Review: Onechanbara Z2: Chaos

It’s proven in all mediums, be it movies, comics, advertisements or games: sex sells. Zombies are also a hot commodity at the moment, being represented more than ever before, so what better combination is there than sex and the living undead? That’s exactly what Tamsoft thinks as the Japanese studio has been developing Onechanbara games for over a decade now, centered on busty, barely clothed women hacking and slashing their way through hordes of undead creatures. You’d think something like this would be perfect for a western audience, and while the series has seen its fair share of releases stateside, it’s still been far behind what Japan has received. Hopefully that changes soon as Marvelous / XSEED have taken up the torch D3 once held and have brought the latest OneChanbara game, Z2: Chaos, to North America. Featuring even more bodacious gameplay and a brighter, more stylized visual appeal, from the outset, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos has everything in its favor.

The plot and characters of Onechanbara Z2: Chaos are ridiculous, sometimes in the best way possible. Untraditional vampire swordsman Aya and Saki make their return, but they’re now joined by rival slayer-sisters Kagura and Saaya. Gun-toting Anna returns but her role is mainly as a mediator of information, basically trying to make sense of the story that’s at hand. This is probably the best choice for her appearance as Anna was easily the worst character to play as in the last Onechanbara game, Bikini Squad Samurai. The plot is non-existent, at least for how short Z2 is. You are assigned to a special task team that travels across the world, from China to Peru, in order to answer calls of undead disturbances. The pacing of the story is nowhere to be found as you will just be thrown into a number of situations and locations without any context. By the time you meet the main antagonist, you’re already about two hours in, and by the third hour you have defeated her. That’s right, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos can easily be beaten in one sitting as, for the first playthrough, it took us just over three hours to complete (191 minutes to be exact) on normal the difficulty setting, making this one of the shortest character action games we’ve ever experienced.

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There are sixteen chapters to play through, early ones ranging from five to ten minutes in length, with later missions going as high as twenty-five minutes. Some of these chapters are entirely boss battles with maybe a minute worth of story initiating. It’s also something to be said how atrocious the dialogue can be. While there’s not a lot of it, mainly just a quick snippet at the beginning of most chapters, the dialogue throughout the campaign will induce cringing to an alarming degree. It’s anime-esque in that regard, but lacks any depth to build an impactful story.  At the very least the two new characters (for the west) make things a bit interesting, as Kagura is a hot headed, foul mouthed cowgirl.

In terms of gameplay, Aya and Saki play more or less the same as they did previously: Aya wields two katana blades while her little sister uses more in your face, hand-to-hand combat. Kagura and Saaya are somewhat different, though. Kagura is arguably the best character to play as, considering her speed and diversity in weaponry. Saaya is also a strong addition, although she represents heavier attack patterns. Similar to Aya, Kagura wields two blades, but her secondary weapon is a pair of daggers that are somewhat reminiscent of the Chaos Blades Kratos swings around in God of War III, in that they are meant more for twirling on a chain and crowd control. Saaya has a chainsaw which can do a great deal of damage and stun enemies a little easier, with her secondary weapon being Saki’s hand-to-hand gauntlets. The two new slayers are strong additions, especially considering they’re given special treatment early on in the campaign, and it certainly helps that each can be swapped in and out of combat on the fly, allowing for some entertaining combos.

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There’s no better term to describe Onechanbara Z2: Chaos than “button masher.” A number of character action titles can be played where you don’t need a ton of skill to progress, but Z2: Chaos is the pinnacle. Square and triangle will be overworked throughout this three hour campaign with a couple of side abilities, such as unleashing specials, that will be thrown in from time to time. They do introduce enemies that are only vulnerable to a specific move, but these are one of the biggest annoyances when you don’t have that ability charged up and need to sit through a seemingly endless repetition of attacks. Almost every combat scenario, be it boss or regular encounter, can also be completed purely by jumping in the air and mashing on square. For whatever reason, most enemies have a surprisingly tall hitbox and don’t recognize aerial moves, so getting some verticality on them makes things so much easier. In general, most of the enemy AI is comically bad. Granted, most of them are supposed to be zombies, but even those who aren’t, they’ll stand around like idiots and repeat a certain attack pattern, making things way too predictable.

As for progression, this is a completely straightforward, linear game, going from one area to the next while being locked in arenas that force you to defeat waves of enemies before the path ahead opens up. While this is somewhat standard for character action titles, this is all the game has to offer. There are no puzzles whatsoever, nor are there any mid-mission events. It’s purely enter a room, progress is gated, defeat enemy after enemy, exit room, and repeat. There are some encounters you can avoid all together, very similar to Bayonetta’s mission and grading system, but more or less it’s a barebones experience. The bosses on the other hand are generally multi-tiered, but unfortunately they’re all very clear-cut: swing your sword until they’re dead. These involve quicktime events which use the DualShock 4’s touchpad functionality, but Z2 doesn’t really introduce this functionality well, almost not at all, as the first time it comes it will confuse anyone. There’s also one of the worst boss battles I’ve ever faced, having two bodies just run around like headless chickens until you finally put them down. It’s an easy encounter in terms of difficulty, but it’s one of the most tedious sections there is.

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On the positive side of things, there’s a surprisingly robust skill and weapon system, giving the player the ability to extend their arsenal and capabilities. This can be a bit confusing or rather oddly designed as, instead of just pressing X to just buy an item or ability, you have to fill up a bar. At first I thought it was leveling something up, but it was actually making a purchase for something that can be used in battle. Regardless, there’s a long list of abilities to purchase, along with a number of rings and weapons that alter attributes to the characters. This makes progress a little more bearable, as daunting as it may seem at first. In addition to the main campaign, though, there’s also twenty challenges to push through. These are just completing a task under certain parameters, such as killing enemies who only take damage to a specific type of attack. These can be an amusing side activity, but won’t extend playtime too far.

Onechanbara has never really been known for its visual fidelity, and Z2 isn’t going to blow anyone’s socks off. In fact, this can be an absolute pain to look at, not even from how low poly a lot of the environments are, but the color palate can be a little off-putting. Thankfully, it’s a significant improvement over the last Onechanbara game we got here in North America (Bikini Zombie Slayers) as that was a dull, dingy world with no life whatsoever. At least with Z2: Chaos, we are treated to a bevy of colors spread across the globe. From a technical standpoint, the environments are laughably bad, almost to the point they look like they were pulled out of a PS2 game. Like a lot of Japanese titles, it’s the character models that standout the most, and the high customization makes it all the better. That’s one thing fans will certainly enjoy: seeing all four zombie slayers dressed up in the most ridiculous and most overly sexualized manner possible. Fan service is at an all-time high here, with some outfits and models that may as well just be nude.

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Closing Comments:

Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is one of the better entries in the eleven year old series, but that’s not saying much. There’s a decent level of character customization, relatively fluid swordplay and a ton of fan service to be found. Unfortunately, it’s overburdened by how fast gameplay becomes repetitive, the unsightly visual aesthetic, unspeakable dialogue, poor mission structure and just an embarrassingly short campaign. Tamsoft has improved the core battle system to actually make it entertaining, but there’s no excusing the rest of the experience from being as shoddy as it is. Don’t let these voluptuous young women seduce you: Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is flawed beyond measure with its only redeeming quality being competent combat mechanics.