A hidden gem from Capcom's archives, a blast from the past - these are two clichés that can be used to describe Onimusha's return, this time to current-gen platforms and PC. Sure, it's not back in the same way as Resident Evil 2 is, but a return it has most definitely made.
For those who missed it the first time around, Onimusha came from the imagination of Yoshiki Okamoto, who wanted to create a ninja version of Resident Evil set in the Sengoku period of Feudal Japan. If that doesn't sound epic enough, the story follows Samanosuke, a samurai on a quest to rescue a princess from demons in a castle. Alongside him is a female ninja, Kaede.
The character you will spend the most time with is our fearless samurai, but you do also have some playtime with Kaede too. Other than multiple playable characters, there are a fair few other things it borrows from the early Resident Evil games. These include puzzle solving, (such as finding medallions to open doors), a mansion-like Japanese castle filled with traps and a laboratory, pre-rendered backgrounds, a fixed camera, and green herbs... you know the ones.
Our hero is a skilled swordsman who must fight his way through the castle, slaying monsters and collecting demon's souls. The combat system isn't your typical hack and slash of the era, but rather a more thoughtful experience; you must combine blocking, countering, attacking, and readying your weapon to make the most of your samurai's skills.
Games like Dark Souls might owe a little something to the combat system seen here, but later on you find a bow and arrow and even a gun that is pretty similar to a shotgun, which is ace for slaughtering some of the bosses.
There are several boss fights to take on, leading to an ultimate showdown with Fortinbras - a snake-like creature that is the king of the demons. Once demons have been slain, they release their souls which need to be absorbed, which can then be used to upgrade the three main magical swords and three different orbs which - as they get more powerful - can be used to open various doors around the castle.
There's quite a bit of backtracking, opening new doors in previously visited areas, yet the game doesn't get stale, as most of the time new monsters pop up for you to kill. The first time around, we clocked this in around three hours and fifty minutes, but there is a trophy for finishing in under three. This may seem a little short for some, but it felt about the right length to us.
Sadly, you can't choose which player to start with, and you're locked into taking control of Samanosuke, meaning Warlords doesn't contain the 'zapping' system in RE2. In RE2 this meant players could change characters and replay the story differently, for example, taking the first playthrough with Leon, the second with Claire, or vice versa. The second playthrough with the other character would then be directly affected by your actions in the first run, and this included weapon pick-ups, NPC interactions, and a fight with a huge bloody alligator.
However, there is quite a bit of replay value as there are a few difficulties to hit and lots of things to find such as files and puzzle boxes. There are also new costumes to unlock - who wouldn't want to kill monsters dressed as a giant panda? You can open up a new mini-game if you collect all of a certain item too, which is pretty fun.
So this a remaster and not a remake, which means it's fundamentally the same game a bit tarted up (complete with an easy mode unlocked from the start). These changes mean it's some of the most fun we've had in a long time, and it's still great fun shooting and hacking your way through Feudal Japan, slaughtering monsters that look like they're straight out of Japanese folklore.
The graphics look much smoother and the textures have been worked on to make them look crisper. The cutscenes, main game, and backgrounds have all been updated as well, and full widescreen compatibility has been added, meaning it doesn't suffer from 'a screen in a border format' that we saw recently with the latest Castlevania re-release.
Don't get us wrong, the graphics aren't out of this world and don't look like a modern console game, but they don't detract from the experience. This is a game which is carried by its plot, soundtrack, and gameplay. Speaking of which, the soundtrack is fitting, with a typically traditional feel. The voice acting is a little hammy at times but feels in keeping, and we really enjoyed it. The sound effects of the sword, while a little arcadey, feel really satisfying when you lay waste to a demon. It all complements the experience and works really well.
Being a fixed camera, you do occasionally get turned around and lost on the screen (the spiral ramp at the end was particularly tricky to negotiate). You might think this is a downer, but surprisingly no. It added a strange sensation of nostalgia, reminding us of some of the finest games of arguably one of the most creative periods in the history of PlayStation.
So, what does this mean for the future? While it hasn't got the snazzy overhaul we've seen in the remake of arguably the best game of Capcom's flagship Resident Evil franchise, could it be testing the water? We certainly hope that this leads onto more remasters, preferably remakes, or even brand-new entries. Imagine a new Onimusha, Nemesis running after you, or even a new Dino Crisis looking as good as the upcoming Resident Evil 2. This month may lay the path for more of that.
To summarise, if you loved the first three Resident Evil games or the Onimusha series, Warlords is one you should definitely pick up. The story, the crisper look, and the gameplay will fill you full of nostalgia. For anyone not accustomed to the game but interested in the theme, you should also have a look at it, as it still looks quite good, sounds great, and Onimusha: Warlords has some really fun gameplay mechanics. It harks back to a golden era, but it shows that great games age well.