Ichibaaan Wa Meeee!!
The blade-swinging beauties of Onechanbara are back for another gory go-round. Developer Tamsoft’s latest foray into the decade-old supernatural hack-and-slash series once again pits the deadly Baneful Blood kunoichi against swarms of the undead. Steeped in a ludicrous amount of guts and low-brow hijinks, the latest entry in the series comes packing a hefty $50 price tag, but does Onechanbara Z2: Chaos have what it takes to rise above the series’ bargain bin pedigree?
Since releasing in Japan under the PlayStation 2’s Simple 2000 series, Onechanbara has prided itself on pairing buckets of blood with gratuitous fan service, often with less than stellar results. Now the series has slashed its way onto the PlayStation 4, and with it comes the requisite bump in visual fidelity, bringing the game’s lethal leading ladies to life like never before. Thankfully, Tamsoft didn’t stop there. The studio’s recent experience with titles such as Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus and Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed on the Vita shows, honing the Onechanbara z2: Chaos‘ fast-paced combat to a razor’s edge in what is easily the most appealing part of this blood-soaked package.
The story of Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is a bit of a mess, thanks in no small part to the fact the title is a direct sequel to 2012’s Onechanbara Z, which never saw a Western release. That said, there are plenty of holes in the game’s narrative that aren’t clearly explained, as well as a few characters who appear over the game’s 5-6 hour campaign who obviously have a history with the protagonists that will go largely unappreciated to those going in cold. The story begins with former Onechanbara stars and Baneful Blood assassins Aya and Saki poised to battle the vampiric Kagura and Saaya. The clans have been warring for centuries, and before the foursome can fulfill their destiny in battle a trap is sprung, forcing them to join forces against an ever greater threat.
The game’s story won’t knock your socks off, but it does a decent enough job of propelling the action forward as the squad travels the globe. The main campaign will take the bikini-clad zombie slayers on a mission to annihilate the undead menace in such scenic locales as Japan, China, Dubai, Peru and Los Angeles, along with familiar Gothic castles and ultra-modern skyscrapers. Even though the story itself falls mostly flat, publisher XSEED’s localization is full of racy puns and cheeky dialog that, while far from Shakespearean, fit the game’s ludicrous premise like a well-worn G-string.
Without question, the star of the show lies in Z2: Chaos‘ fast and fluid combat system. By stringing together combinations of light and hard strikes, players can perform insane chains of destruction. In addition to the game’s slew of combos, which can be expanded significantly by purchasing them with orbs collected from your fallen foes, you can also swap between the four members of the squad with the press of a button, much like in a tag-based fighter, which allows you to keep your combos going between multiple teammates. While the game’s combat is easy to pick up, the plentiful enemies can quickly pile on the damage, making the need to master the game’s Bayonetta-esque evade maneuver a necessity.
Of course, with all of that slashing and dashing you can expect a torrential downpour of blood to rain down from the hordes you butcher. More than a simple aesthetic effect, blood plays a central role in the game’s combat mechanics. The more you attack, the more your weapons get caked in your enemy’s crimson goo, directly impacting how much damage your can output. You’ll need to get to safety and clean the viscera off your weapon frequently if you want to stand a chance in battle. Additionally, when characters get showered in enough blood they become Stained. Stained characters output more damage, and can even transform into extremely powerful forms after you’ve progressed to a certain point in the story. Boss fights are frequent and exciting encounters in Z2: Chaos, and saving these forms for the myriad of towering bosses you’ll go toe-to-toe with is often the best course of action.
Unfortunately, it’s the moments in-between these boss encounters that tend to drag the most, as the game’s limited selection of enemy types quickly causes the action to become repetitive throughout the game’s 16 stages. To make matters worse, sometimes enemies will spawn outside of your immediate area, which sucks because more often than not you’ll need to kill them to progress past barriers that spring up in each arena. Technical gaffes like this actually caused me to restart some rather lengthy encounters on more than one occasion.
In terms of presentation, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos leaves a bit to be desired. While the game’s main characters look good and are animated well (apart from schoolgirl-turned-ninja Saki’s very bizarre running animation), many of the game’s enemies look bland and uninspired, and some environmental textures are just downright appalling. If the title were still a budget-friendly release it’d be one thing, but as a $50 retail release ($39.99 digital on PSN) the lack of polish is pretty inexcusable.
Whereas the visuals often stumble, Z2: Chaos‘ soundtrack is consistently entertaining, offering some truly exceptional music to murder to. Running the gamut from high-energy pop to balls-out rock and orchestral pieces, the game’s soundtrack does a great job of keeping the momentum going as you dive from melee to melee.
As is the case with most of Tamsoft’s releases, after you’ve sheathed your sword you can doll up your party with an assortment of garments and accessories that are unlocked in the main game. The options range from risque to ridiculous, and the variety of upgrades is commendable. Additionally, you can also dive headlong into Mission Mode, which puts you in a variety of challenging combat scenarios, allowing you to earn some serious orbs to customize your team and purchase the game’s most destructive weaponry to outfit your squad of undead executioners with.
While certainly not without its share of flaws, Tamsoft’s furiously fast and refined combat system and hokey but entertaining story will keep you moving forward to the closing credits. And honestly, it’s not hard to see some real potential for something much better buried beneath the game’s oceans of blood and boob puns. When all is said and done, it’s hard not to compare Onechanbara Z2: Chaos with a super value meal from your favorite fast food joint. You know it’s a bit lazily put together, and there’s a good chance it could turn your stomach at points, but that combination of empty carbs, grease and gristle still somehow manages to satisfy your cravings, and you know you’ll come back for more.
Final Verdict: 3 / 5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: XSEED Games ; Developer: Tamsoft Corporation; Players: 1; Released: July 22, 2015 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $39.99 (digital) $49.99 (retail)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Onechanbara: Z2 Chaos provided by the game’s publisher, XSEED Games.