Gamestyle Score Intro: we’re now moving into the PS2 excel spreadsheet we have documenting many early reviews from the site. This one comes from July 2001 and Mike Bather
The udders of Capcom’s cash cow are once again lovingly squeezed and caressed bringing forth Onimusha Warlords, a game that was originally conceived for the PSone. Given that there is only a fifty-fifty chance of guessing the genre of this game wrong, for a second you could mistake Onimusha Warlords by name for a 2D beat ’em up. But hell no, it’s a 3rd person action adventure using pre-rendered backdrops and polygon made playable characters killing polygon enemies with polygon swords sprinkled gently on top.
In English, it’s a Resident Evil clone set in ancient Japan, complete with Samurai’s and a lot more brutal hand-to-hand combat, with a remarkably hefty production cost that no other Capcom game has ever met to date. The story is your basic and long putrefied ‘save the innocent virgin princess from the monsters’ type plot and the hero, Samanosuke Akechi (modelled on actor Takeshi Kaneshiro), is determined to save her from a horrid and gruesome death in what is to become the ‘dark ceremony’. The game’s plotline is set in the Feudal Japan era in the mid-1500’s, when the warlord Nobunaga Oda was almost in complete control of Japan and the amazing introductory FMV sequence shows him defeating Yoshimoto Imagawa’s army then taking an arrow in the neck as comeuppance. Nobunaga in his death makes a pact with the leader of the demons, Fortinbras, to complete his domination of Japan by defeating Yoshitatsu Saito and the games story then begins as Samanosuke, whilst trying to save the princess, gets whipped by a rather large red demon. Realising that he hasn’t got the power, the leader of the Clan of Ogres kits him out with a pretty ugly looking gauntlet that allows Samanosuke to devour the demon souls and wield a elementally equipped weapon.
Highly original plotline aside (shudder), it does manage to entertain, dragging you along to see what happens next. Plot progression is dealt with in FMV cut scenes that blend in and out of the action, most of the sequences using the in-game engine, but the ‘real’ FMV is excellently animated and graphically stunning except for the noticeable jerkiness, that may have appeared during the PAL conversion. The way the in game cut scene sequences blend into the action would be impressive but due to the limitations of the disk-based storage format (DVD), the screen pauses in a manner that could be off putting to some. Even though the large influences from the RE series are apparent Onimusha Warlords tends to be a great deal closer in game play to the second Dino Crisis game, relying on sword-slashing combo’s and magic instead of the usual gun usage.
Graphically it’s the most impressive of them all with excellent pre-rendered backdrops forming a good, atmospheric locale with some very impressive motion captured animation. Another point to mention is some of the excellent graphical touches that can be easily missed by the lesser eagle eyed players. The lighting effects from the various weapons’ special attacks are nothing less than excellent with convincing lighting reflecting off nearby walls and just wait until you see the fog swirling around in some of the later rooms. One easily missed graphical touch is the water effect in the West Area which is randomly generated and so realistic that I would actually urge people to play through the game just to witness this one effect, it is that remarkable. Slashing through the imaginative hoards of mindless demonic enemies is excellent fun and the motion captured animation looks spot on in battle, with Samanosuke and his female ninja companion Kaede (complete with a somersault-to-throat-slit attack) performing swift moves of attack and defence using the well set up, tried and tested ‘survival horror’ directional controls with the D-pad. Why there is no analogue control is beyond me, but it works well in practice and is immediately responsive. Here we have forward for forward, back for (now a swift skip) back complete with the requisite attack, special attack, defend and soul suck actions mapped to the square, triangle, L1 and circle buttons. In addition to these there is also the essential ‘draw weapon’ button that is applied to the R1 shoulder button that allows the character to strafe from side to side, and move swiftly forward and backward. There is even a floor attack where you can kill or seriously maim an enemy by stabbing them whilst they are on the floor. These elements alone set the combat in a totally different league from previous games in this genre and is the most pleasing and playable to date.
The difficulty level and length of the game (about 7 hours) are a slight disappointment in comparison with the previous survival horror games of past. Any of our readers that have played all of the RE and Dino Crisis games will no doubt be able to hack their way through fairly easily as there are enough herbs and medicine packs to last the duration. This, coupled with the ability to increase their potency with the energy gathered from fallen foes, makes the game a pretty rapid walk-through. Unless you’re daft enough to get stuck on any of the puzzles, which is something that I myself encountered. The puzzles, all being pretty simple and in a way familiar, range from quick and easy number puzzles through to the horrifically annoying water trap puzzle which maybe should have been introduced later on in the game. An easy challenge to most but getting stuck and having to re-start five minutes of cut-scene and three puzzles prior to the (timed) water trap drove this player to despair. Running through the game you’ll find books that offer translation’s of the background story and using these, you can backtrack and open boxes that contain items that increase your health and magic energy limit. Health, magic and experience points are gained through sucking the souls from defeated foes and there are three colours to represent each, Yellow for energy, purple for experience and blue for magic. The amounts you earn are dependent on the class of demon slain; for example lower classed enemies give away only a small amount of one or two differing kinds. The magic and health boost what amount you currently have, whilst the experience can be used to improve your weapon and elemental orb strength, up to a maximum level of 3.
Elemental orbs are the items gained at the end of the boss encounters and allow a different weapon to be used. Improving a weapon’s level also brings on a change of looks and they get more twisted and powerful as the game progresses. Increasing the power of your collected orbs is an integral part of the games progression as they open doors that are locked by a magic barrier, the barriers depicting up to three blobs that can only be opened if you have the matching orb level of the corresponding element. Onimusha Warlords includes an excellent musical score that excels the atmosphere tenfold. Haunting themes and traditionally styled Japanese music add to the overall atmosphere very well and with Capcom commissioning the New Japan Philharmonic orchestra to perform the soundtrack, you can’t go wrong at all. Complete with scenes such as Samanosuke’s rooftop boss encounter this is excellent stuff indeed.
The major downfall is within the English voice acting. Some voices are well performed, mainly Samanosuke and Kaede but some are bordering on the worst I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately the original Japanese voiceovers have been removed for the EU audience and to top the insult off, the lip-synch is none existent. As with all 3rd person adventure games with pre-rendered backdrops Onimusha Warlords is not without its underlying fault of camera angles which is apparent in every game. After playing Onimusha for quite a while I felt a growing despair at not being able to actually see Samanosuke when in some tricky situations with multiple enemies. This more often than not led to energy wasted and much frustration and getting hit by arrows coming from off-screen demon archers just may push you too far towards an anger zone.
Another major downside is the apparent lack of effort to produce a decent PAL conversion with the game running in line with any SquareSoft PAL release. 2-3 inches of black borders just isn’t acceptable in the year 2001 and is highly disappointing. Capcom, we slap your wrists! After spending month after month of playing quality NTSC Dreamcast conversions that offer a 60hz option, Gamestyle are dumbfounded that so far there has been almost zero effort to recreate this for the PS2 market.
Overall Onimusha Warlords is an excellent and very enjoyable game but the score given is reflective of the game’s un-originality status, apparent in the scoring of GT3. It is ultimately a very well produced and highly playable game and the best example of the genre we have seen so far, but when playing the feeling of having ‘been there, done that’ is severe, even with the graphical and combat differences. As basically a PSone title improved graphically it shows just how much Capcom have perfected this genre of game over the last few years in the playability, graphical and musical aspects. Unoriginality of game style and an unforgivable PAL conversion are what ultimately hold Onimusha Warlords’ overall score down.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10