Too many games go unnoticed, solid titles missed or forgotten. So, my goal is to pique some interest and let readers know what is worth going back to revisit or possibly even add to the collection.
Once upon a time, someone decided that the Resident Evil series lacked mysticism and ninja protagonists. So it came to pass that the engine was updated; elements were tweaked to fit the setting and lore, and the puzzles, backtracking, and bad camera angles remained exactly the same, allowing returning players to feel right at home as Capcom set out on its new franchise, Onimusha.
Set in the Sengoku period of Japanese history, the game takes a lot of liberties with a few historical characters and settings, as well as adding in ninja heroes Samanosuke and Kaede. The two battle demons while journeying farther down into a labyrinth that will spell certain death, risking their lives to save Princess Yuki and a young boy from being sacrificed to make the evil Nobunaga stronger. The hook for this hack and slash action-adventure is catchy, and the opening cutscene starts off with someone getting shot in the throat. It may be impossible to be friends with anyone who can’t get behind that.
Onimusha: Warlords was in development for the original PlayStation, but was scrapped halfway through and finally arrived on the PlayStation 2 in 2001. The controls are similar to the first three Resident Evil titles–often referred to as “tank controls”–which is one of the biggest complaints about the game. Personally though, I have played so many games like this that I have no issue using the d-pad to direct the character forward and fight, but those camera angles will have many of you slashing blindly around corners for fear of getting surprise-attacked.
The combat system will seem easy at first, but those of you who cannot master blocking and sidestepping will find yourselves relying too heavily on healing items. Enemy priority and knowing when to take time to absorb souls becomes a necessary strategy in long combat and boss battles, but I think the game’s difficulty is a bit exaggerated. Many people will say that the last boss is too tough without the special weapon from the Dark Realm, but I beat him on my second try. Multiple save files and a little practice will keep players from pulling their hair out. Fear not though, as enough consecutive deaths will unlock an easier mode. There is a system for leveling weapons and orbs–which are needed to open doors and progress–but there isn’t much to it and this makes the game feel a bit grindy at times.
“Replaying Onimusha: Warlords did make me a little sad again”
The puzzles are well-designed but can be a bit tough at first, especially since a few of them will end with instant character deaths upon failure and do not hold any hands. I would rather have that than them being too easy or simple run-around-and-collect-to-solve time wasters. What makes these types of puzzles and some of the tougher enemies dangerous are the lack of save spots. The game caught me slipping on a soul grind and my mouth dropped open when I realized it had been two hours since my last save, so an unexpected death meant that I was I had to repeat all of those rooms again if I wanted my souls back—sigh.
Visually, Onimusha still holds up quite well. I mentioned the amazing cutscenes earlier–just don’t listen to the voice acting too closely–and how they pull you in with the story elements, but I still found myself intrigued and in awe of the cinematography and direction. The establishing shot with the clear sky and clouds made the scene feel open and the enemies having streaks following their glowing eyes just caught my attention and made me want to see more. Playing it last week left me glued to the television just as closely as I was years ago when I first picked up the game, because this title nails its presentation. These scenes are unskippable however, and that is a sin as far as I’m concerned.
The enemies all look menacing and stand out the right amounts in their environments with sleek cool designs and varying attacks. Certain foes caused me to take pause and be a lot more careful with my strategy, because not only did they look threatening, but were able to kill Samanosuke in a few well-placed hits. Bosses feel unique in design, even though one is a straight up rip off of/homage to the Shadow Link fight from The Legend of Zelda, but they are easily dealt with as the mechanics stay the same and the player simply must learn what attacks to avoid at all costs and when to strike. Each one feels menacing at first though and their designs are excellent.
The castle and underground caverns are interesting and encourage exploration, so much that going back through them again or as another character still feels new for a while. The whole atmosphere has that corrupted beauty aspect that sells the story with the exquisite pre-rendered backgrounds and art direction. The use of color and attention to detail pull the player in and make this game still worth going through, even with newer prettier horror games.
Replaying Onimusha: Warlords did make me a little sad again, remembering that fans never received the movie adaptation that was promised and appeared to be imminent, and now the franchise looks to be a bit stale, but I have hope for a revival. That does not mean that those who have never played the title shouldn’t go back and give this one a shot. It may seem a bit difficult or hard to fall into at first, but the experience is worth it. The game is easily found in stores and online for the $10 to $20 price range complete in box, but I’ve seen it for much cheaper. Patience is a virtue for game hunting after all.
For those returning to the game for a second playthrough, there is the original Xbox port of Genma Onimusha, which is exclusive to that system. That version of the game not only updates the visuals, but adds an extra boss and several elements to help the player as well as break up some of the monotony in the grinding. Either one of these versions would be good for some light survival horror, especially since Halloween is coming up and would certainly add a solid title to anyone’s collection.