the game onimusha reminds me of the most is the original resident evil, not resident evil as a whole, specifically that first game. it's a very small scale game, much like how the original resident evil was just a mansion, a guardhouse, a lab and the grounds around it, onimusha is just a keep, the underground and its surrounding area, what makes this interesting is that at this point in time, a lot of resi games took a far more grand scale approach, with 3 spanning a whole city and the recently released code veronica being a globe spanning adventure, but onimusha keeps it small scale and i think that is a great thing, the keep feels lived in, the layouts mostly made sense and it had very high detail and amazing framing. the whole keep is in the midst of a demon invasion, so much of it is destroyed, ruble and spirts are everywhere, it looks like a warzone and this gives the game a very dark atmosphere, it's the most scary onimusha game so far and really the only one that i feel stuck the landing with the horror themes. this is helped immensley by the games pre-rendered backgrounds, this technique was used all over the ps1 but it was found much less on the ps2 and onimusha shows why it should have been used more often, even today the game is beautiful, each area has very high detail, is often wonderfully framed and it even helps the gameplay, i never had any issues with the camera that i feel i may have with a more free form one, but really the game is just super pretty, it even still manages to have interactive environments, ropes can be cut, bamboo can be destroyed and you can even push enemies off of bridges and waterfalls, there's even a destructable bridge at one point and many are animated, from fires, waterfalls and rivers, they have a lot going on in terms of movement and they look very fluid, it's a big step up from the ps1 era renders. Some of these screens would even make for great wallpapers, the rivers and a lot of the moonlight shots when up high on rooftops especially, it really shows off the power of this style.
the designs here are also very cool, while a lot of the characters look pretty plain, with the exception of samanosuke and his demon skull gauntlet, which does look very cool, the enemy designs really stand out in a good way. the game is still horror themed so a lot of the demon enemies do look horriffic, from the tenticle enemies that multiply when cut in half, to the massive bulls, oni's and even some resident evil style bio-horror monsters such as a half-human half-fly boss that sends large ants after you. it nails the horror vibe and it even carries over to the environments, with the games final demon world, as well as the optional dark realm, looking downright horrifying, with the demon world being very HR geiger inspired and looking like an alien hive and the dark realm being covered in flesh, teeth and tenticles, it's scary while never coming across as outright goofy, unlike the games voice acting. the VA work is cheesy, bad even at points, but it feels almost intentionally so, with many of the demons feeling like tokusatsu villains, it adds to the charm of the game i think and it's super quotable much like the resident evil games that came before, bad VA is an art in and of itself. there's also the story there, it's a simple tale without many characters, you have samanosuke, the stoic samurai, kaede who's a more caring person, the princess and her brother and a whole host of fun villains, i love games that have a good cast of villains and onimusha delivers here, the fly-woman and guildenstirn are especially a delight, the actors really ham it up and they're a delight when either is on screen. sadly the game doesn't quite have the optimism of capcoms other series, it's a more melancholy story with a pretty dour ending, setting up for a sequel but with a really weird offscreen death souring the ending for me a little, it felt oddly mean, but it's a more fun story than it isn't and its enough to keep you going, B movie material at least and pretty quotable.
the music is an interesting case too, the original ost was made by mamoru samuragochi, composer for the absolute classic, resident evil: directors cut: duelshock edition, yes, the one with the fart trumpets, but here he actually does a decent job, it's all orchestral and epic and it fits the time period super well, i like it a lot and many of the songs have found their way into my playlists, the main theme especially is a favourite and i am very sad it didnt make it into the ported OST, which, about that. after the game came out, the composer was found to be a fraud, he pretended to be deaf you see and also used a bunch of ghost writers, it was a massive contraversy and it resulted in his music being dropped for many future versions, namely the ps4/switch version which is the most acessable. i beat both versions of the game, as well as the genma onimusha version which i will talk about later, and the new ost is fine, though it doesnt reach quite as many highs i feel.
