There have been some whispers from the development heads over at Capcom, specifically from one Yoshinoro Ono, currently working with the launch of Street Fighter V. The recent whispers have indicated that at last, at long last, after a decade of absence, that Onimusha may just be returning. In an interview with Yoshinoro Ono at the Daily Star, Onimusha was supposedly being brought up at very high levels of discussion within the company, with points being made that Capcom would make efforts to revisit some franchises.
Onimusha is one of those titles that may just warrant me keeping this dusty PlayStation 4 of mine. As a child, I loved the series’s take on medieval Japanese warfare. The Sengoku and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms folklore always were always points of interest, even in those early social science courses. I’m admittedly a huge Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors fan; even after dozens of games, the mindless slaughter of legendary warriors in a effortless button-masher was always a huge draw. It can probably even be said that my successes in the social sciences for those units were from knowing the broad storylines of each. Onimusha took the Warring States period, the 1600’s, and added a fantasy twist of demons, the Genma, raiding societies in both the past and present. It was a win-win situation, and in 2001 Capcom released its first title on the PlayStation 2, Onimusha Warlords. It was Resident Evil with puzzle-solving elements. The titles were dark, gritty, and violent, consistently scoring a Mature rating.
Warlords introduced us to the main cast of characters; the protagonist Samanosuke Akechi (voiced by Takeshita Kaneshiro of Asian film legend), the nephew of Mitsuhide Akechi, infamous for the betrayal of his master, warlord Nobunaga Oda, at Honnoji Temple. History saw Nobunaga Oda rise to power, through the usage of modern weaponry that went beyond the steel swords of the samurai class. Oda’s weapons and ideals saw a large portion of Japan united under his banner, until his death by an arrow to the throat on the fields of Okehazama. He was then resurrected by the machinations of the Genma scientist, Guildenstern, and became a blight to Japan. Samanosuke ends up stopping him and weakens the mastermind behind the Genma, the God of Light Fortinbras, with the aid of the mystical Oni clan, who bestow upon him a gauntlet that is utilized as a tool to absorb the souls of the demons he slays in battle. The title was significant in its dealings with the sacrifice of supporting characters to resurrect Fortinbras, mirroring elements of ancient societies long past.
The tale later continued with the release of Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny, bringing the focus to a new samurai, Jubei Yagyu. The Yagyu clan were known for their duties in slaying the Genma, and focused on a new antagonist, Nobunaga Oda. Oda’s forces aimed to unify Japan, and came upon the Yagyu village as a target in their conquest. The village was decimated, with the lone survivor, Jubei Yagyu, swearing vengeance. Jubei inherits Oni powers through his mother’s side, and with the power of the five orbs, infiltrates Nobunaga’s headquarters at Gifu Castle in a final confrontation. The lord’s soul, however, swears to return, and does so in the next sequel, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege.
After the successes of Warlords and Samurai’s Destiny, Capcom came out with its best title yet, personally, in the form of Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, which reunited players with Samanosuke Akechi, and saw the Genma return in full force, this time raiding present-day France. A time-traveling Samanosuke ends up stranded in the future, where he meets a French special forces officer, Jacques Blanc (portrayed by Jean Reno), and his fiancée, Michelle. While Akechi ends up in the future, Jacques is transported to the past, and partners with a younger Akechi, donning the appearance from Warlords. The two partner up on a journey, to defeat Nobunaga Oda. Events of the past would have consequences in the future, and the two protagonists defeat the demons in their timelines. After conflict that spans famous landmarks such as Mont-Saint Michele and the snowy fields of Japan, Nobunaga is sealed in the Oni gauntlet, for good, with Samanosuke setting off on a journey with his Tengu partner, Ako. Demon Siege brought a relatability to the characters, with familial issues in the present that are not unlike conflicts that arise in any modern family (the story of Henri and Michele struggling to accept each other).
