This 5th of december D3 Publisher has released Oneechanbara Origins, a remake of the first two Oneechanbara games, for PS4. In Japan, at least, but for the occasion i will review the original PS2 games, using their rare european releases, because of course i own them (why wouldn’t i?).
Let’s start with – what else – Oneechanbara, the first one, released in Europe as Zombie Zone, and for it’s upgraded version, The Oneechanpuru – The Onechan Special Chapter, released as Zombie Hunters in Europe (yet again). I will cover that in a separate article, when i can i find a working copy and i have some extra, extra cash.
GRINDHOUSE ZOMBIE HISTORY
Thinking back, it’s almost unbelievable how this franchise had managed to spawn, given The Oneechanbara was one of the many titles developed by Tamsoft and distributed by D3 Publisher under the Simple Series umbrella, in this specific case the Simple Series 2000 line (2000 as in “2000 yen”, the price), that also included another success niche series, Earth Defense Force, and many other PS2 titles that actually made their way out of Japan, mostly in Europe as low budget releases under different names and by the way of crap peddler publishers like Agetec, 505 Game Street (which nowadays publishes stuff like Indivisible, oddly enough), Midas Interactive, Empire Interactive, or by D3 Publisher itself under the “Essential Games” label.
But then again, stuff like Pink Pong or Bowling Xciting lacked the selling points of fetish magnet dressed “babes” fighting zombies with swords and covering themselves with blood, so yeah, it’s easy to see why this sold better than other budget titles from this “series/line”. Ironically enough for budget releases like this, they comand a not insignificant price nowadays, Zombie Zone a little less, but Zombie Hunters 2 can demand 50 bucks (or more), that’s second hand videogame market for you.
The plot is basically the same old cliched tale of fratricidal vengeance so common in japanese media (“you killed father, imma gonna kill you and then we’ll see, stupid sister of mine!”), but with the undead flesh-eating lumbering sad sacks, though the game raises his finger and says they’re not technically undead because they’re corpse possessed by evil spirits that raised them from their eternal sleep…. so zombies. Sarcasm aside, the main driving point of the plot is that Saki (who killed their father for abandoning them in order to train Aya in the art of the sword) needs Aya’s heart for a ritual in order to resurrect their mother.
You’d think something had been learned from the Elric brothers, but i guess not.
It’s basically “baby first zombie apocalypse plot skeleton” crossed with a very typical chanbara plot, , not that anything explains why the main character, Aya, fights zombies in a bikini, along with her scarf and cowboy hat, or why the main villain, your sister Saki, is still rocking the frigging japanese high school uniform. …. Actually, it might be partially explained in one of the ludicrously huge text walls that the game feeds you when starting a mission, but you might “accidentally” skip them, because the writer felt the need to overcompensate here, with some vague context and mostly rubbish piles of white text on black backgrounds, including quoted dialogues, because they clearly couldn’t affort any voice actor after the opening cutscene (which is deceptively short, informative and to the point).
And of course the scrolling is slow and dreary. Of course it is.
Even the finale is cheap as hell, with the final cutscene unwinding in complete silence, with text on screen and character models that at the end stay so still i honestly thought something happened when i finished it years ago, so i pressed “skip” in fear of the game crashing or glitching at that moment (i wouldn’t have been surprised if it did), but after watching a playthrough recently, i found out that i was supposed to wait 15 more seconds of silent stillness (30 in total) before the results screen appears. Unbelievable.
The story is crap and vomited at the player with horrendously cheap and bad presentation, so how’s the gameplay?
If anything, Tamsoft here had something down, the basics for a 3D hack n slash/beat em up affair are there, and the blood gimmick that makes the series stand out is not that bad an idea, with your weapons getting less powerful as you attack enemies (even leading to the sword getting stuck into a foe) and get them dirty with blood, so you’ll have to use the “refresh” button to clean the weapon. Also, as you kill enemies you drench yourself in blood as well, until you go into a Berserk state that powers up your attack but consumes your health gradually, and you can revert to normal if you reach a goddess’ statue (very christiany, for some reason) or use an item to lower your bloodlust/frenzy.