now the gameplay is also very cool, it's very much based on a mix of survival horror exploration and puzzle solving, with some minigames thrown in such as the puzzle boxes and translations, and fast paced swordplay. the combat system is mostly very basic, each sword only having one combo, a special attack and a magic attack, but you get three of them(as well as a hidden fourth for the final boss) and they all play different, one is a slower sword with high damage and a fire AOE, one is a lighting sword that is very fast and has a lightning stun attack and the last is a twinblade that is even faster and can hit multiple enemies and it has a wind AOE that hits all around you for lower damage than the other magic attacks, there's also a fourth that you can unlock for beating the dark realm, but its really only useful for the final boss as you pick it up in the final area, it also has an AOE but it has unlimited magic, there's even ranged attacks in the form of a bow and gun, which feel more similar to resident evil weapons, they even have multiple ammo types, with fire arrors and a shotgun style burst bullet. you also get two other unique abilities, a counter that lets you oneshot enemies if you get them right as they attack, which also gives you health orbs, and your gauntlet, which lets you absorb souls, which work as xp for upgrading things and getting items, as well as mana and health orbs. it has a lot more depth than it seems and it can be very rewarding to learn the timing for the counter, but i never got it down for every enemy, it's real fun.
there's also the exploration, the keep is big, the main building has several floors and a roof and it even has multiple wings outside and the route to even get there is also pretty long with its own sights and sounds, there's lots of items to find for puzzles, keys and consumables, lots of little areas to explore and things to find in little optional nooks, it's overall fairly linier though just with a few diversions and you can't really do things out of timeline like you could in games like REmake which is a bit of a shame. shoutouts to the east wing of the keep especially, it's a large riverside area with a large building to climb with a fantastic shot of the moon, a waterfall and just a very chill vibe that other areas dont have, i found myself just chilling here for a while, there's even a whole optional gauntlet area you can do for extra items and that final sword, though it is a very difficult gauntlet that took me several days on this playthrough as i had litterally no health items, but it was so fun to do that perfect run. you even get to explore some of it as another character,, samanosuke's kunoichi friend kaede has a bunch of segments where she explores her own areas of the keep that samanosuke doesnt get to explore, she gets her own combos with daggers and even kunai to throw. she has some cool acrobatics too, being able to do a flip over the enemy and slit their throat, which felt kinda gross to do but was cool enough. the last mechanic i feel like mentioning is the soliders, there's a bunch of them you can save around the keep for extra rewards and i think it's a fun little thing to do, it's difficult and i always reloaded if one died, i felt bad about it.
the game would be ported all over the place, showing up on ps2 in its original version, though there was an even earlier ps1 version that went under the name "sengoku biohazard", there's footage of this online and it looks very cool, would love to play it. the ps2 version has the original OST and is the version i would bes reccomend for newcomers, though the later released ps4/switch version isn't bad either, it as new controls that i think make the game a little too easy, and i don't use them, but it's a solic and accessable port. there's also the very interesting case of genma onimusha, this is the xbox port which features new areas and a new mechanic, green energy, a new soul type which makes you invincible, though if the enemies can get it first they will gain strength, it also has new areas, bosses, cutscenes, armour and a new enemy type that follows you throughout the game, it even has new camera angles in some areas, though i would only reccomend this version for experianced fans as it is much more difficult, i intend to give it its own article someday as it's different enough to warrent one. there was als a whole 3 sequels and a few spinoffs, onimusha 2, my favourite one, a few years later, the jean reno starring onimusha 3: demon siege as well as the more musou inspired onimusha dawn of dreams as the final game in the series. there was also a gba tactics spinoff and a fighting game in the form of onimusha: blade warriors. the game was mainly made by capcom, in specifically it was yoshiki okomoto's project, known for work on street fighter and resident evil, you may also know him from his later studio game republic, one of my personal favourite teams, responcible for classics like folklore, genji and majin, a team i dearly miss as almost every game they put out was a classic. keiji inafune was also involved with the game, a man who needs no introduction, so i won't go into him too much, but he did help to make a ton of capcoms best games like shadow of rome, deadrising and a bunch of megaman games. overall the game is just a classic, it's amazingly fun and beatable in just a few sittings, give it a try if you're into survival horror or hack and slash, you won't regret it.