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B movies are a funny thing. Browse through the library at your local video store, and you can hundreds upon hundreds of lousy, cheaply produced shlock that exists solely to placate the baser human desires - excessive violence, cheesy romance, ridiculous porn. During the PlayStation 2 era, Japanese publisher D3 came up with a half brilliant/half sadistic idea - why not bring these concepts to the video game marketplace? These budget titles, dubbed "Simple 2000" (since they retailed for 2000 yen, or about $20) would have pretty awful production values, but when freed from the normal marketplace restraints of, uh, taste, could do some pretty wild things. There was plenty of lazy garbage in the line of over 100 PS2 titles, to be sure, but amidst all of trash rose two series that actually gained some bit of popularity - Chikyuu Bouegun, also known as Earth Defense Force, and The Oneechanbara.
The Oneechanbara (also spelled "Onechanbara" and "Onechambara" in official romanizations) is developed by TamSoft, the same folks who developed the regrettable Tohshinden games during the 32-bit era. The title is a portmanteau of two Japanese words - "oneechan", which technically means "big sister," but is also slang for a girl, while "chanbara" is a type of samurai movie. Their main goal seems to be to pin as many fetishes as possible into a single game. It's not enough to chop up legions of zombies with a samurai sword - that's been done to death! But what if those swords were wielded by a bikini-clad supermodel with a feathery boa and a cowboy hat? What if she was joined by a ponytail wearing schoolgirl, a biker chick with a shotgun and a swimsuit idol, complete with an option to wear a French maid uniform and cat ears? The Oneechanbara veers very deliberately into fetish territory, but it wears its shameless nature on its sleeve. One should think that Tobunogu Itagaki and his Dead or Alive girls would approve.
But the Oneechanbara games are substantially different in execution, because the action is more similar to Dynasty Warriors than Ninja Gaiden. Most of the enemies are slow, lumbering zombies, whose only strength is their number. Many lumber around solely to get sliced and diced, at least on the lower difficulty levels. Even though the action can get pretty brainless, the controls actually feel remarkably satisfying. There's a very visceral feel to slashing up zombies, lopping their heads off and painting the street red with an absurd amount of blood. (Most of them are saddled with the "Z" CERO rating in Japan, reserved for the most violent of games and/or naughty content.)
There is a variety of attacks, depending on whether you're locked on to the enemy or not, or which directions you're holding the analog stick, resulting in sideswipes, upward slashes, and dashing jabs. There are also kicks to break an enemy's guard and double jumps, multiple playable characters, as well as additional weapons and fighting styles. The relative inaction of the enemies does mean it feels repetitive, but it's still great for short bursts.
The massive amounts of blood isn't just for show, because it affects your characters, too. It'll slowly coat your sword, decreasing its power and causing it to get stuck in enemies if it's wholly covered. There's a special sword slash which will wipe the blade clean, but it leaves you vulnerable for a second or two. Blood splatter also affects the main characters, causing them to go into an enraged state when it hits maximum. The good part is that they become faster and attacks do double damage. The bad part is that they also take double damage, and the life meter drains slowly. The only way to cure this is by hunting down a Goddess Statue, or by using a Goddess Shard item. Statues aren't exactly easy to find, and while the Shards are common, you're pretty much screwed if you don't have any.
Like many modern action games, there's a supplemental skill building system, where carving up zombies with long combos yields experience points, which can be used to upgrade a variety of statistics, like attack power, combo abilities or sword length. Playing through the game once will only yield small upgrades, so it's really an incentive to play through the game multiple times, especially on higher difficulty levels.
While the core gameplay is fast and fun, the budget nature really shines through the graphic and level design. Outside of the absurd amout of detail put into the heroines, the rest of the visuals looks pretty third rate. The levels themselves are usually long and empty, featuring plenty of areas where you're caged in and need to defeat hordes of enemies before you can proceed. The levels aren't entirely linear and usually require that you explore a bit to find some keys, but they're still mostly straightforward.
