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Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad (Xbox 360) artwork

Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad (Xbox 360) review


"I’m not exactly sure what did it, but I had huge doubts about Onechanbara right from the start. Maybe it was the opening cinema where our buxom hero Aya showers, lavishing the player with her glistening lower back tattoo while dripping with steamy water, or perhaps it was the fact I was playing a game subtitled Bikini Samurai Squad. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect a brawler about scantily clad women chopping up zombies to be as fun as it turned out to be. "



I’m not exactly sure what did it, but I had huge doubts about Onechanbara right from the start. Maybe it was the opening cinema where our buxom hero Aya showers, lavishing the player with her glistening lower back tattoo while dripping with steamy water, or perhaps it was the fact I was playing a game subtitled Bikini Samurai Squad. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect a brawler about scantily clad women chopping up zombies to be as fun as it turned out to be.

Onechanbara is actually the third installment in The Oneechanbara games – originally a pair of Playstation 2 budget titles in D3’s Simple 2000 series. Along with the Wii release Bikini Zombie Slayers, this is the first entry to hit US shores, though the first title was surprisingly released in Europe re-branded as Zombie Zone. Onechanbara continues the non-existent story of sword-wielding sisters Aya and Saki, who battle the living dead with the power of the Baneful Blood coursing through their veins. An evil organization unleashes zombies on Tokyo in attempt to capture the sisters and use their blood for world domination. Or something. Usually I skipped the wall of text thrown at me at the start of a level, and the occasional CG scenes are short and cheap-looking.

Any idiot can glance at the cover and realize Onechanbara doesn’t promise a compelling narrative. It promises busty babes battling baddies, and that’s what your money gets you. Shortly in you’re introduced to the three playable characters. The two sisters, Aya (the bouncy cowboy bikini samurai) and Saki (the token twintail loli girl in a high school uniform), play very similarly with an array of sword-based combos, though there are differences such as Aya can dual-wield katanas while Saki carries a much longer sword for better crowd control. The busty cop Annna (with three n’s!) rounds out the cast with an arsenal of firearms, including handguns, a shotgun, a submachine gun, and grenades.

Onechanbara is initially too simple and easy. The enemies consist mainly of sluggish zombies only capable of dealing melee damage. Most can be easily dispatched by randomly mashing the X button while watching their appendages fly off until they’re just a pair of legs trying to kick you to death. All the while gallons of crimson blood explode from their bodies causing droplets to splash against the screen and trickle down. Eventually the sisters’ blades become soaked – denoted by the Splatter Gauge – and they have to flick off the blood or else their swords get stuck in enemies (similarly Annna needs to reload her weapons). But the enemies become tougher. Soon beefy zombies that look like Andore from Final Fight try to break your spine. Fully armed undead cops burst from the ground and pump buckshot from afar, oozing Tarmen reach out with their sickening touch, and eventually zombified army troops toting mini-guns and grenades make your day suck.

So that’s why there’s an experience system. Every undead killed earns the girls experience to put into four stats: Power, Vitality, Reach, and Skill. Most are self-explanatory, but Skill is easily the most important because it unlocks more combos for Aya and Saki. While beefing up your characters is fun, it takes far too long to do so. Additionally, the game quickly gets boring unless more combos are learned, so good judgment with character building is almost necessary to have fun.

Put some points (or a lot of them) in Skill and Onechanbara picks up. Suddenly there’s more variety as you have access to many more awesome attacks. The combo system is interesting in that it requires specific timing to open up different move sets. Mindlessly mashing the X button may just cause Aya and Saki to ultimately perform a jump in the air that slashes the nearest enemy, but delaying a button press during one slash animation can propel the combo into a completely different type of attack – a flurry of quick horizontal slashes against a crowd for example. You can even eventually start ripping out zombies’ hearts to instantly kill even the fiercest Tarman. After learning the rhythm of the combos, timing your button presses just right causes a twice as powerful critical hit, illustrated by dramatic white flash from your blade. A continued onslaught, made much easier by high hitting combos, also builds up the Ecstasy Gauge. Once it starts flashing, you can execute a powerful attack dependent on your character. Aya spins around brandishing twin katanas that tear into nearby enemies, Saki shoots an arc of pure energy across the room cleaving anything it touches in two, and Annna unloads a hails of bullets from her pistols.

Combat is surprisingly deeper than it initially appears. Many enemies block attacks, forcing you to perform quick dodges to get behind them before striking. Or you can perform an uppercut and juggle them in the air. There are even counters that deal tons of damage. After excessive zombie genocide, Aya or Saki’s are automatically thrown into Blood Rage mode. As they scream out in pain and become completely enveloped in a crimson aura, the sisters’ health starts to slowly deplete in exchange for double the power and speed with unblockable attacks and sometimes instant disintegration with one touch. Blood Rage can last as long as you like. It can only be turned off by touching a Goddess Statue or using one of the many dropped items you can stock up on in your inventory.

You’re probably noticing that few of these features seem to apply to Annna. Unfortunately Annna isn’t as fun to play as because she has no combos and can’t use Blood Rage. Playing as Annna boils down to quickly shooting zombies from afar. Luckily the game uses a tag team system, where you choose two girls and switch between them on the fly. The girl who’s tagged out can regain some of her lost health, making Annna’s long-ranged attacks great for when you want to heal up one of the sisters.

As fun as combat eventually becomes, it’s significantly marred by the astoundingly lazy and repetitive level design. Each area is full of drab, same-looking corridors that would be impossible to navigate without the in-game map. The map places an obvious Important Event mark to show you where to go, so it’s just matter of going from mark to mark. Strangely you can run right past most of the endless amount of undead that litter the levels until a magical fence pops up (usually around an important item), forcing you to defeat every enemy to shove it back down. And that’s pretty much every level: run around identical corridors fighting a lot of the same enemies. Even many of the game’s chapters rehash gameplay environments – both their graphics and layouts – and music multiple times. Occasionally you fight a very underwhelming boss, which are almost always defeated by running behind them and slashing away. There are only two unique levels that stand out: a dull motorcycle stage where you drive in a straight line through hordes of zombies and mutant dogs and an absurd boss fight with a zombie whale that politely beaches itself so you can kill it. The final insult comes when you realize the story campaign only lasts a scant 4 hours.

Onechanbara’s attempts to extend its longevity don’t help a lot. The harder difficulties are your best bet since zombies become stronger and more plentiful, and the core combat powering up your characters is fun and satisfying. Considering how limited and repetitive the campaign is, it won’t last for too long. There are also ‘quests’ that involve completing simple objectives during story mode, such as killing a certain amount of zombies or defeating a boss in Blood Rage. They’re not very interesting but most of these you do by accident. Additionally they unlock pieces of clothing for editing the girls’ appearances. There’s also a survival mode, but moving from room to room fighting a lot of zombies is exactly the same deal as story mode. What’s the point?

Americans need to remember some points about Onechanbara. The game was over two years old when it was finally localized, and this series of budget releases became popular overseas because of its ridiculous premise involving bouncy women fighting zombies. Bikini Samurai Squad is by no means a good game, but there is a surprising amount of enjoyment to be had from it. With a cheap admission price and low expectations, fans of brawlers like Koei’s Warriors series will have a blast hacking up the living dead with the sexy sisters’ simple yet versatile battojutsu while it lasts.

Rating: 6/10

Genj's avatar
Community review by Genj (July 23, 2010)

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