Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad
Release Date: 02/10/09
God bless D3. Long before they became notable in the US for publishing cheap games that were entertaining and good for the gamer on a budget, they became notable in Japan for, well, publishing cheap games that were entertaining and good for the gamer on a budget. In Japan, however, this gaming series had a name: The Simple Series. The Simple Series mostly consists of basic, easy to understand games that feature such wonderful titles as “The Billiards”Â and “The Dungeon RPG”Â, and when that naming convention ultimately ran dry, “The Maid and the Machine Gun”Â and “The Earth Defense Force”Â. They’ve published approximately eleven billion of these things, and in case you couldn’t tell, I own something like thirty of them, including a game that makes idols play mini-games (think Dead or Alive Xtreme with less content) and a turn-based strategy game based on Earth Defense Force, which is, as you might think, awesome.
Now, as a related aside, it seems to me that there are two extremes of gamer types: those who play video games purely for enjoyment, and those who play video games purely for a challenge. You can look at this as the difference between the guy who goes down to the retirement community to play chess with whoever’s sitting at the table at the moment versus the guy who goes to competitions and plays some of the best players in the world. One is playing the games for the pure enjoyment of playing, while the other is playing for the feeling of power they get from beating someone else at the game. People can fall somewhere in between these categories, but in essence, on one end you have the guy who plays Street Fighter 2 because he likes doing fireball motions and mashing buttons versus the guy who likes playing Street Fighter 2 because he’s mastered the art of shutting a player out by exploiting Ryu’s priority to insane degrees.
I mention this because I think you need to know that if you fall into the latter category,
Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad is not for you. While it CAN be complex, the game largely boils down to pressing a couple buttons for several hours, and if you’re looking for the next great complex gaming experience, you’re going to hate me for saying, in essence, that this game is pretty fun, so you’ll probably be better off buying, I don’t know, Romance of the Three Kingdoms or something. If you can’t enjoy gaming for the sake of gaming, if everything must be about complex timing and overly involved button presses and controller motions, honestly, you’re not going to find anything I have to say worthwhile, so you might as well leave now and save yourself the annoyance.
Are they gone? Good. Now let’s talk about Onechanbara.
Onechanbara (or Oneechanbara as Alex has mentioned in his review of the Wii version) is actually an astonishingly long-running and popular Simple Series franchise in Japan; aside from the four actual games in the series and the two remakes of the first two games, there are also mobile phone games based on the series, the characters pop up in other Simple Series titles, and THERE’S EVEN A MOVIE based on the game in Japan (and yes, I’m serious; go watch the trailer if you’re doubtful of this thing), so, yeah, the series has a definite fan following. The 360 version of the game is chronologically the third game in the series, meaning that players who
have lives haven’t read up on the first two games might think this means they’re going to have no idea what’s going on, but thankfully Onechanbara brings the player up to speed pretty quickly: Aya and Saki are sisters who used to fight but don’t anymore. They’re both somewhat cursed warriors who long for a peaceful life but are constantly forced to fight the undead by an evil organization who wants their cursed blood in order to dominate the world. Some people want Aya and Saki dead, others want them for science experiments, and others want to ally with them to save the world, all because they are, essentially, the best warriors on the planet. Their odd fashion sense is completely unrelated to this thing, of course, but that’s part of the ridiculous charm of the product.
As the plot goes, it’s extremely basic: bad people want Saki for experiments and Aya, Saki, and new ally Annna (yes, with three n’s) want to stop them, so Kipling it ain’t. The story gets the point across perfectly fine, however, and the characters are perfectly likable and presented well enough that the played can empathize with their plight, so in the end, it gets the job done nicely. Game modes-wise, on the other hand, Onechanbara rocks; you’re given the standard Story mode (play through the stages and watch the story), Free Play (play the stages as whoever you want with no plot), Survival mode (survive increasing difficult waves of zombies), Practice mode (practice combos and such), and Dress Up mode (dress up your characters as you see fit), meaning you’ve got plenty to do. You can also choose to try and complete various quests to unlock parts to dress your characters in, and the game offers co-op play for two players (offline only) if you want to mess things up with a friend in tow. Combine that with the fact that you can also play through four different difficulty levels and level up your characters to disgusting levels along the way, and well, yeah, there’s a whole lot of stuff to do with Onechanbara. About the only thing missing from the game is online play, and considering the fact that the game (sadly) most likely won’t move enough units to justify such a thing, that’s unfortunately an understandable omission.
