Nostalgia is a powerful force, and remembering things through time and rose-tinted glasses can often mar one’s opinions, and that is the conundrum while reviewing Capcom’s Onimusha: Warlords.
This remaster of the 2001 game brings back all the good memories of adventuring with Samanosuke Akechi (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and the female ninja, Kaede, as well as a definitive reminder of how far games have come.
Much like the Resident Evil series, Onimusha: Warlords echoes survival horror with a smattering of action thrown in. Set in feudal Japan, you will come face to face with monsters and demons, straight out of the rich mythology of the land of the rising sun, and historical figures like Nobunaga Oda.
The 2019 remaster brings updated graphics, adding an HD sheen to the textures of the game. But when held against the old, pre-rendered backgrounds, the disparity in visual quality can often be distracting to a point that the original polygons look more defined. Maybe it is just not such a good idea to only update the models, without spiffing up the rest of the game.
Animations during cutscenes are also not up to snuff, and well below the level expected of a remaster. And if you are experiencing this classic for the first time, do consider switching to the Japanese voice-acting, as it is far superior to its English counterpart.
Even without the upgrades, the quirks of a bygone era are evident, and none more annoying than the unskippable cutscenes and the fixed camera angles. Onimusha: Warlords is by no means a long game, as you can finish it in less than 4 hours but the constant wait is a pain.
And with no checkpoints or autosaves, any death can knock back your progress to your last save, and that includes not just backtracking through the level, but also through some long exposition and conversations. The pain of losing boss fights is often compounded by having to sit through a bunch of unskippable dialogue once more.
The frustration starts to mount further when the silky smooth combat is interrupted by a sudden change in perspective with fixed cameras. Onimusha: Warlords has a certain cadence to it, and swift movements can often be a bane rather than a boon, putting you in harm’s way with little respite.
The addition of analogue controls might be a necessity in 2019, but players might be better off using the D-pad instead to enjoy the satisfying combat.
While you can certainly get by with hacking and slashing, the variety of moves and magic certainly adds more spice to Onimusha: Warlords.
Magical attacks are still visually pleasing and powerful, and knowing when to dodge, block, and execute Issen (a perfect instant death counter) adds layers of strategy that is there to be mastered or simply ignored. A full Issen run is still a marvel to behold, even in 2019.
Enemy design is a mixture of demonic influences and being historically accurate, and it is a blast to learn how to combat each type effectively and be safe from death. No doubt, the boss fights will test you the most, and aside from the aforementioned cutscenes, some of the most enjoyable moments of the remaster.
Destroying your enemies will grant souls to be absorbed, and this feeds into the upgrading system. It is a straightforward system, the more upgrades you have, the more powerful your magic/weapon. Health and magic can also be restored with certain coloured souls.
While Onimusha: Warlords takes place in an old keep and its surroundings, the story will bring players to explore different areas and environments. There is plenty of exploration and discovery, with hidden secrets and puzzles to solve. It is not quite a Metroidvania, but it complements the moments of combat quite perfectly.
The plot can appear to be paper thin, with the lore and story being expanded more upon in the sequels, but the premise of a hero saving the world from destruction is still good enough to propel you forward.
Onimusha: Warlords was and still is an enjoyable experience in 2019, as much of it stems from the still impressive combat system and a healthy dose of nostalgia. However, the faults of this remaster can be too egregious for modern gamers, and easily remedied if more love was put into this remaster.
As a big fan of the series, the hope is to see full remasters of the entire series come to modern consoles, and with Onimusha: Warlords, it might just be too tentative a step to make that happen.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Onimusha: Warlords comes to 2019 exactly how it was in 2001, and that might not be your cup of tea.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 5/10
Presentation - 7/10
Value - 7/10