution helps the textures a lot, the actual modelling leaves a lot to be desired. For a very early PS2 game however, it certainly looks decent and is much better in this new version.
The story here is solid. Set during the Sengoku period, you play as Samanosuke Akechi, a samurai who must fight the deomic forces of Nobunaga Oda and save Princess Yuki from demons who plan to sacrifice her. While the main story is told through traditional cutscenes and is enjoyable, it’s elevated in the same way the original Resident Evil games elevated their stories. This is because there are plenty of journals and hidden notes scattered throughout the game that give plenty of details into the backstory of the game.
Due to its calibre as a former Resident Evil 4 idea, it shares a lot of the original game’s mechanics, in particular its fixed camera angles and emphasis on puzzles. I like both of these in Onimusha: Warlords. The fixed camera angles really help generate tension in a lot of areas, as you never know what demonic entity is lurking behind each corner. The emphasis on puzzles is also a plus here, largely because they are well done and very varied. There’s a scene early on in which players are given 4 puzzles back to back, each completely different to one another, they’re challenging but enjoyable at the same time.
Where Onimusha: Warlords differs from Resident Evil is in the combat. Whereas Resident Evil forced players to conserve the ammo of their massive firearm arsenal, Onimusha has way more focus on melee combat. As a samurai, you have a katana, and so the game plays way more like a hack n’slash. The combat is very well done though, largely because of the variety of demons you have to slaughter, whether they be standard enemies or bosses. There’s also a large amount of abilities at your disposal, as you get given a demon gauntlet that grants you access to numerous abilities and new weapons, each with elemental effects like lightning or fire. The variety makes combat very satisfying, and I never got tired of the execution animation off when you down an enemy no matter how many times I did it. These abilities can also be upgraded using the souls you absorb during combat.
The music here is well-done, matching the time period like a glove. There’s also some more contextual pieces which can help to build up tension during timed puzzle sequences and combat. Where the game falters though is in its voice acting. While the Japanese version got re-recorded voice lines, the English version got the shaft. The voice acting here is pretty terrible in terms of delivery, although it doesn’t reach Resident Evil levels. It takes away from the story somewhat.
Onimusha Warlords was loved back when it was first released, and it manages to still hold up today. The remaster’s improved texture work does wonders for the pre-rendered backgrounds, although the models haven’t aged very well. The gameplay has aged like fine wine however, taking Resident Evil’s puzzles and fixed camera angles and giving it a hack and slash fare with a ton of enemies to kill and a lot of cool elemental abilities to do it with. It’s quite a shame I missed this the first time around, but this remaster lets me enjoy it in all of its glory, including the terrible voice acting.