I’ve never been the type of person who fully understands the quirks of Japanese games. While I certainly can understand fans’ love for the uniquely oddball ideas that make up the foundation of most Japanese creation, I’ve only just begun to immerse myself in the style, falling in love with games like Catherine and shows like Psycho-Pass in recent years. However, entering the world of Onechanbara Z2: Chaos feels like deep-sea diving into shark infested waters after confidently toeing a puddle for a few minutes.
While I will chalk some of my confusion up to culture shock, it should also be worth mentioning that Chaos is the eleventh game in an ongoing series, counting mobile games and updates. It also has the distinction of only being the second in the series to be released here in the West, with the first coming out six years ago and garnering decidedly negative reviews.
Although I’ve never spent any time with the Onechanbara titles, I can safely say that Chaos isn’t half bad. It’s far from great, and it definitely displays a dearth of content, but its core is solid.
The story begins in media res, with two pairs of sisters brawling in a throne room before the ground swallows them up and dumps them in underground caves full of zombies. I honestly can’t say why this happens or where in the world they are, but the game itself hardly devotes any time to the story, so maybe it’s for the best that we don’t, either.
Chaos follows two pairs of sisters: Aya and Saki, from the Baneful clan, and Kagura and Saaya, who are vampires. The two factions are constantly at war, but these four set aside their differences to fight back against a tide of undead sweeping across the world. Aside from minor aesthetic differences and choice of weapon, it was surprisingly difficult to tell the four apart, especially since all of their dialogue rested somewhere on the scale from sweetly naive to obnoxiously sarcastic.
It feels unfair to pick on the story or characterization, though, since us westerners are only meeting them for the second time. Luckily, the actual game devotes almost all of its time to gameplay, throwing you into twenty stages of fast-paced action with barely any exposition in between to slow you down. Onechanbara Z2: Chaos takes the hack-and-slash approach to the zombie outbreak, setting up each character with two weapons that slice through the undead at a breakneck speed. Ranging from standard swords to an unwieldy chainsaw, it goes without saying that blood is always spurting out of the baddies that constantly fill the screen.
Each stage is basically just an arena that is immediately filled with a large number of enemies that must be slain before you are graded and allowed to move on to the next arena. It’s an uninspired set up, and the environments are never very impressive, as they’re usually made up extremely short and linear paths that don’t have much in the way of scenery to look at.
Luckily, the actual swordplay is pretty satisfying, throwing in a few neat tricks that keep things feeling fresh long enough to breeze through the extremely short campaign. Combat consists of the standard light attack/heavy attack/side weapon combo that every action game since Devil May Cry and God of War has included. You’re given the ability to switch between characters on the fly after choosing their order before the mission, making it easier to be slightly more strategic than normal. You can soften up enemies with a few heavy attacks from the chainsaw before jumping in with swinging blades reminiscent of Kratos’ to finish off the survivors.
Enemies are varied enough in looks and technique that I never dreaded entering an arena, and a few of them even coaxed you into using different special abilities that I never would have otherwise. Normal combos flowed smoothly, and using Cool Moves by timing button presses correctly for more power added even more technique.
However, for every good idea that adds to the combat, there are two that are completely superfluous and easily forgettable. Rather than let the combat rest on its fluidity and spectacle, the developers did their best to overcomplicate matters with useless additions. For example, rings with various powers can be bought and equipped to each girl, but no other RPG elements are in place, making this stand out like a black sheep. New combos and weapons can also be purchased, but only when you find a goddess statue which appears in only a few stages.
There’s also a system in which the blood from defeated enemies slowly builds up on your weapons, needing to be cleaned off every few minutes to keep your weapon’s speed and strength at its best. It’s a cool mechanic at first, but it quickly becomes tedious. The blood also lands on the girls, and when their blood meter fills, they are able to transform into stronger versions of themselves which, for some reason, look like giant chickens with swords.
It’s worth noting that the game isn’t nearly as titillating as it seems like it would be. The girls are scantily clad, of course, and some of the outfits you can dress them in made me blush, but the game avoids making them overly sexual, surprisingly.
In the end, the fluid combat isn’t nearly enough to save Chaos from becoming a trial of patience. Most of the twenty stages take barely ten minutes to beat, and the campaign itself only clocks in at barely five hours. There are challenges to best, gallery pictures to unlock and costumes to customize the gals with, but it’s all window dressing. The core concept is solid, but it never introduces anything new, unique or inspired. It reminded me of Lollipop Chainsaw, but without the personality or attempt at varied gameplay.
Still, if you’ve followed the series and love the characters, you’re bound to enjoy much of what Onechanbara Z2: Chaos has to offer. The combat is pretty enjoyable, but there’s nothing else to keep you coming back. With a price tag resting at a steep $50 for a five hour campaign, you’d do best to wait for a massive price cut.
The soundtrack was catchier than syphilis, though.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
Although it boasts a fun and fluid combat system, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is far too short on content and surprisingly bloated with superfluous ideas.