Onechanbara Z2: Chaos Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Sony PlayStation 4
Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is the direct sequel to a game never released in the West, and the eleventh instalment in a series that quite frankly has never really piqued much interest on this side of the globe. It’s not hard to understand why. Propping itself up under the guise of exploitation cinema homage and over-the-top gratuitous violence isn’t enough, when its own perverse image seems to get in the way. But is there more to this slash-em-up than scantily-clad cow girls and young female vampires dressed in school uniforms?
Good luck trying to understand the story. The basic premise follows two clans of monster hunters who despite their common goal have often come to blows due a fierce rivalry that stems back generations. Now confronted with a worldwide zombie epidemic, the Baneful Bloodline and Vampiric Clan put their grievances aside in order to stop a full blown demon invasion from spreading across the planet. Told through a series of cut scenes and comic strip interludes, the only real saving grace is the banter had between the game’s four main characters, which is infinitely more interesting than the game’s tired and unfulfilling story line.
Fans of Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, or even fellow shlocky B-movie wannabe Lollipop Chainsaw will get the most out of this game. As a high-octane gore fest made up of ass-kicking combos and pole-vaulting special moves, Onechanbara certainly ticks all the boxes as a stylized action game. However, it lacks any sense of rhythm or pace that has been delicately crafted by those games it tries so hard to mimic. It’s a fatal sin for a gameplay style that relies so much on exsanguinating sword swipes in order to build and maintain a steady momentum, in order to achieve the highest score possible.
Story mode is the main focus and contains sixteen chapters of varying length and difficulty. Each level is broken down into a series of sequences where you’ll be graded on your ability to chain combos together and use a wide variety of moves to earn the maximum number of points available. Demanding a certain amount of replay, you can return to a mission at any given time in order to beat your personal record or those with proud high scores on top of online leaderboards. There’s also a number of in-game challenges to be completed that can be achieved by mixing up your play style, purchasing new weapons and power-ups, and making full use of your roster of characters.
Unfortunately, the gameplay grows stale pretty quickly. After traversing fairly linear, boring environments such as funnelling corridors or deceptively open, but ultimately closed arenas, you’ll eventually be barricaded in one area until you’ve defeated most, if not all of enemies on screen. The action is addictive but not entirely satisfying, with hits and attacks feeling empty and lacking any sort of weight behind them. And for a game that puts the focus purely on stringing together a high number of combos, the mechanics are all over the place. Enemies have a tendency to spawn at the other end of the arena or worse still, just outside the barriers. This means that the fairly impressive hit score you’ve managed to rack up will dwindle away as you rush about and mop up the remains.
Thankfully, the monsters on offer make up some of the most interesting aspects of the game. Zombies are the most prominent baddies around and while some of these are your bog standard cannon fodder, others carry shields and weapons, making them that bit more difficult to take down, or to look at it another way, can grant you a few more points towards your combo count. There are also bouncing gargoyles, crawling gorgons, snarling werewolves and weird bird-shark hybrids that can both fly and submerge underground if you give them so much as an inch. Say what you want about the game’s character design, but some of these monsters would give a Guillermo Del Toro film a run for its money.
But even when surrounded by a veritable smorgasbord of creatures all after your blood, they seem to do very little other than act as slow-moving targets for your character’s weapon of choice. Your selection of difficulty obviously comes into play here, but even on a more challenging setting, these beasties posed little to no threat, only inflicting damage should you drop the ball and get a little too close during an all-out blood bath. In fact, the biggest nuisance they pose is that more than often, they’ll spawn outside the confines of a battle zone, meaning you’ll have to wait for them to wander back in before you’re able to slay them and finish off that part of the level. An ultimately frustrating glitch when timing can be everything when it comes to getting a decent grade.
