UNBATHE AND ZOMBIE HUNT!
Armed with a katana; a scantily-clad woman minces the undead. At first glance, that seems like the premise of a fanfiction. Au contraíre mon ami, for you see, that’s the foundation the Onee Chanbara franchise is built upon and Onee Chanbara Origin is no exception.
The first entry didn’t come to North America until 2009. Europe, however, saw their 1st in 2004, with 2007 seeing the release of both Demon Hunters 1 & 2. Onee Chanbara Origin takes those and reimagines that story. If you’re familiar with them, do expect characters to be different. Expect narrative beats to be altered. And definitely look forward to blood; copious amounts of it. Will the gameplay be up to snuff though? Let’s find out.
A FAMILY SEPARATED!
You’re Aya; a sword-wielding badass of the Baneful Bloodline. Her story begins 2 years after her step-mother was killed. Both her father and half-sister have also disappeared. Driven by pain, she sets out in search of the pair. Try as she might though, nothing turns up. Feeling defeated, she’s about to succumb to defeat until she’s suddenly contacted by a woman. An informant named Lei. She strikes up a deal, offering her help. In exchange, she asks Aya to simply slaughter the undead. An agreement is reached but again, no leads come of it.
Onee Chanbara Origin begins as Aya stands before her step-mother’s grave. As she prays, her phone buzzes. She quickly goes to grab it and looks. To her surprise, there’s a text from Saki; her half-sister. As she‘s about to reply, she’s startled by a footstep behind her. She turns, seeing a horde of zombies creeping closer. Combat ensues and after dispatching the threat, Lei calls again. She’ll report some good news; a lead on Saki’s whereabouts. Thus begins an adventure full of violence, loss, and revealing the truth behind her step-mother’s death.
A DUBBED CONUNDRUM!
Surprisingly, Onee Chanbara Origin is fully voiced. Not just in one language either; there’s four. Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and English. With the English language cast including the likes of Shantae – Cristina Vee – I anticipated stellar VO. What I got instead was a mixed bag.
First the good; I enjoyed the banter between the girls. In fact, there were a few smiles. It’s obvious that the goal was to give personality to each one. I thought it was sufficiently done too. They were unique;
- Aya is a stereotypical girly-girl. She adores anything cute and teddy bears melt her heart. Her phone is pink and shaped like a bunny, with cute animal trinkets tangling from it. A far cry from the absolute killer we meet at the start. I loved that contrast.
- Saki has a hardened demeanor. She tries her best to keep up with the facade but as the game progresses, small cracks develop. We‘re introduced to a side of her that shows her character has a bit of depth.
There’s a lot of potential to be tapped into. It’s never completely utilized though because of the VO itself. I found the delivery lacked on a few lines. The cadence wasn’t always done the best it could’ve been. At times when I expected snark, it came off flat. Because Onee Chanbara Origin has an over-the-top premise, I would have loved the same with the acting. A balls to the wall approach. As is, it felt like the actors were told not to be expressive. To hold back and that hurt it.
On to the bad; the dialogue pacing is awkward. Not to mention out-of-sync at times. First, I’ll address the latter issue. An example of this is once Saki unlocks her secondary weapon – the Fisticuffs. It’s the method of combat her mom used. She announces as such, calling the tactic by name. In Japanese, it’s crisp and coherent. When in English, it’s the opposite. Because of language differences, the dub had to be sped up so it transitioned smoothly into the next line. If it hadn’t, there would be an inevitable overlap. Fortunately, this happened only that one time. Unfortunately, simultaneous audio persists at points.
Certain dialogue strings needed some kind of adjustment. Think of it like this; two friends have a discussion. As one speaks, the other interjects speaks over him before his friend can finish. Seems that vocabulary usage was not optimal.
To describe the sync issue, imagine a foreign film. Then picture how despite speaking, the mouth never matches up. Onee Chanbara Origin mimics this. Audio will regularly play even if animations don’t visually show there’s talking. One instance is in a boss fight. You’ll find a female zombie devouring an arm. As she rips off the skin, she’s nowhere near her food. It’s clear that munching is happening but it’s not being shown. The opposite is true as well. Then there were moments that she’d gesture and mouth words. And yet, she would never articulate.
Body language is used to emphasize what‘s said. That delay, however, rendered it redundant. Another example presents itself with another boss. She shouts and aggressively sways her head as she gives you attitude. With her voice not accompanying it, it’s hollow. This game will sometimes try to get you to sympathize. That delay steals away any impact. It becomes jarring.
Bluntly put, the overall dub is a huge part of its flaws. Kind of strange when considering the 2015 release of Onee Chanbara ZII Chaos was much better in comparison. I did test out the Japanese VO and can confirm it works. Do note the sections of banter aren’t subbed. So, you’ll miss out on those. A shame since it was these that had me smiling. Because there’s no accompanying cutscene, the English dub delay isn’t noticeable. So you can enjoy it without an issue.
