Perhaps coming somewhere near the top of lists that could be titled ‘Defining series of the PS2 era’ as much as ‘Forgotten games of the PS2 era’ Onimusha Warlords, the first game in a series of 6 (3 main games, 2 spin offs and a genre swapping 4th game) Was one of the big early releases of the PS2 and has recently been given the remastered treatment on the PS4. Which I honestly thought woudl never happen.
Onimusha perhaps on a first impression felt like a feudal Japan version of Resident Evil; making extensive use of pre-rendered backgrounds, tank controls and horror elements, while carving out it’s own identity through never really committing to the horror aspect with a level of control much higher and melee combat with magical weapons being the primary method of combat complemented by bows and guns and the ability to instantly kill with good timing, strafe around enemies and dodge.
As I say this was a game I didn’t expect to get any sort of re-release, even as a PS2 classic port on PSN (akin to various Star Wars games and the Jak and Daxter series) In part because the sales of the games became progressively less as each entry was released as well as various legal factors in regards to the main playable characters; in the case of Onimusha protagonist Samanosuke Akechi uses the likeness and performance of Japanese Actor Takeshi Kaneshiro. (Each of the main 3 games would use a real life actor, with French actor Jean Reno being the only actor outside of Japan to take on an Onimusha role.)
Onimusha as a whole remains grounded in history, featuring real people from history and blending in original characters and obviously the armies of demons which make the bulk of the threat throughout the game. Oda Nobunaga being the most notable; book ending the game he never actually plays any important role. Outside of the main protagonist (who is the brother to real life historic figure Mitsuhide Akechi) and hiss also playable side kick Kunoichi Kaide the only humans of note of are the two you rescue who are set for demon sacrifice and Hideyoshi Toyotomi who becomes a bigger threat in later games.
The core gameplay of Onimusha is fairly simple in execution, outside of the resident evil tank controls you’ll (once you’ve grown your armoury) have access to 3 main melee weapons and 2 ranged, each with they own play style and focus. The electric katana focuses on quick and low powered attacks on singular enemies, the fire claymore is slow with a wide range but smaller combo and the wind based dual bladed staff focuses on smaller multi hit combos for crowd control.
This is all supplemented by the Oni Gauntlet (Ogre Gauntlet in game.. because the translation from the original Japanese is all over the place and has not been fixed, later titles did fix this issue) Defeated enemies release souls that you have to suck into the gauntlet, which for bosses and big groups of enemies can be a bit risk, reward as they won’t hang around to be sucked in forever. Your souls can be spent against powering up the power of your swords, their magic power for special attacks and gaining entrance to areas of the castle grounds as your progress and upgrading herbs, arrows and bullets. As well as souls you can suck in that restore your health and magic power.
Onimusha is in reality quite a short experience, something that is rectified by the following games, but when it comes to this game outside of progression you have the don’t have much else to do side quest wise. Through the game you can try and find 20 fluorite objects, which are hidden until you find a late game item, there’s a 20 floor combat wave based dungeon to get the item to unlock a powerful weapon for the games final boss and a few puzzle boxes which either test your skill or you’ll books to translate from various books found throughout the world.
Its notable that this remaster does not feature content from the original Xbox port Genma Onimusha, that added extra items, enemies and dungeons. It was graphically superior but much harder an experience overall. though on the more positive side the game added analog controls to counter the tank controls, much like recent Resident Evil remastered games have done (though also Onimusha 3 did as well, so there’s a precedent here) which breaks the game in terms of difficulty, as dodging and out maneuvering enemies is a lot easier by far.
The Onimusha games have one other game play addition that puts them very much in a league of their own and that’s the Issen strike. Its a high damage attack, normally an instant kill for any regular enemy that can be triggered in a few different ways, but require precise timing. You can block at the right time and counter, dodge at the last second and counter or simple attack the instant before your going to be hit. Not every enemy is susceptible to every way of triggering the strike and the timing is the most unforgivable in the first game.
Ultimately Onimusha is a short game, it sets up a lot and doesn’t actually pay off anything, all major enemy characters escape, the last minute final boss is out of nowhere and killed in one encounter and your 2 player character are relegated to text slides saying that one died later on following the events of the game and Samanoski is just missing. Even the events of the game in rescuing everyone from the demons are downplayed as the castle and Saito clan family are all overthrown and killed off as per real life history.
It sets the stage for much bigger things to come in future games, so now I hope for a remaster of the other 3 games in the main series. Nothing has been announced yet, but all we can do is hope Camcon find the idea profitable.