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I recently completed Onechanbara Z Kagura with NoNoNo! (more on the eyebrow-raising subtitle later) for the PS3 and I contemplated bashing out a review for this import curio but then decided against going to such lengths. Why? Because it's flippin' tough to create a stack of paragraphs for a game that has the player hacking up zombie hordes as girls in skimpy bikinis. How do you expand on that? This recurring concept of the entire Onechanbara series means that you either imported a copy of Z Kagura as soon as it was released OR are currently evacuating this blog to go a read something more highbrow on a different site. Something about the lifespans of different trees perhaps.
What I will say however is that Z Kagura is by far the most enjoyable and accessible Onechanbara game I have yet played and I have tried them all aside from the Japan-exclusive PSP instalment and the gloriously-titled Bikini Samurai Squad on the 360 (a system I don't own). The older games felt punishing and as bare-bones as...well, a heap of old bare bones with excrutiatingly sluggish levelling up systems and the less said about the hellish Wii waggle-a-thon controls in Bikini Zombie Slayers (yet another epic title), the better. Z Kagura immediately struck me as easier to stomach for long periods of time thanks to much improved presentation, good controls, a compliant manually adjustable camera and a generally more fluid feel to the hack 'n slash action.
(But wait; this is turning into a review after all isn't it? Nuts.)
Otherwise it was business as usual and with the more satisfying aesthetics and kinder progression (upgrades are much easier to afford and equip than in previous games), it was certainly no hardship to be tasked with cutting down crazy numbers of zombies and other freakish abominations while playing as an unsuitably garbed heroine. You can switch freely between the buxom bikini-clad Kagura and her more conservatively dressed sister Saaya but thanks to the game's customisation mode (or 'co-ordinate' mode as the menu dubs it) you can stick Saaya in the same bikini as her sister for double the jiggly boobs and gratuitously exposed bottoms. Look: until there actually is a zombie apocalypse, nobody can say for sure that these outfits aren't up to the job can they? Or - more likely - I'm just clutching at any old justification for my perversion.
|Don't dress like that THEN complain about unwanted attention. Honestly...|
Anyway, Kagura can go to war against the zombs with either a pair of katanas or two long-reaching blades that she swings about on the end of a chain just like Kratos in the God of War series. Her sister meanwhile can flick between brawling with her fists and feet or a chainsaw. Having this variety of weapons between the two characters was a nice surprise when previous games had been strictly about swords, even when it came to guest characters. Okay, I still preferred to use Kagura and her pair of katanas but the chained blades were also useful for fighting at a safer distance and Saaya's hands-on punches and kicks were a fun alternative when I felt like switching it up a bit.
The linear nature of these games hasn't changed though. You still have to eliminate all enemies within enlcosed areas before moving to the next destination and occasionally facing off against an ugly boss complete with (simple) QTE events, again like God of War. Riff on the best and all that. Thankfully, all of this toiling is much more enjoyable this time out thanks largely to the decent camera (freely manipulated with the right analogue stick) and easy to execute combos that devastate zombie hordes, sending blood spraying everywhere in a comically over-the-top fashion. The powerful Rampage state (induced by doing enough killing to fill the blood meter) is still here and you still have to routinely clean your weapons to keep them effective but somehow it all feels a vast step up from those earlier PS2 games which were fun oddities but ultimately frustrating beyond the first few levels (that's what I thought anyway). There are some brief cut scenes here and there but this is a Japanese import so don't expect to understand any of it and certainly don't expect an English language release because - y'know - this shit is just too weird for us over here apparently.
|The pier owner hadn't known about the painter's unique technique.|
Speaking of weird, there's that subtitle to address: Onechanbara Z Kagura with NoNoNo! Turns out that NoNoNo! is a playable guest character so I dutifully kept grinding away until I'd met the minimum requirements of completing five of the 'Quests' (a screen of various targets to meet i.e. collect enough yellow orbs, use enough items in battle, complete missions without switching characters etc.) in order to unlock this mysterious character. NoNoNo! turned out to be a blue-haired chick in a maid's outfit with obligatory jumbo-sized shirt potatoes (or should that be 'maid's apron potatoes'? Let's not think too much about that) and a ludicrously round rear end that could only exist in such a smutty videogame as this where developers have sat in front of their computers, abusing the ability to play God with female anatomy.
She fights while cheerfully dancing about and shooting zombies with some sort of sci-fi laser pistol and...wait a second...what the hell is this about?!? I had a brief look online and I couldn't find out who this character is supposed to be. I can only assume that she is some sort of Japanese idol or 'vocaloid' character similar to Hatsune Miku but as much as I love all things Japan, I'm not Otaku enough to know the truth about NoNoNo! (searching on Google only brought up a Swedish band of the same name). Anyway, I didn't particularly enjoy playing as NoNoNo! over Kagura or Saaya so I did feel a little ripped-off after all that work for the unlock but there was at least her tasteful and conservative Rampage mode outfit, sure to please feminist gamers:
|Good job the Daily Mail won't bother playing this.|
So it's ridiculous, gory and sexy but there are some things I have to grumble about. First and foremost are the numerous glitches. I experienced a few nasty ones including getting trapped in boundary fences during a certain boss battle, being unable to clear an area of all enemies because the last zombie had been flung outside of the arena and falling through some scenery into a blurry, black abyss of glitchy hell. All of these required software resets and gave me little faith in the game's stability, leaving me constantly waiting for the next game-ruining gremlin to pop up. This wouldn't really be an issue on the older PAL games since they were cheap, budget affairs that didn't inspire any form of lofty expectations. Importing is expensive though and Z Kagura was more or less the price of a brand-new PS3 title at full RRP for a sealed copy so these bugs irritated me a fair bit after I'd shelled out that kind of money and also paid the dreaded import tax.
Another issue is the DLC: fine if you live in Japan or have a Japanese PSN account but it's otherwise inaccessible to importers. This isn't really a valid negative against the game of course but I personally don't ever purchase enough DLC in general for setting up PSN accounts in multiple regions to be worth my time. It's a shame because Z Kagura's DLC includes customisation items, new outfits and even Aya + Saki from the previous Onechanbara games as playable characters. There's even a voucher in the box for something but unfortunately, I won't ever know what!
These few niggles aside however, I still stand by my decision to rate Z Kagura as the best Onechanbara game so far. I haven't really criticised the linearity or simple nature of the game because we really shouldn't expect anything else by now and it's a part of the series' charm by now in a crappy kind of way. If a studio like Platinum were given the keys then we might see something truly extraordinary but until then, this is bizarre budget Japanese gaming at its most enjoyable. My only advice would be to consider the sequel, Z2 Chaos, since it is getting a worldwide PS4 release and should be an even better game at a more affordable, non-import price. Unless you absolutely must play as NoNoNo! of course...