PAINT THE LANDSCAPE RED!
The gameplay will prove divisive. Unlike with Chaos ZII, Onee Chanbara Origin won’t be as robust. The combat has been overhauled and is more streamlined. It doesn’t have insane button combinations. Instead, there are only two buttons in most. I didn’t mind personally. My memory is that of a goldfish anyway. So a simple set up like this is ideal.
That said, it will be repetitive. If you were to inquire about what genre it resembled, I’d say Musou. Like it, you’ll be mashing between – as already mentioned – two buttons. A light and heavy attack. It’s extremely satisfying to slice down the undead. As you cut them clean in-half, the screen slows. It allows you a chance to appreciate the bloodshed.
One mechanic that’s a franchise mainstay is being able to tag-team. Before a mission or a story replay, you can choose a pairing. Then, at any time, you can switch up with a single press of a button. The action itself is seamless and it’s a great tactical maneuver. In other words, say Aya is being attacked. By tagging in Saki, the enemy will stay distracted with her sister. You’ll be able to freely assault your for as Aya is getting pummelled. The best part is that she not only doesn’t receive damage, but she will regenerate health as long as you don’t control her.
The mapping of the controls is very intuitive. Each action has a designated button. There’s one to lock on, parry, and dodge. They’re all super responsive and helps create fast-paced gameplay. However, this is quite dependent on mastering the mechanics. There’s an enemy in-game called “Mudman”. These humanoid monsters are impervious to regular attacks. Each girl has a special technique though. One that can defeat most enemies. To build up the meter, you need to perfectly time a dodge. In doing so correctly, the action will slow. Once you’ve built it up enough, you can unleash it on the undead. If you were to miss, you can still kill those “Mudman” enemies despite that. Only, it’ll break up any momentum. A successful parry will make them vulnerable. Another method is when your girl awakens to her Baneful blood and goes berserk.
In general, I’m a massive fan of RPGs. So, I’m a huge lover of watching the numbers go up as my girl gets stronger. Both Saki and Aya will be able to level up. As they do, you’ll earn 3 points to allocate to either strength, defense, or to their Health Points. I’d normally tout this as customization. The thing is, it really isn’t. Once you reach Level 99, both characters will have identical stats.
MUSIC, GRAPHICS, AND DLC!
The cel-shaded graphics of Onee Chanbara Origin is visually stunning. You’ll notice it’s vastly different compare to ZII Chaos. To be honest, I like this rendition better. It matches perfectly with the absurdity on screen. The character design is quite frankly well done. Though, I can’t say the same about the environments. While the graveyard itself wasn’t bad, most interiors felt bland. Especially if they were comprised of corridors.
And then the music – What happened?
What initially got me excited was the trailer. The metal song that plays is perfect for this style of game. While that’s present, it’s also the only one of its type. The others – for my taste – are far too mellow or slow. When I saw that there’s DLC available, I bought it. Thought it would add more heavy-hitting music. Nope, it doesn’t. I chose the metal track to be played throughout the entire session. The song isn’t bad, but hearing it over and over got grating real fast.
Speaking of DLC, it includes clothing, bonus missions, and an instant unlock for Lei. While the clothing was nice, and I liked the extra levels, the volume just didn’t match the price. It’s around thirty dollars. Those extra missions do add to the encompassing narrative. I loved that. They’ll also only last a half an hour or maybe even a full one.
AND THE ZOMBIE SLAYING VERDICT IS…
Onee Chanbara Origin is an addictive, arcade hack and slash. It’s about accumulating high scores and executing the best combos. Unfortunately, the music just doesn’t work well. Instead of adrenaline-pumping metal, it’s techno. Not the good kind either. For those worried about the challenge, there are difficulty modes to choose from. Do keep in mind that you’ll need to beat the game before unlocking the next step.
I put thirty-five hours into Onee Chanbara Origin. Most of that time was spent trying to complete the in-game quests. Doing so will unlock art pieces, music, and rings you can purchase and equip.
Shout out to the white blood and the way it splashes the girl. You knew what y’all were doing.
I had a lot of fun with Onee Chanbara Origin despite the flaws. I wouldn’t say it’s worth the full price. I also wouldn’t recommend the DLC. I think it should have been part of the package from the start. Keeping those caveats in mind, I do think that;
ONEE CHANBARA ORIGINS IS RECOMMENDED
If you would like to read about similar Hack’N’Slash games you might be interested to read this review of Mahou Arms, this review of Senran Kagura Burst Re:newal or this review of Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate.
Thank you to D3 Publisher for providing a PlayStation 4 review code for the game.
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Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.