The Simple Series began in the 2000s, as a wave of budget PlayStation 2 titles that ranged from cheap sports games, mahjong, action games, and more. Sometimes there was some experimentation done within this series, and since the games were sold at around $20, customers would not feel too burned if they didn’t like what they got.
There have been a few franchises that have been born from the Simple Series that have become recognizable names. The OneChanbara began as a mediocre, yet humble budget PlayStation 2 game and had a few sequels. It gained popularity due to its ridiculous premise and increasingly improved entries as time wore on.
OneeChanbara games (previously localized as Onechanbara) never escaped their low budget and sleazy appeal, even after almost 20 years. The release of the titles have also been spotty, with some only getting localization in Europe, only a few worldwide releases, and some never leaving Japan. Is OneeChanbara Origin a worthwhile remake and compilation of the original two PlayStation 2 games?
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Release Date: October 14, 2020
The eighth console generation has seen its share of remakes and remake compilations. From Resident Evil 2, to Final Fantasy VII, Shadow of the Colossus, and even Ratchet and Clank; there has been an eclectic selection of classics and cult favorites that got a second life. Did anyone ever think a couple of sleazy Simple Series games would get a similar treatment?
Simple Series games were called “simple” for a reason. They were typically shallow and cheap games; if you weren’t playing shovelware, then you might be playing something weird like The OneChanbara (Zombie Zone in PAL territories). At best it was subpar, but it had an interesting ideas. Tamsoft never forgot about it, and would expand the concept with sequels.
It was not until Bikini Samurai Squad was released in the west on the Xbox 360, the world took notice. This was when Onechanbara became a real game and made its exodus from the Simple Series confines. The franchise has a storied history with entries on many platforms, culminating with Z:2 Chaos being the absolute pinnacle of the Tamsoft oeuvre.
Between the unexplained zombie apocalypse and the Baneful sisters Aya and Saki fighting about their father all the time, it is hard to muster any interest in the story. Concepts like what the Baneful are is never explained, and the fact that there is a gigantic mutant baby living in the sewer is something that is openly accepted in this world.
The first half of the game is a build-up to the showdown with Aya and Saki. Not much happens other than killing hundreds of undead. The second half of the game is where the story introduces more things it pulls out more extraneous concepts, like the clone army that shows up out of nowhere and is barely explained.
If there is any underlying theme in all of this, it is a very basic and surface level family motif. Throughout, there are multiple sets of “sisters” in the story, a large baby which obviously suggests some maternal idea, and everyone is just trying to form some kind of bond. Characters rarely get any deeper than this, and only serve to be walking wood-chippers.
The appeal is simple: make your way through linear levels, hacking and slashing zombies as a highly attractive lady with a cowboy hat, while always making sure your blade is clean as a crisp spring morning. The gameplay is not complex like Devil May Cry, but has its own depth that has developed with the entries as mechanics got introduced.
Origin is more than a remake of the first two Simple Series games; Tamsoft has also expanded the gameplay to more closely match elements from Z:2 Chaos, while making further refinements. Controlling Aya has never felt better, and even though her move-set has been reduced from the last game, there is an effort to make each combo more meaningful.
As with prior games, attacking anything (even chairs) will gradually coat the weapons with blood. Eventually it becomes necessary to wipe or shake it off, because when a weapon is totally drenched in blood it is dull and does no damage. This mechanic makes it so you have to pay attention as you attack, and to make you consider your placement in an arena.
Cleaning you blade is almost like reloading you gun. It functions with the same logic and principles, and adds just a bit more strategy when fighting huge crowds of zombies. It is one of the many mechanics that’s juggled while fighting to stay alive.
Cool Attacks vary depending on who you play as. They are usually one-hit kills on enemies, and can be triggered by stunning them. They can be a little tricky to pull off; since the input requires the fast attack and the jump buttons to be pressed together, which may lead to a jumping attack instead of these very helpful and power attacks.
Aya’s combat style has her switching out between single katana mode (where she is able to throw shurikens and do wide sweeping attacks) and a dual katana mode she earns later in the game. With two katanas, Aya is able to do concentrated attacks, kick enemies, and even launch them for aerial combos.
Performing these strikes feels satisfying thanks to the delicious feedback of the shocking blood that squirts out in jets, covering Aya and the screen. Compounded with crunchy slashing sounds and the dismemberment of zombies, it is safe to say that Tamsoft has perfected the art of arterial spray.
When Saki becomes playable, a critical pillar of Origin‘s gameplay is introduced. Character swapping is instantaneous, and is the key to building a huge combo to score the highest ranks in the harder difficulty modes. This is the real depth of the combat system and it is further compounded when Saki’s second weapon is earned later in the story.
Saki’s fighting style comes with a larger and slow katana, with long reach and her fast striking martial arts. Her biggest distinction from her sister is her “Cool Attack,” a single enemy wrestling move that can chain into other nearby zombies, as opposed to Aya’s sweeping multi-enemy slash. Benching one will allow her to regenerate some health back, and you’ll have to since there can be a lot of threats.
To get the most out of the combat, expect to switch between Aya and Saki on the fly, while also alternating their weapons depending on what your are fighting. Avoiding damage will require mastery of the parrying mechanic or the dodge roll. Dodging may be the safer option, but it also reaps no reward and resets the combo.
Parrying is much riskier, since it leaves the girls wide open if it does not connect, but staggers the enemy. Depending on the staggered enemy, this could mean instant death for them, or an opportunity for a Cool Attack. Against bosses, parrying or dodging is the only option for most of the battle, since they often employ fast combos that can’t be canceled by stunning them with heavy attacks.
