Collecting Demon’s souls.
If you’ve ever caught yourself wondering if PS2 games still hold up, I suggest picking up a copy of Onimusha: Warlords. For all intents and purposes, it’s exactly the same as it was when it first released in 2001, but that’s not necessarily a good thing in 2019.
Onimusha: Warlords is a classic take on the survival horror genre, set in feudal Japan. Think Resident Evil, but instead of zombies and biological horrors, you battle demons and undead abominations from Japanese mythology.
It’s not without updates, but they’re minor additions to a game I really enjoyed 18 long years ago. The most notable addition to Onimusha: Warlords are its new, HD graphics. But they’re not “new,” like you would find in a full-in remaster like Capcom’s gorgeous upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake. The graphics are wrapped in shiny new high-resolution textures, but are otherwise the same as they were in 2001, and boy oh boy do they look it.
Those 2001 pre-rendered backgrounds and low-polygon count character models look absolutely primitive by today’s standards. There are games running on your phone that look better. If anything, freshening up the textures without bringing anything else into the modern era really brings out the creakiness of the PS2-era graphics.
One of the most glaring old-school quirks in Onimusha: Warlords are its unskippable cutscenes.
The pre-rendered backgrounds, the hallmark of PS1 and PS2-era survival horror, look muddy and primitive when the light of high-definition shines upon them. I played through Onimusha on Nintendo Switch, and even on the small screen in handheld mode, the backgrounds looked tired and hopelessly dated.
Character animations are stiff, and faces have an unnatural plastic smoothness to them. Their fingers don’t move at all, stuck in a permanent, almost Ken-doll-like half open pose during cutscenes. There’s a weird twitch to them, too, when they’re supposed to be otherwise motionless.
The pre-rendered cutscenes were a real treat in 2001, but in 2019, they look their age. I remember seeing them on my PS2 and being blown away by what was then high-quality CGI video. Now it just looks bad.
A Different Era
Speaking of which, one of the most glaring old-school quirks in Onimusha: Warlords are its unskippable cutscenes. You can’t even skip through dialogue. Instead, you are required to watch everything unfold. It’s incredibly frustrating when you lose to a boss, or otherwise die, and have to sit through the same cutscene again.
Death is another part of Onimusha where its aged mechanics are front and center. There’s no modern save system here, so you must find a magic mirror to mark your progress. I found it really irritating, especially since boss fights don’t have save points near them. Dying against a boss means not only do you have to rewatch an unskippable cutscene, but you also have to retrace your steps through the castle between the last save point and the boss fight.
For all its dusty gameplay mechanics and frustrating old-school backtracking, I still found myself enjoying playing through Onimusha.
Like many other turn-of-the-century survival horror games, you spend roughly 50% of your time fighting enemies, and 50% running around to find an item to fit in a lock so you can open the next part of the game. There’s a lot of back and forth here. Since the backgrounds are stationary and prerendered, as was the style at the time, I had a hard time getting a sense of direction. I’d run around a corner and suddenly be facing the opposite way. I couldn’t get my bearings, and the primitive map system barely helps. On my next playthrough, I’m sure I’ll be able to breeze through thanks to a newfound sense of familiarity, but on my first time in nearly two decades, I spent a sizeable chunk of time running back and forth, trying to remember where it was I saw a door requiring some manner of medallion or key.
For all its dusty gameplay mechanics and frustrating old-school backtracking, I still found myself enjoying playing through Onimusha. I definitely swore more than once after dying and needing to suffer through a cutscene again, but there’s something quaint about its aged pre-rendered backgrounds and choppy character animations. It’s more than a game set in another era, it’s a game from another era. Frustrations aside, there’s still fun to be had.
The Dark Realm sidequest remains one of my favorite in gaming, and I was more than happy to revisit it on Nintendo Switch. The reward for making it through the rush mode is just too fantastic to ignore, and being able to try (and try again) in handheld mode makes it a fun, mindless time waster with a fantastic, almost game-breaking, reward.
Collecting souls to upgrade weapons gets a touch grindy, but playing on Switch, I didn’t mind so much. Grinding souls is a nice way to waste some time in handheld, but I don’t imagine it’s nearly as fun on a non-handheld system like Xbox One or PS4. After all your weapons and orbs are maxed out, which took me about 3 ½ hours of the 5-6 hour campaign, you only need to collect souls to recharge your magic and life, which takes the edge off a little.