Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad: The Review

Onechanbara cover

I wrote a review about this game on release and how it was a glorious celebration of D3 – the publisher – and their process of concept approval. Onechanbara is about a girl who dresses in a feather boa, bikini, cowboy hat and boots, so that she and her schoolgirl sister can do battle with zombies. Zombies straight from Hell, or Burlington, or something.

It was not hard to see why this got green-lit. Onechanbara is quintessentially Japanese in that special way: it makes you want to say “thanks Japan” with a smile of mild bemusement on your face.


I also wrote that although the concept was hilarious the game felt far from finished. The graphics are barely improved from the PS2 version, the level design is generally poor and, at the time, I was under the impression that the combat had little going for it.

Up to a point those opinions still stand some three years after that review. That said, every two or three months I still drag this game out, put it on and get a few levels further into the harder difficulties. The gameplay is never short of cathartic fun and, as a result, one of the only games I have ploughed more hours into than this is Earth Defense Force 2017.

Onechanbara - you are not a paedo

You are not a paedo for looking at this picture, but you feel like one don't you?

This compulsion to keep coming back for more is something that I didn’t originally notice, for the obvious reason that this is something which emerges over time. But the deeply satisfying mindless violence – great for letting off steam after a particularly stressful day at work – is not the only thing the game has going for it, with a surprising layer of depth emerging from the one-button bashing.

Certainly there is quite a bit of hacking limbs off, and the earlier levels only require no-brainer tactics, but this mindless carnage is offset by the Blade meter. As you hack through the hordes your sword will get covered in blood, and once fully saturated you will have to clean it off – with a satisfying flick effect that splatters ichor all over the screen – or see your sword wedged in the next monstrosity you slice at.

Onechanbara gore

Gore, lovely gore.

In practice, with different enemies filling up the blade meter by different amounts, this means that you can never settle yourself into a steady, monotonous rhythm as in the Dynasty Warriors series. This might not bring immediate depth but  there is always a danger that your undead genocide is going to be drawn to a sudden close, with you frantically trying to extricate your katana from a reanimated body while its undead friends gather around you to take a bite.

What brings substantial depth to the combat as you get further into the game are the perfect strike system and the Baneful Blood mode.

The perfect strike system requires that, with each hack, the subsequent strike offers a window in which pressing the button in time to coincide with the landing of the blow boosts it: the Bikini Samurai of your choice will perform a more damaging attack and your blade meter won’t increase as much. These can be strung together into multiple strikes (the longest string I’ve managed has been 8 strikes) for devastating effect. The problem? Miss one and you might as well start again. Oh, and while you’re at it, watch out for the Baneful Blood.

Part of the story explaining why the two main characters are immune to the zombie plague is that they possess this thing called the ‘Baneful Blood’; it’s some kind of demonic possession thing (I pretty much skipped the cut-scenes) which translates in-game to rage mode with a twist.

Onechanbara killer whale

A twist, and zombie killer whales.

The baneful blood mode is triggered after a certain amount of blood-letting, at which point cowgirl or her sister will freak out, turn purple and become extremely good at reducing all surrounding enemies to dust. The catch is that while you stay in this form your health steadily decreases, meaning that you’re insanely badass but also much more vulnerable.

At first this hobbling feels like a tease but as you gradually level up your character and are able to sustain this mode longer, simply by having more health or extending it with stamina-increasing green orbs, strategies emerge that allow you to keep these rampages going almost for entire levels. If you are feeling particularly cheeky you can even deliberately trigger the Baneful Blood mode by using other pick-ups and slaughter otherwise overpowered bosses.

Onechanbara certainly never reaches Devil May Cry or Bayonetta levels of combo madness but it isn’t trying to. The intent is clearly to maintain an accessibility that allows anyone to play while still offering enough hooks for those with a willingness to explore the game.

Being beginner-friendly means that Onechanbara is also a great co-op game and introduction for players who don’t normally play modern games. As an entry point for partners who struggle dealing with the second thumb stick there isn’t much better, especially given that the restrictive level design that feels claustrophobic to most is actually a good way to keep play linear and manageable.

This is true so long as they can get over the tongue-in-cheek exploitation nature of the game, that is.

Onechanbara exploitation

Classy.

Despite every janky animation and badly-signposted piece of progression, Onechanbara manages to offer more than enough entertainment. It helps that the game exhibits a lot of heart and genuine affection for the silliness it portrays. Next to polished turds like Afro Samurai, Onechanbara stands proudly amongst its B-game peers as a series that should be continued.

Come on, you have to love a game that has an interactive loading screen.