Onimusha Warlords review – PS2 survival horror gem still feels fresh almost two decades on
Released in 2001 within the first year of the PlayStation 2’s lifetime, it became an iconic experience on Sony’s hugely popular console.
And thanks to the remastered version out now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PCs, fans can rediscover what made the zombie samurai mash-up so special.
Onimusha went on to become the first PS2 game to sell over a million copies and was an early must-have title for the system.
It also arguably set Capcom on a course that they would follow for years to come.
At the time the Osaka-based developer was synonymous with the survival horror genre they crafted so well during the PlayStation One years.
From the three mainline entries in the Resident Evil series on the PS1 to the Dino Crisis games, fans knew what to expect from these terrifying titles.
These survival horror games were known for their slow, creeping dread that built and built to a crescendo with each terrifying enemy faced.
What made it all the more frightening was how your character moved, with those early survival horror experiences known for their tank controls.
Characters you controlled were cumbersome, having the turning cycle of a truck and only being able to aim straight ahead at three different heights.
These controls boxed you in, meaning there was a very exact science to pulling off that perfect headshot – or failing that running away fast.
Onimusha took all that and turned it in on its head.
Instead of slow, deliberate survival horror – the PS2 classic was all about fast-paced action.
Onimusha Warlords review – Onimusha was first released on the PS2 back in 2001
Samanosuke Akechi, the demon-fighting samurai that you step into the shoes of in Onimusha, has sprightly, silky smooth movements.
This helps players move swiftly around the hoardes of monstrous enemies they end up encountering during an outbreak in feudal Japan.
Combat is also sped up by Samanosuke not worrying about having to aim his katana at low, medium or high heights like in Resident Evil.
Players simply press one button to carry out a main slash attack, with multiple button presses leading to combos, and another for a magic attack.
Onimusha Warlords review – Onimusha was one of the first must-have PS2 games
Forgoing aiming to focus on button-bashing brawling was a genius move on Capcom’s part and helped streamline the combat.
A similar variation on this control system featured in Devil May Cry, also released by the Resi makers on the PS2 in 2001.
And even to this day when playing the remaster, the Onimusha controls don’t feel stale, flat or out of date.
Onimusha Warlords review – Onimusha is an action-packed survival horror game
The combat is easy to get to grips with, moves along at a fast pace and is a hell of a lot of fun (pun completely intended).
Besides RE-style puzzles and creepy diary entries, the only other throwback to the first wave of survival horror games that’s left is the fixed camera.
Like with the original Resident Evil, Onimusha has a set camera that varies the angle and point it focuses on for different areas throughout the game.
Onimusha Warlords review – Onimusha is set during feudal Japan and sees you battle demonic creatures
This may seem like an antiquated and frustrating feature, with it often leading to enemies you’re trying to fight being just out of view.
But, on the flipside, it can also help ratchet up the tension – having that unseen enemy which can spring an attack on you at any moment.
Overall though, Onimusha Warlords is a game which – considering it’s almost two decades old – has aged remarkably well.
Onimusha Warlords review – Onimusha brought a seismic change to survival horror
Admittedly, the remastered visuals which clean up the PS2 graphics for modern HD consoles won’t blow anyone away.
And the early 2000s CGI cutscenes aren’t particularly easy on the eyes, while some may not see the charm in the hammy, grindhouse-esque voice acting.
But where it shines most is how it plays.
Onimusha Warlords review – Onimusha was the first PS2 game to sell over a million copies
The Onimusha Warlords remaster is a fun, easy to pick up and play throwback to what the survival horror genre used to be.
And for videogame historians, it’s interesting looking at Onimusha and the impact it had on Capcom’s course in the following years.
Maybe the critical and commercial success of Onimusha played a part in Capcom shifting Resident Evil towards the action orientated approach of RE4?
An approach which they continued with Resident Evil 5 and 6, before going back to their survival horror roots with RE7 and now the RE2 Remake.
Onimusha Warlords is out now on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PCs
Either way, Onimusha has a significant place in gaming and Capcom’s history.
And if you’ve never played it then the Warlords remaster should have a place in your collection.