And… it’s a bit better than i remember. the controls aren’t broken or anything, just on the stiff side, and they lack that extra impact, but there’s a base level satisfaction to be had with the combat system, evasive moves works fine, and the game isn’t shy about throwing a decent amount of enemies against you, when zombies doesn’t rise up from cement in groups of 2 or 3 at the time, or when facing humanoid bosses that are faster than you and end up requiring precise movements to avoid, a bit too precise for these controls to properly handle.
There’s something there, and it’s fun to see zombies’ chopped half torsos and legs still moving and trying to kick you in the ass Black Knight style…. the first time, anyway. It gets annoying if anything, because they often decide to hang out into a distant part of the arenas where you have to do the usual “kill enemies to remove the barriers and proceed”, adding more annoyances than anything. And oddly enough, the whole “bloody sword” gimmick doesn’t made the gameplay more frustrating overtime, since you don’t need to clean the sword every 5 seconds or something ridiculous like that (i’m looking at you, Contra: Rogue Corps, you horrible thing).
I guess it was made because it looked cool, and also to reduce button mashing, shame that there’s very little to balance in the combat, so it’s just kinda there, for better or worst, since when enemies do hit you, they deal a lot of damage (more in later stages, though), gotta compensate for shitty IA in the worst way possible. Also present is a simplistic point distribution systems for upgrading stats with the exp collected, and it’s shit as well, not obtuse, but you’ll need way too many exp to power yourself up enough to do decent damage against the bosses, especially in the later stages, and you can distribute points only at the end of a level or Survival mode run.
There are some combos and a typical beat ‘em up special attack that consumes some of your lifebar, there is a bit more to the combat, like using kicks, but they’re never needed (since you can evade roll away and refresh the sword instead, and you can refresh mid-combo) and a “cool” system, which is never explained in the game (and the manual doesn’t help much either), but also doesn’t seem to matter in practice. Until stage three, when the game introduces the so called “Mudmen zombies” (which look like the “Brains!” zombie in Return Of The Living Dead), enemy units that just soak up normal damage and can either be killed by attacking in Berserk/Frenzy mode, or using a specific combo, which even when you can do said move and know how to pull it off (no move list in the game, of course)..is hard to, since it’s reliant on timing and controls – like i said before – aren’t as responsive as the game wishes/wants to.
So you’ll probably end up backtracking to find enemies just to raise your Frenzy gauge and ignore the bullshit move required to kill the annoying fuckers. And don’t worry, the horrendous level design itself will give you plenty of occasions to do just that, since you better believe the six missions/levels will make the most out of the limited number of huge locales Tamsoft created, it’s a budget game through and through.
Which translates to a lot of running around the levels to find which door can be opened by the key you have, or wandering about just trying to guess where you can get said keys, maybe that group of enemies does, who knows, enemies just respawn anyway in a room, so better try everything at random. Backtracking made worse by a slow moving character (and you really can’t do anything about it), areas where everything starts looking the same, and a shitty, undetailed mini-map. This is the kind of crap game that expects you to just try every door, even if they aren’t even recognized as such on the mini-map, who knows, it might actually bring you somewhere else. Same for areas that seem like dead ends but hide – yes, hide – transitions to a new area.
And it gets worse and worse as the game goes on, with every shitty situation you can think of (anyone said caves full of identical rocky rooms, with no map at all?), all to pad up the longevity and make sure you can’t finish it in 30 minutes or something. The camera also helps obscuring the view so in certains situations you can’t even imagine you were supposed to jump there, and to add insult to injury, you spend so much time in these locales you eventually will become able to just tell, without a doubt, that they just recycled a previous room, again, when even minor details are the same.
They did it on purpose, without any reasonable shadow of doubt.
As a small consolation, the enemy variety isn’t THAT bad, you get to see regular zombies, nurse zombies, cop zombies with guns and shotguns, military zombies, Andrè from Final Fight look-alike zombies, ravens, giant monster baby with pig ears and a boxing glove-peach attached to its tail, and other weird monsters that don’t look like they should belong here, but in a way they do. At the very least, i kinda like the Tamsoft style of creature designs for the enemies (which can also be seen in their Senran Kagura games), it’s campy, it’s all over the place, but it’s fittingly exploitation-y.
