It’s hard to say when or why, but terror and ta-tas have grown to be an inseparable pair in pop culture. Just ask Japan, who, after giving us sexy silent nurses and the voluptuous Ada Wong is now out and about with Onechanbara: a zombie-slaying slash-‘em-up featuring two scantily-clad samurai sisters. It’s going to take something special to hate on a game like this.
If the idea didn’t tip you off already, Onechanbara isn’t the kind of game concerned with trivial things like story or plot. Instead, you’ve got these sisters who know their way around a sword, and when zombies are on the loose, you better believe that they’re always ready to pounce into action…even if their wardrobe isn’t.
In truth, there’s a little bit more to the tale, as you’ll see—or rather, read—from drab, text-driven story segments chock full of pretentious back story. There’s talk of cursed bloodlines this, and evil mistresses that, but really, trying to place any context to it is pointless.
If there’s one thing we give Onechanbara credit for it’s that it sure doesn’t beat around the bush. After picking your sexy slayer of choice, it’s off to the zombie salt mines where you cleave your way through eight linear levels.
The bulk of the action goes down in story mode, which tracks separate campaigns for Aya, Saki, and inevitably, two other deadly debutants unlocked in the course of the game. Each character comes with their own unique styles and skill sets, but their respective campaigns are all rehashes of the same stock levels.
The overlying objective of Onechanbara seems obvious: lay waste to everything in sight and advance to the next stage. But aside from the occasional cheap fence-in, there’s literally nothing stopping you from simply running to the end of every stage. Nothing. But why, you ask, would we even consider such a thing?
Convenience, for one, but repetition also plays a huge part. There are lots, and lots, and lots of zombies. The first few blood-soaked engagements are assuredly quaint, but not long after that the charm begins to wane. Lackluster enemy variety, A.I. that puts up little resistance, and droves of katana fodder makes playing the game a chore. Some notable exceptions, like mudmen that require a swift jab of the Wii remote to extract their hearts, and policemen that require a kick to the head to loosen their defenses, break the humdrums of battle some. But for the most part, things are inexplicably bland—especially for an action game that douses the screen in red. We didn’t think it possible, but fending off hordes of undead can actually be pretty boring.
At the end of each level, the player is confronted with one of two outcomes. One unceremoniously pats you on the back as you get ready for the next zombie slaughter fest. The other pits you in a fairly anti-climactic boss fight with one of the other girls. It’s a lose-lose situation, and neither option is a reward for slogging through each of the game’s laborious stages.
Luckily, at a paltry two to three hours per campaign, Onechanbara is an experience that, at the very least, won’t last long. Players with a masochistic fetish will be able to retread levels in the free play, cooperative, and survival modes, all while trying to earn achievement-like quests to prolong the pain. But in a last stroke of design genius, you won’t know the exact conditions for completing the achievement until you’ve done it. Well played, Onechanbara. Well played.
Underneath Onechanbara’s silly pretense of samurai sisters and the vengeful dead lies a hack-and-slash with some decent gameplay ideas.
Though most will find the katana to be their main weapon of choice, all of the girls can also call upon unique secondary styles to mix things up. Aya can go akimbo, Saki pulls a mean German suplex, Reiko pops some caps, and Misery breaks her sword apart for longer range.
As you’ll find from chopping up your first zombie, blood flows in copious amounts, but it actually serves a purpose. The more you bushwhack, the more your blade gets caked in blood. If you forget to flick the residue off, it’s prone to get stuck in some hapless roaming lout.
Blood that sticks onto your body, however, is a different story. Unless you visit a save point or got some items to wash the blood away, your character becomes susceptible to entering berserk mode, which takes a significant toll on enemy numbers, and inevitably, your own life.
Given its few neat touches, Onechanbara could actually seem like a title worth playing. But the one cardinal rule that the game breaks is assigning the attack command to waggle. If this doesn’t elicit a groan from you, just think about it for a second. Every single time you want to combo, or even just attack you must waggle. Every time you want to kick someone, waggle. And we’re not just talking about one or two bad guys. We’re talking about a legion of zombies that you have to fight over, and over, and over again.
It’s a bit of sad irony, but if you play Onechanbara, you’re going to be jerking it till you’re sore. It may sound funny, but you won’t be the one laughing when you wake up the next day with a creaky wrist.
For all of its other quirks, Onechanbara has above average graphics for a Wii game. Aya and her curvaceous crew bounce with zest, and their detailed animations certainly show off their best assets. A few extra polygons for the enemies would go a long way, though. The environments vary by stage, though the uniform flatness doesn’t particularly impress.
On the audio end, all of Onechanbara’s katana-wielding cuties grunt, squeal, and shout with the expected caliber of a fan service-driven anime, though we sure could have done without the soundtrack of cheesy techno catwalk tunes.
Conceptually speaking, Onechanbara entreats a dangerous dance of kitsch and low-brow entertainment. But poor design philosophy, a general disregard for story, and gameplay that will literally leave you sore land it in a special category of games barely worth the plastic they’re burned on. Sexy just isn’t enough, and contrary to its buxom beauties, Onechanbara is an ugly game from most angles.