Back in 2001, Onimusha: Warlords was one of my favourite PS2 games. Blending samurai action with the horror styling Capcom is now famous for, Onimusha was a short but successful adventure that was popular enough to spawn a couple of sequels.
Modern gamers might not have heard of the franchise before, lost in the shadow of bigger horror hits like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. But now remastered for all platforms (including the Switch for you portable lovers!) and at half the price of a fully-fledged retail release, it’s a great opportunity to see if the game has the legs to potentially lead to other remasters – or even better, a modern sequel or complete remake.
As far as remasters go, this one is pretty basic. A visual upgrade helps refine the character models a bit and the game is therefore a lot less blurry, but the static pre-rendered backgrounds that defined this era remain the same. Fixed camera angles in each room also make combat slightly frustrating at times and serves as a reminder as to why this style has been done away with. It’s retro, sure, but it’s not as elegant as it used to be. There’s a bit of a stiffness to the animation too that has been left untouched.
The story and gameplay itself in this re-release has been left as is, but it does run smoother than I remember, with frame-rate remaining consistent. Onimusha’s combat is simple hack ‘n’ slash style, with basic enemy targeting. It’s easy to get overrun if you’re not paying attention, but essentially it feels snappy and precise, with the ability to suck up souls after each kill to add to your magic, health and upgrades. Onimusha: Warlords actually has a simplicity to it that I appreciate today, compared with some games that get bogged down in trying to do too many systems at the same time.
It’s a short adventure, but it is fun throughout without much downtime. Some backtracking to side quests or hidden areas may be required, but otherwise it’s a charming reminder of what made the series so popular when it first released. Less charming are the unskippable cut-scenes (which must be rewatched if you die during a boss battle) and the classic save system of having to find a magic mirror to checkpoint your progress.
Slashing through demons and solving puzzles (that normally revolve around finding the right item to unlock a new area) is essentially what Onimusha: Warlords boils down to, with the need to grind and upgrade your weapons as you progress.
As a fan, I’m thrilled to play it again – but as a critic, I worry that newcomers to Onimusha will be disappointed that more wasn’t done with this remaster to modernize the gameplay or truly enhance the muddy visuals. It’s still a solid game, but almost twenty years after it first took my breath away, what this has made me really crave is a complete reboot, much like Capcom are doing with Resident Evil 2.
Still, I’m glad I got to play Onimusha: Warlords on my Switch – it works well as a portable distraction and a throwback to an era where horror was truly trending, much like it is again today. Y’all should buy it so they can justify making a brand new one.