Onimusha: Warlords – Demons fear the Samurai

Onimusha: Warlords is an action-adventure/survival horror set in feudal Japan, which here, unlike real history is infested with demons and the mindless undead. It was made and released by Capcom back in 2001 for the Playstation 2. I do own the game on that system, but I decided to play it on the computer emulated with PCSX2. I had no trouble at all running it, the only setting I had changed was renderer to software. I played the game with a Playstation 4 controller plugged into the computer, which as usual matched all the in-game prompts and tutorials. In true survival horror fashion, the game has wonderful pre-rendered backgrounds with characters and monsters in 3D. Onimusha also controls like the olden days with tank controls, the sticks on the controller are unused – only the D-pad is used for movement. So, is it any good, and does it work as a survival horror in the veins of Resident Evil?

My answer to that is a resounding yes, however, the game is much more action orientated than the first three Resident Evil games, even if dodging enemies is a valid tactic. The reason for this is the upgrade system, which is a required thing to do to be able to progress in the game. But more about that later!

You play as the sword master Samanosuke during the feudal years in Japan. One day you receive a letter from your cousin princess Yuki, urging you to come and assist at her keep because something sinister is happening there. Servants are disappearing, and she fears monsters are kidnapping them for a nice snack, or well, she doesn’t actually say that, but it’s implied. Regardless, bad stuff is happening and you are needed there, so off you go to save the princess, but as things often turn out in video games, things are not so easy. Yuki has been kidnapped, and the keep is overrun with demons and the undead. The castle guards are putting up a fight, but it’s clear they are fighting a losing battle. And here you take over. Your task in this survival horror game is to defeat the demons, save your cousin, and come to understand what is going on here – where do these demons come from and why?

The slippery bridge claimed lots of victims

The keep in Omnimusha is basically the police station from Resident Evil 2, and those of you that have played that game will understand what I mean. Everything in this title revolves around the keep, it isn’t overly huge, but it’s very detailed and like the police station things get more and more recognizable since you will be doing backtracking all over for secrets and story progress. The exploration feels great, and everything is seemingly connected realistically. There are of course “safe rooms” in the traditional manner where you save, and the castle also has plenty of secrets to discover too. I think, thanks to this single location, it feels very homely, even if there are demons around most corners. I find the gameplay loop of discovering a locked door, finding the key, then remembering that place in the back of my head and backtrack to find a hidden treasure, or just be able to continue the amusing story a real joy.

The story is pretty fun, even if it’s not very deep – neither narrative-wise nor the characters. You, the hero, are there to save someone, and not much else is needed in this case – it’s mostly the case of atmosphere combined with the gameplay that makes it good and entertaining. It truly feels like a location under siege by demons, and there is also a bit of mystery since you will be reading diaries from survivors – there are even a few books written by the demons to take part in. They don’t like us much since they consider us humans not much more than vermin – so that’s a fun read.

Kaede is a good-looking ninja

Now if we go by location and atmosphere this sure feels like a survival horror, but what about the gameplay? Well, compared to Resident Evil, it is very similar, at least going by a first impression. However, this game is much more action orientated. As mentioned, dodging enemies like in the RE-games is a valid thing, especially when running through areas you have already been to, but there is no real need out from a gameplay perspective. With that, I mean; saving ammo. Your sword got infinite slashes, if I may put it that way, and another thing that forces you to kill, instead of becoming a master evader is that you need to collect souls from dead demons to upgrade your weapons. The reason for this, beyond making your weapons better is that certain doors require it. Every weapon of the three you get can be upgraded three times – the elemental attack that is, not the actual weapon (which can also get upgraded). And sometimes doors will have this as a requirement to get through, for example, if a door has two thunder symbols, then you need to have your special attack of the thunder sword upgraded twice. This means that combat is unavoidable, and might require some grinding depending on how you play if you want to finish the game. I didn’t mind this, since I like to kill stuff, both in this and Resident Evil, but I do recognize that this lowers the freedom somewhat, which is always a shame.

