After beginning life on the original PlayStation, Capcom's Onimusha: Warlords has become the first of the company's "survival horror"-type games released for the PlayStation 2. The game boasts high production values and an epic scope, but it also carries over some of the less-than-desirable traits of the 32-bit generation. Fortunately, the additions to the game overcome the short length and a few nagging flaws to make it a truly enjoyable experience.

   Onimusha takes place during the Sengoku period of Japanese history, putting players in the middle of a brutal civil war. A powerful warlord named Nobunaga has just led a successful assault against his enemies when he is killed in battle. Since it doesn't make for a very exciting game if the villain dies in the introduction, Nobunaga makes a pact with demons to help them conquer the world if they revive him. In order to become a demon, Nobunaga must drink the blood of a pure soul, so he kidnaps Princess Yuki for the sacrifice. Samanosuke, a samurai who previously served Yoshitatsu Saito, Yuki's brother, volunteers to rescue the princess and Onimusha's quest begins.

Don't worry it's just a scratch.
Onimusha is a bloody, bloody game.

   After taking a beating to start the game, Samanosuke is warped to the sacred meeting ground of a race of ogres that are long extinct. There he is given the Demon Gauntlet, a powerful tool that allows him to absorb the souls of his vanquished enemies. The game features three types of souls, each with its own purpose: red souls are the most abundant and allow players to upgrade their weapons and magic, blue souls will replenish your MP bar, and yellow souls refill your health. The smaller doses of yellow and blue souls can be rather frustrating at times when you really need to recharge your health and magic meters, and gameplay would be smoother if the game intuitively provided more of the soul types needed.

   This is somewhat balanced by the fact that every save point has a magic fountain which recharges your MP. While medicines and herbs are available, it's best to save them for Kaede, our hero's female ninja counterpart who is playable at times but can't absorb souls. This leaves Samanosuke having to absorb most of his health, which wouldn't be so bad if one blow from an opponent didn't set you back to the point you were at when you started gathering energy.

   Each of the three magic orbs you find in the game will grant you a different weapon when you equip them to your gauntlet. The lightning orb gives you a lightweight, fast sword, the fire orb gives you a heavier sword that's a little slow but packs a wallop, and the wind orb gives you a double bladed sword that's very fast and excellent for fighting multiple opponents. At save points you can chose to upgrade your swords, and can enhance either the magic power or damage power of the blade. It's important to keep upgrading your weapons, especially their magic power, as some magically sealed doors can only be opened by weapons with a certain magic level. It is also possible to improve arrows, bullets, and herbs at the save points.

In the name of the moon, I shall punish you!
Do not try this at home.

   Those wary about the Resident Evil control scheme will be glad to know a revised version of the setup works quite well in Onimusha. The control is very responsive to the fast paced nature of the game, though it retains the "stand in one place and march in a circle" design found when trying to turn to the side while standing. Aside from that, movement by the characters is swift and smooth, especially while fighting.

   Samanosuke has a wide variety of skills to use during combat -- a single push of the attack button will make him slash once while multiple presses result in a chain attack. If you're faced with a mob of enemies, Samanosuke can kick the opponents back, giving you a bit of extra time to ready yourself or flee. There is a standard block button and a strafe button, the latter being especially useful in boss battles and against opponents with lunging attacks. The 180-degree turn from Resident Evil 3 is also present and quite handy when being attacked from two sides.

    Aside from physical attacks, magic attacks are also provided by the swords. The attacks are capable of incinerating a group of demons, but there is little variety in the spells beyond the fact that they become more visually impressive as they gain levels. Being able to pull off various types of magic attacks rather than the single set pattern would have been a welcome addition.

Hearts, stars, and rainbows, horseshoes and blue moons...
Defeating bosses will land you a surplus of souls.

    A wide variety of enemies helps to keep combat fresh, and certain mini-bosses will come back later in the game as normal enemies to keep the challenge up, a la Vagrant Story. Each enemy type has a unique look, attack pattern, and varying strengths against certain types of weapons, leaving players with the need to find out what works against them and what doesn't. Enemies also have some tricks of their own, such as regenerating after being cut in half, getting a final swing in before dying, and cloaking themselves. All these aspects will require players to be on their toes as they fight, as underestimating weak opponents can result in taking unnecessary damage.

    Breaking up the combat is the occasional puzzle, most of which tend to be fairly simple. Unlike many previous survival horror games, the objects needed to solve puzzles are almost always located in the same area as the puzzle itself, so players won't have to backtrack too often. If collecting medallions to open doors isn't your thing, there are also numerous treasure box puzzles to solve, whether lining up numbers on a lock or answering questions. In order to come up with the solutions, you will need to keep your eyes open for various books that can be found throughout the game. There are four types of books, each with four volumes that contain a piece of an overall message. Collecting all four volumes will give you the entire transcript and make solving the puzzles much easier, and inside these boxes you'll find important items such as power gems, medicine, and new armor.

I told you to keep your hands off me!
Players will control Kaede several times

    Onimusha's graphics are a mixed bag, with the high point being character models that are easily some of the most impressive on the PlayStation 2. Each character is comprised of roughly 10,000 polygons, many of them located in the facial area and used to convey emotions during in the in-game cut scenes. Characters move realistically in combat, though they tend to have blocky animation at times while turning and walking. Any animation problems disappear when it comes to the incredible CG scenes found in the game. The opening battles scene features several thousand warriors fighting, all of them are beautifully animated. The only problem with the movies is that they can't be skipped, which can be extremely annoying when you have to view movies repeatedly.

    But these beautiful characters look somewhat out of place moving around prerendered backgrounds instead of polygon environments. Most of the backgrounds are vibrant and detailed, though there are instances of rather drab and bland designs. The main problem with the prerendered backgrounds is the fixed camera position, making it too easy to lose track of an enemy off-screen during melee combat and resulting in enemy cheap shots as you change screens. Polygons are added to the backgrounds in the form of crates, books, and vases, adding a certain amount of interactivity.

Next on Fox: When Panda Bears Attack XI!
It wouldn't be Capcom without bizarre costumes

    Sound is probably the most overlooked aspect of Onimusha, which is a shame considering how much Capcom put into it and the impressive reults. The 200-piece New Japan Philharmonic orchestra is responsible for the incredible soundtrack, whose use of antiquated instruments fits the historic atmosphere of the game perfectly. The English dubbing is a clear step forward from Onimusha's predecessors and the original Japanese voiceovers can be used with English subtitles. The sound effects are quite natural, from insects in the courtyard to swords clashing and monsters groaning.

   Though Onimusha's playtime is only 4-5 hours, it mostly compensates with the usual Capcom extras. Starting a new game on a completed save gives players the option of Samanosuke dressed in normal armor or a panda suit complete with removable head. There is also a trailer for Onimusha 2 that is unlocked upon completing the game, as well as the Dark Realm, a 20-level dungeon for players looking for nonstop action. Onimusha is certainly fun while it lasts, even if enjoyed solely as a weekend rental.

Review by Alex Annis, GIA
Onimusha: Warlords
Developer Capcom
Publisher Capcom
Genre Adventure
Medium DVD (1)
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date 01.25.01
Onimusha U.S. release date, pre-order details
268 spoilerific screenshots
2 monster designs
US box art