Visually, Onechanbara is a mostly good game. The character models are generally well-animated (though the… ahem, “jiggle physics”Â are borderline bizarre), the violence is appropriately over-the-top and looks very nice, the environments are solid and well-rendered, and the special effects are impressive enough and polished. The game also looks pretty nice in HD, lots of enemies appear on-screen at once, and there’s very little slowdown in the game, which is also good to see. On the other hand, though, there are the odd camera issues here and there when the camera goes into a wall that can be distracting, the storyline font used for cutscenes looks weird and often prints in a way that makes it hard to read, and the visuals, while NICE, aren’t IMPRESSIVE or anything. It also bears noting that many of the stages seem to have been lifted entirely from the PS2 Onechanbara titles and given a mild facelift, though the fact that those games never saw a US release mitigates that complaint somewhat. Aurally, the voice acting is nice, though it’s entirely in Japanese, so if you’re a fan of English voice work you’ll be disappointed. The music is solid, consisting mostly of techno-pop and guitar-heavy tracks that fade in and out as needed and compliment the massacre nicely. The sound effects and zombie groans are all generally solid and well done, and as the most common sound (sword through rotting flesh) is generally spot-on and fitting, there’s nothing bad to say about the audio at all, really.
The gameplay of Onechanbara is, surprisingly enough, designed to cater both to players seeking complexity while also offering up a design that will allow casual and unskilled players a nice, enjoyable experience. The face buttons allow you to perform three different types of attacks per character, as well as jump, and by using the three buttons in different combinations you’ll be able to string together some impressive combos. The X button performs your standard primary attack, the Y button performs your secondary attack (which is, in most cases, a kick combo of some sort), and the B button performs a support attack that is dependant upon both the character (IE Saki runs very fast, Annna kicks) and the style (IE in one-sword style, Aya throws knives, while in two-sword style, Aya does a wide forward strike). Using these buttons together in the right order and with the right timing is the key to performing “Cool Combos”Â, which are essentially multi-hit combos that level foes, but if you lack the patience to be bothered, you can also just hack away at everything if desired to achieve victory. You’re also given counter moves that can kill most enemies in one hit and deal massive damage otherwise (at the cost of your own health), the ability to lock onto enemies if you want to target a specific foe and dodge their assaults, and in most stages, the ability to switch between two characters for added enemy-smiting variety.
Beyond the basics, however, there are a few other things that need to be considered. For one, sword-wielding characters will find that their blade will eventually become saturated with the blood of fallen foes and will need to be cleaned (Annna instead has to reload). Doing so is as simple as pressing a button, mind you, but in the heat of battle it can be hard to remember this until your attacks slow to a crawl and your sword gets stuck in an opponent, which is never a good thing, especially on higher difficulties. Some characters can also use their “Baneful (AKA super-human) Blood”Â to, essentially, Hulk Up; they become far more powerful, speed up a bit, and essentially wreck everything they see, at the cost of their own life bar, making this a costly, if effective, option in battle. Much like similar games in the genre, you’ll also be able to level up your characters as they mow down the enemy hordes; as you kill things, you can earn experience points that in turn earn you points to distribute between four categories: Skill, which increases your combo options, Vitality, which makes your life bar longer, Power, which makes you stronger, and Reach, which increases your attack reach (Annna does not get this; she gets “Gun”Â, which increases her gun damage). You’ll also find various items as you play that can heal you, reduce your blood rage, increase your speed and attack power, and so on, which are quite beneficial in later stages and on higher difficulties. There are also bracelets to unlock and level up by killing Blood Mist Zombies, each of which offers excellent benefits to the user, though they’re no picnic to unlock (you can only kill BMZ’s with Cool Combos), meaning that only the most dedicated and skilled of players will unlock them. On the other hand, you don’t NEED them to complete the game, so you can look at them as a reward for learning the combos if you’d rather, and in that respect, that’s not a bad idea.