Even though there are technically six games in the series (as well as two updates, one each for the first two games), they tend to reuse a lot of locations and even assets. Almost every game has a graveyard level, for instance, and recurring stages include cities, hospitals, sewers, and malls. Most of the time it's hard to differentiate just by looking at them. However, each installment is usually more refined than the last. As a result, you can probably stick with just playing one of the more recent games and be content with getting most the whole Oneechanbara experience. Only the later two games - the Xbox and Wii installments - have been released in America, although the first two were available in Europe.
Despite the overly suggestive overtones (and a fair bit of fan service), there's no actual nudity in the Oneechanbara games. That is, until Playboy requested some pictures for their online reviews. D3 supplied them with a hastily drawn picture and a poorly done photoshop for their effort. Naturally, fans have picked up the slack in producing several comics and figurines.
The main character, a bikini clad girl wielding katanas. In later episodes, she can switch between using a single blade or twin swords, and she throws shuriken to stun enemies from afar. She's the main character of all of the games, with the exception of Oneechanbara Z Kagura (where she's nonetheless available as an unlockable).
Aya's half sister, a teenager clad in a traditional sailor school uniform. She also attacks with a sword, although he's more focused on speed than Aya. She's an enemy in the first few games, but eventually hops over on the good guy's side. She's playable in all of the games as well.
Makoto and Riho Futaba
Two guest star characters in the special editions of the PS2 games, they are the mascot idols of D3. They wear bathing suits, although functionally they're about the same as Aya. They initially appeared in Love Songs, one of D3's earlier games, and popped in a few other titles, like Simple 2000 Series Vol. 50: The Daibijin (known as Demolition Girl in Europe.)
Hana & Kiku
These girls, who wear roller blading outfits, are from Simple Series 87: The Senko (Dragon Sisters in Europe), another beat-em-up from TamSoft. They only make a guest appearance in the special edition of The Oneechanbara 2.
A slightly older biker chuck who wields both a sword and a shotgun. She makes her first appearance in The Onechanbara 2, but is available in all of the rest of the games too.
The main enemy of The Oneechanbara 2. She becomes a playable character after she's beaten, but is missing in all the later games.
Annna (or Anna)
A policewoman who wields dual pistols, a shotgun and a machine gun. Lacking a melee weapon, she's entirely focused on gunplay. She was introduced in the Xbox 360 game, and has her own mobile phone shooter spin-off.
An old lady who's one of the major bosses of the Xbox 360 game and can turn into a semi-nude young woman with her magical powers. A slightly more covered-up version of her younger self is available as a playable character via DLC.
Another one of the bosses, this crazy-eyed girl fights in a bloodstained white dress and attacks with a huge ass spiked sword, which can also be used as a whip a la Ivy from Soul Calibur. She's first introduced as a boss in the Xbox 360 game, but only playable via DLC. She's promoted to a regular main character in the Wii game.
Aya's replacement in Onechambara Z Kagura, she's basically the same character with more exaggerated proportions and a more ludicrous outfit.
The main sidekick in Onechambara Z Kagura is likewise very similar to Saki in appearance (only not quite the psychotic type), but uses a whole range of crazy weapons like a chainsaw and a mace.
Simple 2000 Series Vol. 61: The Oneechanbara (The お姉チャンバラ) / Zombie Zone / Simple 2000 Series Vol. 80: The Oneechamploo (お姉チャンブルウ) / Zombie Hunters / Zombie Zone - PlayStation 2 (2005)
The first game in the Oneechanbara series sets the tone for the rest - run around, slice up zombies, and move on. In addition to the main Story mode, there's a quick Survival mode, where you fight armies of enemies until you die. The "Quest" option is misleading, because it's not an actual mode, but rather a series of goals - prototype achievements, essentially - to reach during the main game. These can unlock new costumes, as well as a seconday character, the schoolgirl Saki.
