It’s no School Girl/Zombie Hunter.
HIGH Death Bear!
LOW The Clone fight drags on and on.
WTF Is that Audrey II?
Starting out as a series of budget titles more than fifteen years ago, OneeChanbara (sometimes Onechanbara) has focused on a relatively simple formula — take scantily-clad women, give them swords, add zombies. Twelve games later, it seems to be working just fine.
This newest title – published to coincide with the series’ 15th anniversary – retells the story of the first two games, wherein sisters Aya and Saki first met and teamed up to get revenge on their mother’s killers. I wish I could describe the plot beyond that simple description, but it’s so unbelievably convoluted that I’d likely triple my normal review length before getting halfway through. Suffice it to say there are plenty of zombies that need to be bisected and the ladies do their best to ensure that happens via 3D brawler action.
Gameplay is built entirely around slashing zombies with proper timing. From the very first encounter, Onee Chanbara Origins makes it clear that zombie killing is a purely technical matter. Except for extremely high-level players, this isn’t about the flow of combat or fighting with style, it’s about observing the perfect timing for each enemy’s attacks and learning to parry them every single time, lest they get wiped out with a single blow. The vibe here is Dark Souls starring strippers.
Players have a sword button and a physical attack button. Sword attacks damage and stagger enemies, while physical attacks build up their break meter, which opens them up to one-hit ‘cool finishers’. These techniques are generally best used on standard zombies and occasionally zombie dogs – they’re handy to learn, but they’re not what the game is about. No, the crucial strategy for success in OneeChanbara is the parry.
Tapping the B button just as an enemy attacks – there’s a flash from their claws and a sound effect to help players learn the timing – immediately puts all standard enemies into stun mode, along with any other monsters standing within ten feet of the player.
Successful parries open up enemies for execution, and it quickly becomes clear that this one technique is all the game wants players to be focusing on — not just because there are enemies that are impervious to all damage other than executions, but because higher-level foes aren’t staggered by standard attacks, leaving them free to decimate the player’s health even while they’re being brutally slashed.
Boss fights are even more intense — since the big bads are difficult to dodge and impossible to interrupt, the player absolutely must learn to parry each hit of their combos. Only when stunned can they be meaningfully damaged.
So Onee Chanbara Origins’ combat is mostly a one-move affair — does that render it a disaster? I don’t think it does, mostly due to the large array of enemies.
With over a dozen different mutants and bosses with unique movesets to study, gradually learning how to properly counter every attack can prove a satisfying activity. Zombies have completely different attacks than clones, which are utterly different than giant bears, and so forth. At first every fight will feel like a baffling ordeal, but players looking for a challenge will find the combat a great way to test their reflexes.
Onee Chanbara has twenty-five levels to battle through, although the game isn’t as long as that makes it sound — each boss fight has a level all to itself, so there’s only half that many areas to actually explore. From a haunted hospital to a cave system to a sewer, levels tend to be set in claustrophobic hallways which move from room to room in a completely linear fashion, and it gets repetitive quickly. It’s too bad the developers didn’t give the level design the same kind of overhaul the graphics received, since they’re easily the least impressive part of the game.
I was also surprised by the lack of postgame content. After wrapping up the final boss fight, I was disappointed to discover all I’d unlocked was a single extra costume for each of the characters and an endless dungeon. Other than replaying the main game on different difficulty levels, there was basically nothing on offer — no bonus missions, new weapons, or cameos from the series’ huge roster of playable characters. It felt weirdly threadbare and I was confused until I loaded up the online store to discover that all of the content I’d expected to be in the game was for sale as DLC. A hundred dollars’ worth, if a player were to buy it all. I’m used to this kind of gouging, but I definitely expect a base games to offer more than Onee Chanbara Origin does.
For players willing to put in the time to learn its subtleties, Onee Chanbara Origin has great combat, and sundering my way through crowds of zombies simply never got old. That said, there’s just not enough here to make it feel like a complete experience. While the game certainly displays everything that made the franchise into such a long-running success, I can’t help but feel that this anniversary celebration should have offered more to its fans.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Tamsoft and published by D3. It is currently available on PC and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game was rated M by the ESRB and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, and Suggestive Themes. It’s violent as hell, with rarely a minute going by without someone’s head getting cut off. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t play it per se, but this is the game where characters power up by covering their naked skin in their enemies’ blood, and then scream orgasmically as they transform into barely-clothed demons. It’s your call, parents, but if you’re thinking about getting it for your kids, read that last sentence again.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There’s one important audio cue in the game — a chime that plays when enemies are getting ready to attack. There’s a visual cue attached to it, but if enemies are attacking from offscreen you won’t know until you’ve been walloped. Consider sticking to the easier difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled. Text cannot be resized.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.