It seems like every month there’s a slew of HD remasters being used to remind players of days gone by while boosting the bottom line of the companies behind them. These nostalgic cash cows cost little to reproduce – often just utilising a fresh lick of paint instead going down the full remake route (a la Resident Evil 2) – but can give publishers an indication of just how much demand there is for a new entry in a previously loved franchise. Or, it can be a simple cash grab, and given it’s not Capcom’s first remaster rodeo it’s hard to pinpoint the underlying reason for the HD remaster of their loved samurai game Onimusha: Warlords.
Back to where it all began
Fans have been begging Capcom for a new Onimusha for a long time (myself included), in which case I hope it’s the former and this remaster is Capcom flirting with fans regarding their future plans for the series. Whatever Capcom decides to do is moot right now, but either way it’s damn good to have the opportunity to play this hack ‘n’ slash classic on the current generation of consoles.
It’s been almost eighteen years since Onimusha: Warlords first graced the PlayStation 2 and became a fan favourite, and for those who haven’t played Onimusha: Warlords (you’re missing out big time), here’s a quick primer on what the game is all about. You play as Samanosuke, a famous samurai warrior in feudal Japan accompanied by his sidekick Kaede, tasked with rescuing Princess Yuki and co. after Lord Nobunaga Oda makes a pact with demons for world domination.
When the game was announced in August last year, Capcom promised a whole new visual experience including a widescreen display. Capcom has stayed true to their word as cinematics and textures have been given a nice buffing and are easy on the eye, especially the pre-rendered backgrounds such as water areas, shrubbery and the sky. Character models, while looking dated have been cleaned up to a satisfactory level. One noticeable change is the game’s soundtrack, which has been reworked due to legal issues surrounding the original compositions. It’s not a deal breaker, but it lacks the punch of the original score.
One game design vestige that remains here is the fixed camera, and while initially (read: first few minutes) I longed for the over-the-shoulder view, it wasn’t long until I settled back into the fixed camera groove.
Dancing under the moonlight
The swordplay is as fun as you remember it – even if it does feel slightly repetitive. Flicking between your three swords (okay one technically isn’t a sword) and two ranged weapons on the fly does alleviate this tedium somewhat, but it’s still extremely satisfying to slay a horde of demons then suck up their souls in celebration. Naturally, the famed puzzles are here in all their glory and I am not ashamed to admit that it took me a few attempts to finish that wretched water puzzle. It’s a testament to the game that its gameplay still holds up today.
One thing that has become prevalent since remasters became a common occurrence is just how spoiled we are now in regards to storytelling and production. Capcom games of yore have always been renowned for their B-grade plots and voice-acting, and it’s not until you take this trip down memory lane that you realise just how cringeworthy some of the dialogue and voice-acting is (plus how bad the lip-syncing is). That’s not to say that it’s bad because it’s truly a relic of its time, but it emphasises how much the AAA game industry has matured and just how much the production budgets have exploded since Samanosuke debuted almost eighteen years ago.
Playing back through this classic (and other older games) also highlighted how short and compact games were back in the day (or maybe just how bad I was at games as kid). Clocking in at a little over four and a half hours, my first jaunt back through feudal Japan could’ve easily been much shorter if I decided not to farm souls and tackle the Dark Realm a couple of times. However, like a number of Capcom games (Resident Evil, Devil May Cry) there is a bit of replayability to be had if you’re wanting to shoot for the stars and achieve that illustrious S rank (I finished with an A rank like a scrub), as well as hunt down all the trophies that come with the post-PS2 era.
Onimusha: Warlords is a staple of Capcom’s back catalogue and it’s almost criminal that the Japanese company hasn’t given us a new entry since 2006 (Onimusha Souls in 2012 doesn’t count), I just hope that this is a sign of things to come. A remaster’s value is often (for me) decided by how much you love a title, and for $29.95 AUD old fans will more than revel in the chance to relive some of Capcom’s noughties magic, but it may also give new fans a chance to practice for Sekiro: Shadow’s Die Twice.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher