There are some videogames that transcend the label of simply being a game; receiving a place in the pantheon of history’s great media works and garnering critical acclaim across the globe. Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad from Tamsoft and D3 Publisher is not one of them. While the idea of playing as a scantily-clad cowgirl or violent schoolgirl who hack endless hordes of the undead to pieces with katanas is surely something birthed by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, or perhaps William Shakespeare (take a look, it’s in a book, it’s…), no one’s going to see it as highbrow material pushing the medium into new frontiers. Yes, truly a great injustice.
Alright, so sexy females slaying zombies would never be mistaken for “art” (the stuff on your walls isn’t art), but it does make for an experience worth wasting some hours on? Hit the jump for intellectual stimulation and some boobs.
There is actually a story to Onechanbara; something involving half-sisters, Aya and Saki, and the cursed Baneful Blood that flows through their veins which some evil organization wants so they can do the things evil organizations do. Throw that in a pot with zombies and baby, you got a stew. A stew of violence and mayhem wrought upon a city infested with the undead and a search for answers to who wants the sisters’ blood. It’s not exactly the most gripping yarn that unfolds – in fact, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – merely there to act as a mild adhesive to the overall ridiculousness. However, they did make a movie out of it, so…
Gameplay-wise, Onechanbara is a straight forward button-mash, hack-and-slash. Sword attacks are done with the X button, Y dishes out some old-fashioned kicks to the face, B will perform special moves such as throwing knives or charging at enemies and A jumps or pulls an evasive roll if locked onto an enemy. Pulling Left Trigger allows you to switch attack mode (i.e. dual wield); Right Trigger swaps the selected character if the chapter allows. Pressing certain buttons together will deliver special attacks, but at some point between chapter 2 and 3 this will be forgotten in lieu of hitting the X button as many times as possible because X is thy Lord and savior.
Slicing through masses of zombies is very satisfying, undoubtedly gory and downright fun. Heads, arms and torsos get tossed around as blood coats the screen, the heroine and her sword. Yellow orbs from fallen foes act as experience points allowing you to upgrade your character’s skill (affects maximum combo chain), health, power and weapon reach. If too much blood accumulates on a character’s weapon it’s no good for dismembering anything and can become lodged in a foe leaving them open to attack; pressing LB will clean off the sword, leaving a nice puddle of blood on the ground. Too much blood will also trigger a Rampage (a red meter fills the character icon indicating this) which increases damage dealt and movement speed but doubles damage received and ticks down health continuously over time.
Rampage is more of a pain in the ass than it is useful because even though you become a wrecking crew, stopping it requires either using a Goddess Head item that enemies drop randomly or finding a Goddess Statue in a level. Unfortunately, only three of any given item can be stocked at a time and Goddess Statues are not found in every level. This creates an unnecessary punishment for doing what the entire game is about and leads to frustratingly unavoidable deaths.
Speaking of frustrating, what neither the manual (all 3 pages of it) nor the game itself manage to share is that there’s a combo system hidden amongst all the button mashing and not learning to use it effectively will cause controllers to be thrown at windows, walls and pets. There are beasties called Mudmen and Blood Mist Zombies that can only be defeated by figuring out how this system works. The former requires hitting X three times in a row, pausing for a beat then pushing the left stick towards the enemy and hitting X again which results in a forward thrust, ripping out the creature’s heart. It sounds easy enough, but when there’s no instruction, it’s either stumble upon this revelation or hit the internet for answers. Defeating a Blood Mist Zombie is even more difficult since you have to pull off what’s referred to as a Cool Combo. While the Blood Mist Zombies are kind of a bonus (defeating them nets you rings that boost attributes) It just so happens that mastering the Cool Combo is basically also necessary for surviving the game’s later chapters.
Pulling off a Cool Combo is all about timing sword attacks properly. A practice mode, accessible via the main menu, attempts to teach the ways of the combo with a “timing bar” but, honestly, I found it threw off my timing more than it helped and ended up honing my skills in the story mode with trial and error. Successfully pulling off a Cool Combo will quickly dismember enemies which, as mentioned before, becomes essential to survival since the game’s later chapters throw out overwhelming amounts of the most powerful beasties that are able to drop your health bar in a matter of seconds. It’s a rather rude awakening when compared to the first 3/4 of the game that’s straight-up, mindless fun where simply mashing X with reckless abandon is enough. There’s nothing wrong with having some depth to a combat system, but when it suddenly becomes a need, the fun factor starts to slip.
Armies of hateful, cheap-attacking zombies aren’t the only adversaries to be faced. Graphically the game is not so easy on the eyes. Environments are flat, unvaried – hospital, city street, parking garage, mountains, repeat – and difficult to navigate. To mix things up a little, the developers put in a motorcycle-based level that just plain sucks to control and has zombie dogs eating your health like Tic-Tacs. In normal areas the map offers very little assistance as to what doors lead where and which direction to head. The character models, although sporting some pretty fluid animation, are kind of plastic looking and lack detail. Furthermore, the whole game looks blurry like someone was filming a movie for Cinemax and smeared Vaseline all over the camera lens. Framerate drops, screen tearing and some rather long and frequent loading screens add to the problems. And then there’s the camera itself, which you end up fighting more than zombies in certain levels when it gets stuck against a wall and refuses to budge.
While the camera is a huge bastard in single-player mode, it’s even worse in co-op. When playing 2-player, the screen splits vertically, constricting the field of view even more and often locks the camera in a spot where it’s head-on with the character until you wander into an area with wider space. Co-op suffers not just from a shoddy camera, but also from the fact story mode doesn’t fully support this option due to certain points in the story that cause a character to be on their own – so inviting a friend to play can be a kick in the pants. On the plus side, the game’s other modes, Free Play and Survival, allow friends to game together uninterrupted. Free Play lets you play through the Story mode’s chapters with whatever characters you’d like and is essential in completing some quests which unlock costume pieces and make up most of the Achievements. Survival mode may actually be the best aspect of Onechanbara since all you do is tear through waves of zombies without navigating corridors and getting lost like a stooge.
Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad starts off like the guiltiest of ultraviolent, Japanese b-movie pleasures. Full of stupid, violent fun that will make you smirk and laugh. Unfortunately, the game’s rough graphics, sudden difficulty shifts, lackluster co-op, terrible camera, aimless wandering and lack of narrative drive hinder it considerably. Leveling up the characters and unlocking new costume pieces for dress-up is a nice distraction that’s rather fun and addictive, adding a sense of accomplishment, but by the time you’re nearing the end (roughly 8 hours), you’ll more than likely just run to the exits due to frustration and boredom, even with its $40 price tag.
- Lots and lots of zombies to dismember
- Responsive combat controls
- Leveling system is addictive and fun
- Bland graphics and terrible camera
- Repetitive and tedious
- Poor combat and navigation guidance