But of course, bosses are the biggest time wasters of them all, and you can check every mark on you r playbook at home. Absurd amounts of health? Bosses equipped with fast, often cheap attacks prone to stunlock your ass? Boss moves that simply ignore your attacks and break up combos? Recycled bosses with another new boss thrown into the same small arena? Add to that no invincibility frames and controls which might fail you when you most need it, so despite having the lock-on active, the character will jump instead of doing an evasive roll as it should.
And of course the final boss is the cheapest bastard of them all, being able to kill you in two shots, with a comically long life bar and absurd weapon reach, and the ability to summon enemies equipped with guns or long range attacks. Stock up on healing items and power ups, you’ll need them all, since you have to fight exploitation with exploitation in order to win this shit game.
BUDGET KILLER VIXENS
As i explained before, this game is a perfect specimen of “PS2 low budget game” through and through, so a lot of “field of view fog”, cheap assets, darker than needed colors (that force you to manually up the gamma settings on your tv), rampant enemies pop-in, many loading screens, sketchy collisions, one time i was even bounced out of a room by the enemy respawn. XD On the audio side, the music is nice (definitely the best thing about the game), and i have to admit there IS some voice acting, but it amounts to a handful of very short and untraslated lines in japanese, like you can find in Demolition Girl (also developed by Tamsoft), and the fact they spent a lot more time animating the boob jiggle physics… it says a lot. Priorities indeed.
Better use some imagination, though, because frankly there’s nothing even remotely sexy about this, even back then the character models looked like re-inflated dutch wives…..but then again, this was aimed at teens that will buy it because “the sword lady has bikini tits and kills things with blood everywhere”.
Outside of the Story Mode, there is the aforementioned Survival Mode, which – in a way – it’s better, more honest, with 12 waves of enemies and bosses, until you fight and kill Saki, then the cycle repeats, and you get exp based on the results (which is shared between Story and Survival modes, so you can grind exp here). No co-op or another playable character to unlock by finishing the game, not that i recommend doing so in any capacity, unless you’re REALLY into some videogame S&M. In that case there are some in-game achievements compiled under the “Quest” option, called that to pretend it’s a game mode… it’s not.
Many classic games still feel the inevitable scars of time, so you can imagine what it feels to revisit titles that were crap even they launched, and keep in mind that by the time the first Oneechanbara launched, the original Devil May Cry and original God Of War were already out (at least by the time D3 Publisher brought it in Europe as “Zombie Zone”, anyway). Let that muster in your synapses for a bit.
Then again, this is a low budget title from bargain bin powerhouse D3 Publisher, so nobody was expecting much from it, just some dumb hack n slash fun with an exploitation-grindhouse theme of “blood, blades and boobs”, some junk food in videogame form, but this is Tamsoft we’re talking about, and not Tamsoft at it’s best either, so we get just get junk that frustrates even more because it could have been decent. But ain’t, because Tamsoft couldn’t be arsed.
The combat system would be alright, not very fast paced or technical, with a cool and unique gimmick of the blade that needs to be cleaned of enemies’ blood in order to not dull it’s edge, passable (if stiffy) controls, but it’s a shame there’s almost no balance to anything, with annoying and stupid design choices (like enemies that can only be killed by a move you aren’t told about, and way too finnicky to pull off with this kind of controls) and a masterclass of horrendous level design, where everything is sacrificed in the name of padding the shit out of it, with budget limitations too.
So expect to run around the same stages where every area or room looks the same, wandering in search of whatever random group of enemy will drop the key item you need to unlock a door that maybe it’s near where you started the level, maybe not, but you have no full map so you better try every door, backtracking like a caffeinated gerbil. Enjoy repetive and drawn out battles with zombies and weirdo monsters, or crappy boss battles that are also recycled ad nauseam and use every cheap trick in the book and more to frustrate you, unless you fight the game back with it’s own exploitative bullshit.
All for a game so goddamn cheap the story is told in boring, huge text dumps before a mission, and the final cutscene is a surreal display of characters models that move and talk without moving lips in complete silence, with almost no sound effects, and even when you think it’s over, it just stays still for 30 seconds before the results screen, leading you to believe it glitched at the very end or the console froze or something.
But no, everything is at it should, for an ending that doesn’t matter anyway, even for the series itself. Fitting, in a roundabout way.