The boss fights thankfully are a different kettle of fish and seem to be the only major threat between death or glory. Taking these gargantuan nightmares down involves the same strategy as the lesser minions but at least they tend to fight back and take a big chunk of health with them every time they take a swipe. It’s interesting though that boss fights also seem to be the easiest parts of the game to rack up a near perfect score, partly due to the fact that they’re often accompanied by a sizeable gang of supporting monsters that you can bounce back and forth off in order to keep your hit count going.
The big new feature is the tag-in-tag-out buddy system that allows you to swap between characters at any time and even call all four of them up to bat at the same time. Each character has their own unique primary weapons, with the Banefuls carrying a variety of swords and the Vampires wielding knuckle dusters and chainsaws. Accompanied by their own sets of special moves, it’s actually quite enjoyable deciding which character is best suited to dispatch a particular demon. You can also activate each character’s unique transformation mode once you’ve spilled enough blood and filled the appropriate meter. This gives your character a bit of extra oomph behind their attacks and generally all round speeds up their jumps, twirls and slices And if it all becomes a bit overwhelming, you can call for back-up, bringing all of your allies in to help and rack up the combo meter on your behalf. This works when facing off against hordes of enemies, but when you’re down to the dregs, the AI falls over and your squad mates will resort to following you around like lost puppies.
The controls may seem basic, but understanding them is essentially the most important part of the game, particularly when trying to come up with a colourful range of combos. Square and triangle offer up the standard light and heavy attacks, with the latter taking a little more time to perform but offering a hell of a lot more damage. Circle is assigned to your projectile weapon, which after a while you’ll realise is the handiest way to tackle enemies who are just out of reach. The X button not only makes your character jump, but when used in combination with the targeting system, can send your monster hunter hurtling across to the other end of the arena to take out a fresh batch of enemies before you lose your ever-growing combo score.
This would be a game changer for the series if the camera wasn’t a complete and utter failure at keeping up with the action. R1 can be used to lock on to an enemy, but by the time you’ve selected your next victim, you’ll probably have already sent them hurtling to a different part of the level, leaving you to play catch up with the right analogue stick. Worse still, using the combination of special moves, tag-in combos and your unique transformation ability can send the camera into a complete spasm, breaking through environments and enemies alike, leaving you to best guess who or what you’re attacking, while you button bash for dear life.
This also highlights the graphical sins of the game in all their painful glory. Level designs don’t come close to last-gen graphics never mind this generation, with backdrops and environments on par with a budget PlayStation 2 game. Surprisingly the frame rate doesn’t drop amidst the chaos but it’s not hard to see why when most levels have very little going on. City areas feature cuboid buses and taxis that do little other than get in your way, while more rural areas just don’t bother putting much in the way of scenery at all. If there’s one positive to take from this, it’s that it helps the character models stand out, but then again, that all depends on how much of this game you see as being in bad taste.
The elephant in the room has always been Onechanbara’s somewhat trashy approach to character design. Of course, the concept of featuring barely-clothed female characters at the forefront of a game is nothing new. Dead or Alive has turned this once questionable trait of theirs into a full blown selling point and Onechanbara seems to follow suit. You could even argue that the game is on the verge of self parody, if not for the fact that plot makes absolutely no sense and each character is severely lacking in personality. It reaches ultimate levels of cringe when you realise that certain special moves offer gratuitous upskirt shots and the whole rewards system of the game is based upon obtaining new outfits and accessories for the game’s heroines. One such DLC pack called the ‘Strawberry and Banana’ pack, which pretty much strips the character down into the nude, only to cover their nipples and groin with some crudely placed pieces of fruit. If the developers at Tamsoft were of the opinion that sex sells, then for many of us in the West it continues to be an invariable turn-off.
Chaos by name, Chaos by nature, the eleventh instalment in the Onechanbara series is an absolute mess of a game. For every moment of promise it shows, it is only let down by about a dozen fatal flaws. By placing too much focus on titillation and absurdity, the core gameplay and design elements are left to flounder in pools of spilled blood.