Other than that, the general gameplay is great. You control Samanosuke using the d-pad, which translates to tank controls, however, I must say this is probably the best action-orientated tank control I have ever experienced. Your character will auto-target efficiently, can block from almost all directions, and can even side-step and dodge holding the R1 trigger (on the PS4 controller). There are a lot of cool mechanics in play here for avoidance, and having a good time fighting bad guys. You can kick down enemies, riposte by attacking at the same time as an enemy, block their attacks, dodge the attacks, power strike them, or just slash them with some kind of auto combo that is satisfying to pull off. If that wasn’t enough, you will find several other weapons, a claymore type of sword, and a staff blade, all with their own moves and properties. There are also ranged weapons in form of bow and matchlock rifle. Then you got a magic mana-draining attack with each of the melee weapons that all have different effects. The claymore will set enemies on fire for example if used. Every time you kill a demon they drop “souls”, which you can adsorb, but it’s not an automatic process, so it can get a bit tricky at times during battle – leaving you open for attacks, and if you don’t suck up those orbs they are lost forever. The souls come in three flavors, red, which is for upgrading weapons, blue, which gives you mana back, and yellow, which is health, which will be, as I call them “clutch orbs”. They will save your hide many times, but usually, it’s a risky undertaking to suck them up dodging enemy attacks while on low health.

Well, this is awkward

There are also puzzles, and these puzzles are not on the easy side. In the majority of the game, you will have all the time in the world to solve them, but there is one notorious puzzle that is timed, and it’s placed in an incredibly awkward location, as in being in the middle of an escape – a fair bit from the nearest save. If you screw up, you will have to redo the whole escape session, and it’s a brutal experience. I have a feeling many a soul has been filtered here from completing the game. When I finally made it through, it was such a relief, much more than any boss fight…

Speaking of boss fights, yes, Onimusha got them too. However, they are not too bad in this, I found them for the most part fun. So you don’t have to worry here if you like me dread the eventual boss encounter. This isn’t Dark Souls, or something similar, and thank the Lord for that.

Would you use the EVIL PLATE?

The visuals are good. In classic survival horror manner, they are pre-rendered, but on the low scale resolution-wise, they look great, and are filled with nice detail, like dying soldiers or just cool environmental stuff. Being a fan of Japanese medieval culture and aesthetics, this game sure provides. There is a real joy and wonder to exploring the keep, and the contrasting demonic stuff makes for an interesting visual display – and the best part of this is that it lasts the game throughout. There are a lot of different rooms, and outdoor areas to look at and soak up the atmosphere. The music helps with this too, it’s a combination of Japanese traditional music with heroic game tunes and some slight horror. I thought it worked well, even if it wasn’t that memorable, but it helped set the mood for the game, especially the war drums and the Japanese flute. The voice acting I wouldn’t say is the greatest, but it’s not bad either. It’s a step up from Resident Evil 1, the original release, even if I find the voice acting there very charming.

Do I recommend the game? Yes, of course. It’s as easy as pie to play too, with almost no fiddling with the settings or anything, if you are going to play it on an emulator as I did. Onimusha can be found on Vimm’s Lair, however, if you are expecting a true survival horror in the sense of resource management, well, beyond health potions, you will probably be disappointed. But I think it’s near enough to rank as one, so if you are in the mood, and haven’t played this one yet – go and grab it immediately. I should mention two more things – this game is not very long, just a few hours, and I think you can complete it very fast if you know what to do. Another thing is that this is the first game of a franchise, and to my knowledge, there exist three more games after this one, but each following game drops the survival horror influences more and more. One day, I might review them too!

Thanks for reading & Merry Christmas!


PS. It should be noted that after playing the game and writing the review, I discovered that there is an enchanted edition of the game out on Steam. I have no idea how that version performs, but the initial reviews on Steam looks good.

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