This zombie hack and slasher series is synonymous with D3’s own Earth Defence Force, both being budget offerings with ‘B movie’ flair that made PlayStation 2 debuts. They’re renown for using their weaknesses as strengths, reusing assets in clever ways, while providing a lengthy grind. Repetitive to the extreme, certainly, but it’s the repetition of the rewarding kind.
Whereas EDF has the look of a low budget monster flick, with its shlock sci-fi UFOs and Godzilla knockoffs, One Chanbara (originally known as Zombie Zone and Zombie Hunters in the west) is far more violent and titillating, featuring feisty females wearing very little aside bikinis, feather boas, and high heel shoes. Not exactly fitting attire to battle an army of undead.
What we have here is a HD remake combining the first two PS2 One Chanbara games, now with vastly improved visuals to provide a fresh anime styling. It is, at times, a surprisingly stylish affair – attacks are over the top and complemented by brightly coloured sword swipes, buckets of blood cover the environs in a pleasing manner, and the ‘cool finisher’ moves that are precisely that.
Nevertheless, these are budget games we’re dealing with. There’s little variety within the enemy types, the same battle music plays constantly throughout, and the level design is close to being non-existent. The levels – set within a disused hospital, a rundown shopping mall and a sludge-filled sewer system – are crudely formed of square or rectangular rooms connected by narrow corridors; there are no set-pieces, QTEs, puzzles or platforming elements. Little scope for exploration, either. This is an extremely straightforward ‘kill ‘em all to progress’ experience.
Boss battles punctate the repetition, although these become less exciting and more frequent as time progresses, leading to some pacing issues.
Comprised of few mechanics, the combat system is easy to master. Remember, these games made their debut way before Platinum gave the genre a shakeup. In fact, it’s so simplistic that the Aya’s main combo is simply a dozen presses of the square button. Dodging activates a short slowdown effect, swinging you into a perfect striking position – one of the more satisfying ideas. Less satisfying is the far more crucial parrying system, which often feels like it requires more luck than skill to perform. Problem is, parrying is required to take down the larger ‘Mud Men’ enemies. They pack a wallop and so missing a few parries in a row can be devastating.
Onee Chanbara Origins never plummets into the realms of frustration, though, providing a surprisingly smooth ride – on normal mode we died just twice during its 6-hour duration. Weirdly, the in-game shop is accessible at any time. Even during boss battles, it’s possible to simply open the menu and purchase health top-ups. This peculiar design decision removes some potential tension while making it far too tempting to splurge on power-ups whenever faced with a challenge.
A couple of hours in, Aya can be switched for her sister Saki at any time. Whoever is unused recharges health, putting the focus on ‘tagging out’ before the gauge depletes. The two have different weapons, attacks and finishers. They also constantly bicker, while occasionally talking about their families’ cursed bloodline – both can enter a ‘berserk mode’ after a certain amount of blood has been spilt, which successfully gives the sensation of being temporarily unstoppable. This curse/gift ties into the story, involving their missing father. The voice acting isn’t as bad as we initially feared, although there is necessary squabbling and some oddly truncated conversations.
The new photo mode also feels surplus as it’s impossible to zoom or add effects and filters. This was perhaps due to Sony’s regulations regarding sexual content.
Once the story is finished new difficulty settings and a survival mode unlock. It also takes several playthroughs to reach max level (Aya and Saki only gain a few points at the end of a stage) and to acquire the dozen-or-so stat increasing rings. This is par for course – the One Chanbara series is centred on grinding to unlock everything. Back in 2003/2005 – and as £9.99 budget games – gamers definitely got their monies worth. As a £39.99 release in 2020 (£49.99 for the deluxe edition), you’d have to be extremely committed to recoup that investment. The value for money factor is lost here.
Indeed, by arriving this late during a console generation, Onee Chanbara Origins is an odd proposition. These are old games that weren’t exactly classics to begin, never quite managing to carve the same niche Earth Defence Force did.
The relentless hack and slashing is reasonably satisfying in places, but the experience as a whole is constantly lacking. For all its grisly over the top violence and daftness, we frequently wished the developers had put more effort in to give us something not quite as brainless and linear. Forgivably lacking, but lacking all the same.
Onee Chanbara Origins is out now on PS4 (tested) and Steam.