There’s also a whole lot to work with as far as content goes. Aside from the main story mode (which features twenty chapters of zombie-slaying goodness, including a chapter where you kill a ZOMBIE KILLER WHALE), you’ll also be able to undertake a whole lot of quests to unlock component parts for dressing up your characters. Yeah, really. The quests range from something as simple as “kill a boss with a blood-covered sword”Â to something as complex as “kill a boss with the final hit of a Cool combo”Â, and each quest features three levels to perform, each of which is less forgiving than the last. Dressing your characters up, speaking of which, is novel and about as amusing as you’d expect, though it’s fairly limited in actual execution. The Survival and Free Play modes also work as you’d expect them to, and aside from allowing you to earn experience for your characters and wreck enemies with whatever character you choose, they’re also plenty enjoyable just because, as expected, killing things is fun. You’re also offered four difficulty levels to plow through, each more punishing than the last, which Earth Defense Force fans should know all about and be happy with. There’s even DLC available at this point, and it’s not bad; while the two extra costumes for the playable characters might not be for everyone, the three additional playable characters certainly should, especially since they’re all pretty solid characters.
Also, there’s a mini-game you can play during the loading screens that allows you to kill zombies as a chibi version of Aya. There’s absolutely no point to it, but it’s pretty entertaining and helps pass the time nicely, and it’s a shame more developers don’t do this.
This is not to say that all is wine and roses with Onechanbara, of course. First off, yes, it needs to be said that the game really is little more than smashing the X and Y buttons with the occasional press of the B and A buttons as needed for about six or seven hours, and that’s going to annoy people. Beyond that, however, there’s also a lot of repetition; several of the same stages are used as the backdrop for battle over and over again, which is bad enough the FIRST time you have to see this, but becomes outright grating after the third or fourth time you go through it. Further, this version of Onechanbara is functionally identical to the PS2 versions in many respects, and while no, those games never came to the US, and yes, the only person who would care is someone who imported the games and thus wouldn’t care anyway because they love the games regardless, it kind of needs to be said all the same. Also, while most of the game is pretty enjoyable, the motorcycle section doesn’t play particularly well, and while it isn’t even remotely game-breaking, it IS kind of annoying at first trying to appropriately work with the motorcycle gimmick. This only pops up once in the game, and it isn’t horrendous, but it’s not as good as the rest of the game and kind of hurts the product early on, sadly.
That said, Onechanbara is the melee combat equivalent of Gungrave (or the sexy and gory equivalent of Dynasty Warriors on Easy): you’re essentially an over-powered super being, killing everything you see in violent and impressive fashion JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN, and if you can’t enjoy that on some base level, then hey, have fun with your intricate turn-based strategy simulations and stuff, man. This game is mindless fun personified, and by offering up a control scheme that’s complex enough to challenge the hardest hardcore player, yet simple enough to allow everyone to have fun with it, Onechanbara manages to be a game that’s very difficult to NOT recommend. Combine this with two-player support, multiple play modes, lots of unlockables, downloadable content, and all sorts of small but novel touches, and this is a game most folks will get their money’s worth out of and then some. The motorcycle stage isn’t fantastic, the stages repeat a bit, and it’s really a game that, for most, boils down to spamming X for six hours, but frankly, sometimes that’s a GOOD thing. If you’re looking for something you can just PLAY, Onechanbara is pretty much the answer to your prayers, and you’d do well to buy it and love it a lot.
Story/Game Modes: GOOD
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Final Score: GOOD GAME.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad is fabulous fun for one or two players who enjoy hacking things to bits while showers of blood cascade across the screen. That’s about as simple as it gets. It’s fun, looks and sounds solid, offers a ton of stuff to do, is as simple or complex as you want it to be, and is generally enjoyable from start to finish and beyond. Some repetition issues and one stage in particular bring down the overall quality of the product a bit, but these are small, forgivable issues that most players will be able to overlook by and large. Frankly, it’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to just sit down and PLAY something without having to invest significant effort in learning the nuances of the product, and sometimes, that’s all I’m really looking for. If you ever feel that way, and you love cheesy Japanese games, Onechanbara is most likely what you’ve been waiting for.