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Game review: ‘Onimusha: Warlords’, a blast from the past

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, April 9, 2019  /  03:01 pm
Game review: ‘Onimusha: Warlords’, a blast from the past

Man on a mission: The game takes place during Japan's Sengoku period and the title follows samurai Samanosuke Akechi. (Courtesy of Capcom/-)

Originally published in 2001, Onimusha: Warlords was essentially a samurai version of the game publisher Capcom's increasingly popular Resident Evil series.

And like that game, Onimusha was an enormous hit, becoming the first PlayStation 2 game to reach 1 million copies in sales and resulting in a few sequels.

Still, a newly published remaster of the game was not only unexpected but a risky move. Nostalgia comes with a lot of sentimentalities attached and Sony might have done best in keeping the game's positive legacy intact, letting the memories of older gamers who experienced Onimusha carry those memories forever.

It might be unfair to judge a game released 18 years ago by today's standards, but enjoyment-wise, it is impossible not to.

For what Onimusha is today, it is a game that feels outdated, with mechanics that comparatively feel clumsy and awkward and an overall gameplay that has since been expanded in significant ways.

With the remaster practically releasing the game as-it-was, there is little chance for it to attract new fans but a lot of possibility of it making younger gamers go: “That was it? That was the legendary game?”

Aside from this down-the-memory-lane approach, it's hard to imagine anyone really getting into the gameplay on its own.

Set during Japan's Sengoku period, the game follows Samanosuke Akechi, a samurai sent on a task by a cousin/princess to visit Inabayama Castle, which has been experiencing unexplained occurrences, including the mysterious disappearance of its inhabitants.

Close encounter: The game’s mood and setting are also fittingly horror-filled, with a lot of roaming around the castle whilst going toe-to-toe with various demons.Close encounter: The game’s mood and setting are also fittingly horror-filled, with a lot of roaming around the castle whilst going toe-to-toe with various demons. (Courtesy of Capcom/-)

There, he runs into supernatural creatures he must fight and relatively simple puzzles he must solve. All the while, news is heard that the princess has been kidnapped. It's a simple story on par with a lot of similar horror-action games of the era (most, if not all, basically stemming from Resident Evil's influence) but does well in taking players through a few twists and turns.

With only four hours gaming time, don't go in expecting any depth in the story, though.

Anyone who has played the Resident Evil games, particularly the early entries, will immediately grasp the mechanics and tone of Onimusha; it's practically the former with a different skin. There's a lot of interaction with items that are spread around the environment, which was pretty rare in games of the era and certainly added to their immersive quality.

The overall mood and setting of Onimusha are also fittingly horror-filled, with a lot of roaming around the castle whilst going toe-to-toe with various demons, all the while trying to solve puzzles and navigating around areas that require a little more care. The game's soundtrack provides a well-enough atmosphere to give it that feudal Japan sense of nuance.

Blast from the past: The game’s simple story is on par with many similar horror-action games of the era.Blast from the past: The game’s simple story is on par with many similar horror-action games of the era. (Courtesy of Capcom/-)

Getting through the game feels relatively clumsier than what modern players may be used to, and the lack of an auto-save system (which we now take for granted) doesn't help the frustration when experiencing instant death.

The combat is something that has dated well, with enemy battles feeling just-right, not too difficult nor easy, and with an arsenal of weaponry and attacks that offer a good amount of variety.

The fixed-camera angle feels like something that could have been redeveloped as it does often make navigating – and battles – feel challenging, even it is understandably part of the “lore”, so to speak.

Still, it's hard not to feel the game's age when enemies that you're trying to kill somehow disappear to an unseen part of the screen. This extends to the control, which orientates depending on where the camera is angling at. You could be triggering the control in a direction to move forward in one scene, to suddenly be moving backward as the camera changes perspective.

The game's graphics are as they were, meaning the “remastered” part of them isn't obvious at all. This is good for that sense of authenticity but will make some question whether they might as well play the old disc on their PS2.

Onimusha: Warlords is easier to respect than it is to enjoy. It's an unfair judgment, but playing the game today only serves to remind us of how far the game – and PlayStation – has grown.

There's no doubting its prowess at the time of its release (I played it then and especially considering the lack of Samurai-themed games back then, it was indeed something that felt fresh), but there's little incentive to go through the game now.

Players with a bigger budget might do well in collecting it just for old time sake with a run-through or two. But everyone else might be better off buying a similarly priced game from an indie developer. (ste)

 

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