While the formula hasn't changed much as the series progressed, this particular entry is still quite rough around the edges. The graphics engine can't remotely handle the number of zombies onscreen, which tops out at about a dozen. Any more, and they simply fade out completely, again, similar to Dynasty Warriors. Furthermore, while it's possible to lock onto enemies, you can't manually control the camera. The automatic view can't quite keep up, which leads to you occasionally running in the wrong direction.
But the structural flaws are far, far worse. In any given stage, there are a handful of wide, open, fairly indistinct areas, where you need to clear a certain number of enemies to continue. The game never tells you what that number is, but it's always way, way more than it should be. Oftentimes you can spend ten minutes or more in a single area. The enemies don't exactly swarm you either, so much of the time is spent running across the expanses, killing a few, running back across, killing some more, then wait until the game spawns more zombies, until you can continue. It grows old before the end of the first stage, which can take over half an hour to complete. There are technically six stages, but the later half involves retreading various parts of the first half.
So the first Oneechanbara has a solid foundation, but the actual framework is extraordinarily lacking. Thankfully the rest of the series work on fixing most of the problems of this game, essentially making it all but obsolete.
The first game was released in Europe under the title Zombie Zone. A revised version appeared in Japan under the name Simple 2000 Series Vol. 80: The Oneechamploo, another silly portmanteau. (A "champloo" or "chanpuru" is technically a kind of Okinawan dish, but it also means a mixture of something, usually culturally.) For the most part, it's the same game, but it adds two more playable characters - Makoto and Riho from the Love Songs series, who fight solely in bathing suits and have their own story modes - as well as a few more costumes. It also adds better map functionality and other minor tweaks. While it's mostly a quick cash-in release, it does begin to fix the niggling issues with original game. This version was also released in Europe. The packaging calls the game Zombie Hunters, but the title screen reads Zombie Zone: Other Side.
Simple Series 2000 Vol. 90: The Oneechanbara 2 (The お姉チャンバラ 2) / Simple 2000 Series Vol. 101: The Oneechanpon (The お姉チャンポン) / Zombie Hunters 2 - PlayStation 2 (2006)
The second Oneechanbara refines most of the more annoying aspects of its predecessor, although it's still clear that this is a budget title. The level structure is a bit less annoying - there are still areas where you're caged in to kill zombies repeatedly until the game lets you go on, but they aren't as long nor as overwhelmingly tedious as before. The levels are still pretty simple, but they're a bit more varied. There are still only six chapters in total, which also require backtracking through previous stages. The full map functionality is a welcome addition, though.
The game actually opens with you in the role of Reiko, a latex-clad biker chick. The second stage lets you control Aya and Saki again. Instead of merely being model swaps, each character has their own unique fighting style, in addition to new secondary moves - Keiko wields a shotgun, Aya has throwing knives, and Saki gets a dash manuever. These are especially handy for some of the new enemies, especially flying enemies like the crows. Starting from the second stage, you can also pick two characters, and switch between them at any time. This is actually pretty handy if one enters a berserk mode, as you can just switch them out to prevent them from losing health. The sidelined partner will also regain a bit of health, a la the Capcom Vs. games. There's technically a two player mode, but it just changes control to the other player whenever you switch characters. Quitting the game will create a quicksave, allowing you to return to approximately the same spot upon resuming.
The special effects are a bit punchier, with each sword strike creating a burst of light around your characters, and the blood flows more enthusiastically. The engine is built a bit better so there's less disappearing zombies. The soundtrack is also a bit better, even if it's only a few steps removed from porno music, complete with breathless moans of "Push it!" and "Feels so good!" in the first stage theme.
Like the original, this got an enhanced edition under the name Simple 2000 Series Vol. 101: The Oneechanpon: The Oneechan 2 Special Edition. ("Oneechanpon" is just another portmanteua, as "chanpon" is a type of Chinese meal.) Once again, it adds Riho and Makoto as playable characters, plus Hana and Kiku from Simple Series 87: The Senko (known as Dragon Sisters in Europe). There are two separate story modes for the new characters. The initial version of The Oneechanbara 2 wasn't released in Europe, but this enhanced edition was published there as Zombie Hunters 2.
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