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Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers

Slaying is such a guilty pleasure. Really, it is. You might deny it, claim that you derive pleasure from something more intellectually stimulating. Something nicer. But once you’ve gotten a taste, it’s hard to stop. It’s beautiful, mesmerizing in its own disturbing way; the blood doesn’t just seep out, but gushes forth in a glorious fountain of gore. The dismembered limbs don’t just fall away, but go flying across the room and leave splattered trails in their wakes. The heads are especially fun; even if they can be cleanly lopped off, it’s so much more satisfying to cleave right through the face and uncover the spongy matter beneath the skull. You get used to the smell of rotting flesh. How your victims scream in agony even as they fall to pieces. The way the blood runs so thick that it‘s literally dripping off your fingers, and you can never wash all of it off no matter how much your conscience urges you to.

Remorse is for the weak, anyway.

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Aya and Saki don’t have that kind of luxury. They’re too busy trying to stay alive. Their existence is defined by violence; thanks to their cursed bloodline, these sisters are doomed to fight the never-ending legions of the undead. At least, that’s what the butchered translation offers. There’s nothing particularly interesting or deep about the storyline in Onechanbara; you might get a little monologue about how the women ponder their ancestry, or how they grimly approach their impending battles. None of it in English, though; you’ll be cringing at the high-pitched Japanese voices as you glance over the subtitles. But there’s very little into which you can read. This game is exactly what it appears to be about: young women brutally slaughtering evil zombies. Nothing more, nothing less. If you can accept that, perhaps you might forgive the bland characters, lazy storytelling, and all the other half-assed plot elements.

Besides, you’ll be too busy hacking and slashing through the undead to care. The structure of the game is as simple as its plot; you get stuck in a room, dice up whatever shambles in your direction, move onto the next area, and rinse and repeat until you finally reach the end of the stage. Your characters can level up by collecting orbs dropped by slaughtered foes, though there isn’t much explanation in terms of how stats affect the slayers’ abilities. Despite being utterly repetitive, the combat is surprisingly entertaining. Each of the zombie slayers come packing their own unique weapons and fighting styles. You could use the Wiimote and Nunchuck to dual-wield Aya’s katanas or balance out Saki’s swordplay with her devastating punches and limb-tearing throws. You’d never think that a cute little schoolgirl would be capable of ripping out hearts right of their surrounding torsos, but it’ll happen with some of your foes. It’s entirely possible to knock a zombie into the air and butcher it before it hits the ground. Even if you slash off all the vitals, you might have to deal with a pair of possessed legs. You’ll eventually shed so much blood that it’ll coat your weapons and make them less powerful, forcing you to take the time to clean it off. Needless to say, the combat is as unapologetic as it is gruesome.

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It’s not shallow, though. There are several ways to carve through the mindless hordes, ranging from stylish sword combos and guard-breaking kicks to quicker evasion techniques. Learning all these moves is half the fun; you’ll have plenty of opportunities to test your strategies. Inept gamers won’t need to learn many of the higher-end techniques; only a few types of foes require more than a few basic WiiMote-waggles to get the job done. That’s one of the many aspects of Onechanbara that comes up short; aside from the challenging boss fights, the difficulty is practically nonexistent. Yes, you’ll get to dice up dozens of targets at once, but it’s not as fun if they’re just walking into your attacks. Unless you’re intentionally walking into the zombies’ punches, chainsaw thrusts, gunshots, and other feeble attacks, you’re rarely going to be in trouble. The only problem you’ll have will be the slayers’ super-powered forms. Your characters will even transform into blond, glowing killing machines (with no defense stats and dwindling health, of course) if they get enough undead blood spattered on them. When that happens, you’ll be forced to fall back on whatever restorative items you have in stock or desperately search for a save point to get you back to normal. It’s ironic that your biggest challenge doesn’t come from an enemy, but from a broken powering system.

The game compensates for your foes’ ineptitude, though. You might be capable of serving up epic bloodbaths and gory beat-downs, but you’ll have to get the controls down first. The attacks and combos are based on the basic movements of the WiiMote and Nunchuck, but the system is hardly refined. You’ll find that some of your maneuvers will be misread at every turn, leaving you to watch your zombie slayers dish out the same combos over and over again. Your most epic attacks might just be flukes or mistakes, and most of your enemies won’t last long enough for you to enjoy them. The controls are as mismatched as the moves; while the button mapping for kicks and other secondary attacks is well-placed, you’ll fumble a bit with inputs for the menu screen and special moves. Thus the majority of the gameplay involves you frantically shaking the controller and praying that the resulting attacks look cool. While they certainly do, it’s no excuse for shoddy programming.

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At least you can take solace in all the violence and brutality. As nasty as it sounds – and make no mistake, Onechanbara is the most gruesome game in a long, long time – you’ll be spared most of the visuals. It won’t take long for you to figure out where the priorities lie in terms of graphics and presentation. You’ll get to mow down zombies by the dozens; there’ll be so many bodies packed together that you’ll lose track of how many are actually coming at you. The awkwardly shifting camera doesn’t help much, either. But if you take a closer look at your foes, you’re not going to find anything particularly fearsome. You’ll hack through businesspeople in gore-stained suits, grenade-flinging soldiers, and chainsaw-wielding Resident Evil 4 rejects. They have practically identical animations, all of which are wooden and ridiculously slow-paced. The stages are as bland as they are linear; you’ll wander through a downtown district, clear out a hospital, and fight through an entire cemetery. There’s nothing in terms of interactive objects or atmosphere. The game even uses the same stages for the characters’ different storylines; you’ll come across the same hallways and deathtraps time and again. The only remotely detailed aspects of the game are the slayers; the sheer amount of jiggling chests and minimal costumes ensures that you’ll have plenty of eye candy. That’s assuming, of course, that you can see what’s going on beyond all the blood that’ll constantly splatter onto the camera.

It’s kind of sad. Onechanbara reeks of laziness and wasted potential. It’s a brutal, fast-paced brawler for a system that desperately needs a good action game. Even if there isn’t a translation, the storytelling could have been executed and explained far better. Each character comes packing tons of devastating combos and moves, and there are more than enough zombies on which you can try. The problem is the utter lack of challenge and the poorly executed motion controls; it’s hardly the engaging and grueling crusade it could have been. What little it does do right, however, it pulls off well. With so many enemies on the screen at once, it’s easy to forget about all the crappy stuff and get lost in the guts and body parts flying everywhere. It’s fun, chaotic, and unbelievably bloody. But it’s just not enough to make up for the other glaring flaws; gratuitous violence in video games is only as good as the gameplay that backs it up. Think about it.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

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