Onechanbara Z2 definitely has its upsides. Quirky in both its presentation and colourful approach to the zombie apocalypse, Tamsoft has created a recognisable brand in one of Japan’s most overcrowded video game genres. However, beneath this superficial exterior lies an unappealing web of mechanics that does little to separate Onechanbara from its equally mind-numbing competition. It won’t burrow its way into the hearts of most western gamers, yet the sequel’s presence alone hints at a growing fanbase for such niche titles.
It’s quite likely that you’ve either heard of Onechanbara before or at least seen some form of artwork or video, depicting bikini-clad warriors mowing down zombies and an array of exotic mythological beasts. What you probably don’t know is that the series has been in circulation for over a decade now. Back in the day, Tamsoft was one of several Japanese studios that worked on the Simple 2000 series. Spanning more than a hundred “volumes” these were meant as a smaller budget range available on PlayStation 2. A few of these games would go on to form their very own popular IP, including Earth Defence Force and, of course, Onechanbara. However, looking back at Tamsoft’s debut entry, little has changed over the past ten years.
One similarity is Z2’s diminished focus on narrative, mostly kept to pre-mission cutscenes and the occasional line of dialogue. Instead of being the driving force, it simply acts as a thin veil that momentarily draws your focus away from the action. Although some fans will be disappointed, others will come to appreciate the lack of exposition as it allows them to jump straight in without the typical labrious scene setting that so many imports are guilty of. All you really need to know is that there are four female zombie hunters travelling the world to protect what remains of their dwindling civilisation.
When playing Onechanbara Z2, most of your time will no doubt be spent in story mode. Here you will hone your hack and slash skills, battling against numerous hordes of the undead and whatever boss characters you come across. Each mission can last anywhere between five and fifteen minutes, though the dull combat and repetitive enemy waves meant that we could only stand two or three of these at a time.
The battle system in Onechanbara feels like a cross between Devil May Cry and Dynasty Warriors. There’s a persistent focus on point-scoring, encouraging players to rack up huge combos while also alternating between different characters and weapon types. Although the aforementioned boss fights requre a one-on-one approach, most combat scenarios will drop you in the centre of an undead army, forcing you to wipe the screen with supercharged attacks.
It’s fun at first and even has a nice amount of complexity; switching characters can be done on the fly and even during combos, creating a welcome sense of fluidity. By earning orbs, players can also tailor their characters through purchasing new skills and stat-boosting gear. Naturally, you are also given the option to dress them up in all sorts of garments – some more revealing than others. That said, five minutes into each play session, Z2 eventually loses steam and become a mindless, button-mashing slog from A to B.
This is exacerbated by annoying enemy types as well as the arena-style structure to each mission. As soon as you finish a battle, you’re given a quick ranking before being sent into the next zone, all of which are cordoned off using the same bland fencing. With no sense of exploration to be had whatsoever, Onechanbara Z2 quickly becomes an endless series of fights that only become more tolerable the more your characters develop.
Speaking of characters, their probably the highlight among Z2’s PlayStation 4 visuals. The main cast, as well as many of the game’s bosses, sports colourful and striking design work. It’s a shame then that the same cannot be said of environments, most of which have all the detail and charm of those used during Onechanbara’s Simple 2000 days. Meanwhile, all the on-screen action is propped up by a fairly generic soundtrack though, once again, we’re also glad to hear Z2’s localised voice work.
Although presented in a nice package, Onechanbara Z2 feels outdated compared to most modern day action games. Tamsoft may have upped the ante on a number of fronts, yet it’s the core gameplay where this sequel suffers most. It’s all well and good creating an offbeat world in which to put players, but Onechanbara is missing the depth to keep them there.