Onimusha: Warlords
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-11-17 PS2 Action/Adventure T (Teen) Capcom / Flagship

Onimusha as a franchise has forever been plagued with receiving a million and one different comparisons to Resident Evil, Capcom's other big survival-horror hit. Since I've always been a huge fan of the genre, I thought it only fitting to see if the two can really be compared as deeply as most people would like us to believe.

Onimusha: Warlords is the inaugural outing in the series. In it, you play as Samanosuke, a lone samurai destined to save Princess Yuki and to stop the world of demons from taking over the planet. Another playable character, Kaede, accompanies Samanosuke on his journey, and is always there to help out in a crisis. To help Samanosuke in his quest, a council of ogres gives him a magical gauntlet capable of retrieving the souls of the creatures he kills.

Souls come in three colors, each with its own function. Blue souls replenish your magic bar, which allows you to perform special attacks that are powered by lightning and fire, among others. Yellow souls refill your health bar and red souls allow you to enhance your weapons to make them stronger than ever. Yellow souls are the hardest to come by, which is unfortunate, since health items don't come along that often either. Consequently, if you use all of your herbs and medicines too quickly, the rest of the game will be darn near impossible to complete.

Instead of finding all of your weapons in chests, under bodies and elsewhere, like in Resident Evil, in Onimusha there is a simplistic weapon leveling system. Each weapon has two bars, one for strength and one for magical ability. The level cap is three, and by using your red souls, you can easily upgrade to the strongest weapons in the game, even if you've never played before. However, the time it takes to accumulate enough red souls is not as exciting, as it gives the title a pretty repetitive feel.

What is exciting is the overall look and control of the game. Players accustomed to the Resident Evil layout and style of controls will waste little time picking up the action in Onimusha, and the action itself is some of the best around in a survival-horror title. Demons explode into a cloud of dust and blood when death has arrived for them, but without it the environmental detail alone would easily grant the game a high score in the visual department.

On the plus side, when it comes to sound, the weapon and demon sound effects are what you will be hearing a lot of. Combat sounds like it should, and there is something really satisfying about hearing your sword penetrate the chest of a fallen demon.

On the negative side, in keeping with the history of Capcom games, the voice acting in Onimusha needs a little work. Where the character movements are realistic and impressive, the voice aspect of the sound department is not so hot. Not only do the mouths not match up with the audio track, but the script is also pretty laughable at times. Additionally, there's a lot of action between most cutscenes, which makes the storyline a bit jumpy in spots, but overall, it's a nice departure from the "zombies are out for brains" scenario.

What doesn't deviate from the old Resident Evil plan is the puzzle system in Onimusha. You still have to backtrack to retrieve items, and the puzzles themselves are still too easy and simplistic to master. Another disappointing factor is the game's length. You can easily clear Onimusha in less than six hours, and that's including all of the time it takes to level up your weapons.

For all of the comparisons one could make between Onimusha and Resident Evil, including the ones I've made myself, the game still has enough going for it to not be looked at as a rip-off. Onimusha: Warlords is indeed the beginning of a separate franchise, and overall is a lot darker in nature than the Resident Evil games ever thought about being. Sure, a town infested with zombies is scary, but what if it was the whole world, like in Onimusha? I think my point is clear there.

Overall, Warlords is not without its faults. The puzzle system is too easy, and Kaede is not included in the plot as much as in the actual gameplay, which makes her addition to the title seem like more of an afterthought to add length to the story. But after giving all of the game's faults, I still have to say that the storyline itself is intriguing and dark enough to keep even the most experienced horror fan interested and the unique gameplay mechanics are very appreciated.

Where a game about samurais, war and the like is usually placed in the hack and slash genre, Onimusha: Warlords has just enough elements from the adventure spectrum to keep it from becoming as predictable as most similar games are. There may be numerous little things to nitpick at, but the overall core and bulk of the game are enough for me to recommend a look at this franchise, even if survival-horror has never been your thing. It just might be the game to convert you.