Onimusha Warlords (Playstation 2)
As spoken by Babe Ruth in the Sandlot, “Heroes get remembered but legends never die,” this segment of milk w/ ice is devoted to revisiting games of old that ought to take special remembrance for their challenge, uniqueness, and (questionable) current playability. Yes, all these titles are in my VG (video game) pantheon but notoriety can share a controller port with notoriousness.
Omnimusha Warlords was a Capcom release for the Playstation 2 in January 2001 (to possibly the driest console launch since the Jaguar). Ironically and luckily the PS2 would eventually be known as the 2nd greatest console since the Super Nintendo (as voted by slew of gaming nerds including myself). The opening (above) served as a pitch perfect period piece pretense for the title (that’s five Ps). Oh, how the Japanese favor re-visiting their own history. Now as main-character and all around goody two sandals, Hidemitsu Samanosuke Akechi, your charge is set. How does it fare?
Coming off the era of Playstation 1 Resident Evil titles (or as I prefer, BioHazard), it’s no surprise the challenge holds up remarkably well. Yes, the character tank controls add to the difficulty but I prefer to think that they are more at home in this title. How? Simple: the combat. The samurai art of swordsmanship (ken-jujitsu) requires a structured balance where movement is restricted only by the need to strike your sword. In the game, there is a sort of fluidity that resonates off your actions that almost makes combat more strategic. This is apparent when faced by various enemy types requiring various approaches coupled with managing your magic meter per sword. Granted, the controls make exploration utterly horrendous but by no means does it prevent enjoyment.
Besides the blatant exploration structure copy from Biohazard, the experience was completely it’s own. The main setting of the game, Inabayama Castle, was surprisingly atmospheric in its allure of post-battle death, mystery of its demonic intruders, and directed musical selections to give you the right amount of scares or exhilaration. This is what becomes the pinnacle of originality: the setting is the most interest character. As you explore, you wonder what awaits in the floors above, you read found scrolls about the ended lost battle, you dread enemy encounters because you’re just not strong enough yet. Essentially, it was setting versus man and it demanded your attentiveness.
Comparatively to modern tastes, the controls may appear archaic and some elements ostensibly monotonous (upgrading a sword’s magic orbs doesn’t do anything but you must in order to enter certain doors!). The game is still playable. One encompassing reason is b/c the experience doesn’t borrow staples from it’s other genre leaders (aforementioned Resident Evil or Silent Hill or, gulp, Parasite Eve). The game is unapologetically Japanese in tone with unsettling moods beckoning you to explore BUT that allows you to fight back intelligently or bluntly. It also shares one of the finest secret weapons in a game; one you earn with skill. Oh, and the mis-matched lip synching was funny in 2001 and still is.
Omnimusha Warlords was the evolution of the survival horror genre that introduced a new console generation. In many ways it relies on conventions of its predecessors but also strikes forward by offering something fresh in aesthetic, game play, and writing (betcha didn’t think you were learning a piece of Nippon history, did you?). Today, it’s charm and likability remain in tact ten fold. I just cross my legs for a HD remake on all four titles.
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