Capcom is on a brilliant roll here, and with the events of Demon Siege, foreshadowed the return of the series, following the antagonist Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Nobunaga’s retainer, becoming corrupted by the power of the Genma. Sure enough, not too much longer, a new sequel was born: Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams. Dawn of Dreams places players in the boots of Hideyasu Yuki, also known as Soki, who bears a striking resemblance to the Oni of the Ash. Traveling with a new Jubei Yagyu, and making friends with the Spaniard Roberto and reuniting with childhood friend Ohatsu, Soki seeks the destruction of the Genma cherry blossom trees that plague the capital, eventually clashing blades with Hideyoshi and unveiling the final evil, Fortinbras, in a human form. By slaying Fortinbras, the only way to seal the evils of the Genma for good was for Soki to sacrifice himself in order to save mankind. The gameplay continued to evolve, building even further upon the foundations of Warlords, Samurai’s Destiny, and Demon Siege, adding new abilities and weapons to the mix with a more diverse cast that wasn’t all about swords. Roberto is a boxer of sorts, and the monk Tenkai uses a staff.
The Onimusha series was immensely popular on the PlayStation. With the end of Dawn of Dreams, the series stopped gaining much headway for a decade, with a few weak spinoff titles. It’s safe for us to imagine that Onimusha Soul, the social title, never existed in the continuity of the franchise. At some point, again on the PlayStation 2, Onimusha came out with a spinoff fighter title, Onimusha Blade Warriors. It was basically the Playstation’s version of Super Smash Bros., only instead of Nintendo intellectual properties, it was a myriad cast of Japanese folklore characters and Capcom fighters, including Megaman and Zero. I remember all the hours my brother and I spent squaring off against each other here. The storylines brought Nobunaga back to the fold and reunited Samanosuke and Jubei together.
It’s honestly a bit of a disappointment that the series stopped making waves after its highly successful and critically acclaimed run in the early 2000’s. Year after year, Capcom came out with a great chain of titles that didn’t deviate in quality as the series grew older. The gameplay remained consistently strong with each title, building upon the mechanics that the previous titles had built up as a foundation. The hack-and-slash strategic gameplay, combined with the leveling system of weapons, gave the game a depth and progression. The Phantom Realm, where players hunt for rare weapons in a floor-based gauntlet, or the simple yet complex puzzles that players find and interact with, roaming around the over world, brought a sense of challenge to the games. Weapons were awesome to own and improve upon, with their own sets of unique skills and flashy appearances. From the traditional sword to the ball and chain Hyosai, finally building up to the ultimate Oni-slaying weapon, the Bishamon’s Sword, there were things to collect. While the plot was always on the lighter end, it managed to stay entertaining. Who didn’t enjoy watching Soki derisively call the God of Light Fortinbras a sack of shit? Solid game play added to a phenomenal soundtrack at the time definitely deserves a revisit.
The titles were also known their many thematic elements: betrayal, honor, loyalty, family, and acceptance are only a small number of the many ideas that the series bounced around frequently. Especially in Demon’s Siege, characters faced relatable issues: acceptance of a new person into the lives of a broken family (Henri’s initial refusal to allow Michelle into his life after his mother’s death). Dawn of Dreams brought sacrifice, with Soki sacrificing his life to end the plight of the Genma for good; the life of one man saving humanity. As contrived as these plot lines are, they’re some that have aged quite well even after a decade.
Capcom is in a great position to revisit this great series, too. With Street Fighter V out, and with whispers of interviews conducted by different publications with Ono, the excitement has never been more palpable. With the advent of remastered and high-definition remakes, it makes perfect sense for Onimusha to follow in those footsteps and either make the remastered editions, or better yet reboot the franchise and create a new game or games down the road. Having skipped out on the PlayStation 3, and with several years done on the PlayStation 4 lifecycle, the franchise needs to be brought back in its full, demon-slaughtering glory. And Capcom, you’re the only ones who can make it happen. Either that, or release Ni-Oh faster.