Dodging and sneaking a few sucker punches while building up the Xtasy meter for a super attack can be a viable, if tedious combat strategy against bosses. After all, if things get too hairy, just use a health item that are easily found in random breakable objects. A real bikini samurai will master the timing of the absurdly small window to parry boss attacks.
The time frame for landing a parry is so small, that the designers had to include an extraneous accessory to equip that makes the timing a bit more forgiving. To balance this out, wearing this ring reduces defense. Not that it matters, since never upgrading your defense or HP barely impacts the difficulty.
When leveling up, you get three stats to improve: HP, Defense, or Attack. Every 25 levels, you gain an extra Xtasy bar. The HP and defense boosts proved to be unnecessary, and putting everything into attack made spongy bosses more fair. There are super versions of basic enemies that appear who are incapable of being stunned, and the extra attack is a reliable means to cut them down fast.
These super enemies become a big problem in the harder modes where there are many of them, and the only way to get out of a sticky situation is to rely on a basic enemy.
It is very easy to abuse Aya’s shurikens to stun a basic monster, and doing so means building up a Cool Attack that can rip a large swath of super enemies closing in. This is the only viable way to deal with situations like this, because these creatures can stun lock.
This is where Origin‘s shortcomings show. Some of the battles can be too restrictive, and it can feel incredibly cheap with what the developers throw at you. There is one enemy who can only be killed by either a parrying counter attack, or if the poor devil becomes collateral damage in a Cool Attack.
The issue is not when there is a few of these invincible enemy types; it’s when there is too many of them, compounded with many fast moving dog-like zombies. Moments like this is where the OneeChanbara crutch comes into play: the Blood Lust. This is where Aya or Saki is totally covered in blood, and they lose themselves in madness to do extra damage.
On top of the blood lust mode, both girls also have their version of a devil-trigger, when they transform into some kind of demon. This is supposed to be a double-edge sword, because health depletes while in this state. However, you regain it by attacking and causing damage on enemies.
On top of becoming almost invincible as these monsters, Aya and Saki do greater damage. They are also able to wipe out invincible mudmen and super enemies easily and quickly. Switching to a non-transformed sister will prevent their HP from depleting, and will effectively put their status on pause so she can be saved for a boss or a pack of troubling monsters.
After all these years, Origin still feels like a budget PlayStation 2 game. The technology and graphics has improved, and the gameplay is better than its ever been for the franchise; but the presentation and story still is rooted in its low budget origins. OneeChanbara Origin does try its damnedest with very little.
Origin opts for a cel-shaded art style to make it resemble an anime, which is for the best since the simpler the art style, the less taxing it is. This feels like a parody at times; with the way the characters act so melodramatic amidst a completely ludicrous scenario. Sadly, its potential is held back by poorly directed and sloppily animated cutscenes.
The slick and clean cel-shading ends up looking cheap in cutscenes because of the poorly animated characters. Everyone moves stiff and robotically as they glide across the floor, and they walk with no sense of weight. The bizarre cinematography will compose a character with their eyes off frame for no reason, except for maybe the lack of expression.
Going with a cel-shaded anime art style ultimately proved to be a waste, since none of its strengths are used. Characters are barely expressive, and have absurd lip flap when talking. The dubbing is so meticulously sloppy that it almost seems intentional.
In spite of the poor production values, it is a step up from the walls of text from the original games. It has a so-bad-it’s-entertaining quality where the script and Freudian imagery might raise an eyebrow.
One particular scene involves Aya’s father who is described to be “drawn to a void,” and the void in question happens to be designed to be extremely yonic. The overly emotional line delivery of the goofy script is what makes it hilarious.
The localization effort does have some effort. The voice actresses do their best with the material, which is not much to begin with. If you close your eyes and listen to what is happening, it almost sounds like a soap opera. Expect a lot of sisterly drama and arguing about parents.
The music is forgettable, and just becomes noise that supplements the sounds of skewering the undead. All the effort for sound design and audio texture was put into the splattering sounds, which excellently add the right amount of oomph to the fighting.
Another sign that Origin follows the low budget tradition of it’s progenitor, is the over use of recycled assets. A few objects that get repurposed now and again is understandable, but Origin goes too far for a game that can be beaten in under five hours by recycling entire rooms and corridors.
It is not an isolated incident; this is something that happens through out the entire experience. What is especially shocking is that Origin is a full-priced game. Two Simple Series titles together and remade in Unreal 4 should be $40. It is a hard sell at a AAA price tag.
It is not just overpriced, it also is rotten with a lot of DLC cosmetic micro-transactions and bonus missions. The listing is unclear what the DLC missions entail, and Origin is expensive for what it is, making it a poor value.
OneeChanbara Origin‘s gameplay is very enjoyable, but if it was longer than five hours, it would have worn out its welcome. It is highly replayable, and has a variation of the “Bloody Palace” survival mode and a secret third playable character to make things interesting long after beating the story.
The outrageous price is more likely to confuse and disappoint gamers coming into Origin, expecting it to be a lavish production on par with Devil May Cry V. This is a humble and weird low budget action game, where the developers prioritized combat mechanics, violent feedback, and fan-service.
Origin is still an amusing Simple Series game at heart, but the problem is that it is priced at a AAA tier. This can only be recommended to fans of the franchise, or to anyone who is willing to wait for a sale.
OneeChanbara Origin was reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro using a review code provided by D3PUBLISHER Inc. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.