I love hack and slash games and I’m definitely not adverse to zombie-slaying women in bikinis, but is that concept good enough to be able to carry an entire game?
Onechanbara, known as Oneechanbara in Japan (onee-chan meaning sister) definitely tries. It knows it’s a B-movie-like game with over the top gore and some decent humour and it loves to revel in it. Onechanbara watches sisters Kagura, Saaya, Aya and Saki team up to help save the world from zombies and demons whilst they try not to fight amongst each other due to their rivalry from the previous game due to their mother’s interference, something that is recapped on at the beginning. Don’t expect any outstanding, oscar-winning storytelling because you won’t find it here, but you will find reasons to go globetrotting with the aim to shed blood everywhere (and save the world).
The story doesn’t end with any real conclusion with many questions left unanswered, which I found pretty poor for a game that only lasts 5-6 hours, and it hints at a third. The four girls are pretty likeable but they’re hardly packed with depth and, surprising me, they’re not as sexualised as the cover art leads you to believe – sure the outfits are, but the characters themselves are funny and take the whole ‘saving the world’ business seriously. The story is told mostly through comic book-like cutscenes which is a shame as I quite liked the normal in-motion cutscenes of which there are very few.
Nobody is buying Onechanbara for the story though, they’re buying it for the gameplay and visuals and I’m happy to say that the gameplay is solid and leaves room for you to string together flashy and effective combos with multiple weapons and characters. Onechanbara invites multiple playthroughs with loads of content to unlock including accessories, art, outfits, weapons and new combos and whilst some of the fights are longer than they need to be, there’s oodles of fun to be had. The boss fights are enjoyable and can be pretty tricky but once you’ve upgraded your gear and abilities and make good use of the dodge button, then you should find yourself destroying your foes relatively quickly although they prove to be rather difficult on higher difficulty levels!
Throughout the game you unlock new ‘forms’ which allows the girls to transform into more powerful forms with more revealing outfits to boot, and you become stronger and faster, capable of blowing enemies away in a hit or two which proves to be very helpful during boss battles or when you’re becoming overwhelmed. Although the game is single player, you can call in your sisters for help and they prove to have great AI, actually making a huge difference and allowing you to get your bearings together whilst they dish out damage to your now quickly vanishing worries. You can switch between them at any time with the directional buttons and they all play differently with unique weapons, so give them all a go to see who you prefer but I mostly played as Kagura and Aya. As expected, Onechanbara gives you accessories and outfits to play with so you can dress the girls up, something which I personally found a lot of enjoyment in as I love being able to change outfits in games.
I don’t think anybody was really expecting outstanding visuals that push the power of the PS4, but they’re actually a lot better than I expected them to be. Sure, they’re far from the best but it’s colourful and I love the character and enemy design, and the PS4 benefits the hack and slash gameplay by making it feel very smooth with no noticeable slowdown despite the high amount of action on screen. The stages offered plenty of variation in locale but they mostly felt rather large and empty overall. You’re even able to change the colour of the blood if you don’t fancy seeing red everywhere, which I found to be considerate of NIS America and developer Tamsoft.
I was pleasantly surprised with the audio with voice-acting that matched the tone of the game very well, with some very crude dialogue which cracked me up and made the conversations hugely enjoyable. The OST proved to be very catchy too with some excellent rock tracks and great vocals, and I don’t really have any negative points where audio is concerned, bar the non-vocal tracks being easy to forget in comparison to the boss battles with vocal tracks. You can’t choose the original Japanese voice-over but I think you’ll find very little to complain about the hilarious yet fitting English dub. Sadly, the game is really short so I didn’t get to enjoy it quite as much as I’d have liked.
Onechanbara can be picked up for about £30 at retail but I struggle to recommend it for that price with its inconclusive story, short length and some repetitive battles, but I can’t deny that I had a lot of fun with it and might go back to it again someday when I want something mindless to play and zombie slayers in bikinis proves that in abundance! The hack and slash mechanics are solid and should please hardcore fans of the genre and it invites replayability but again, it’s a hard sell at £30 when it feels more like a £20 game made for PSN. It strongly reminded me of Lollipop Chainsaw and so if you bought that at full price and loved it, you’ll likely be satisfied doing the same for Onechanbara and if it’s something you’ve been waiting for for a long time then, well, I’m sure you know what you’re getting into already so you might as well go for it! Those on the fence might want to wait for the price to decrease a little first, though.