They say you can’t really judge a book by its cover. That certainly applies to video games; I still recall dropping a big chunk of change on Unlimited SaGa back in the day based on the fact that I liked the cover art and, well, that was a mistake. Sometimes, however, that goes the other way. The Onee Chanbara games are a great example of this phenomenon, since you’d think they’re just fanservice-focused brawlers about bikini-wearing samurai getting covered in gore as they slice up zombies, while they’re actually…well, pretty much that. But surprisingly well-made and enjoyable from a gameplay perspective.
Trust me on this; if you need to see for yourself, Onee Chanbara Origin makes a solid introduction to bikini samurai slaying. Y’know, since that kind of thing needs an introduction.
Origin’s essentially a retelling of the series’ first couple games, the PS2 entries that might have been passed up by fans who got into the series starting with the Wii game. We follow zombie-slayer Aya as she plies her family’s trade while wearing outfits that aren’t especially appropriate to the task at hand. She’s out to discover what happened to her father and her half-sister Saki, who, in the first scene, sics a pack of zombies on her. It’s the kind of sibling rivalry that any of you with a brother or sister of your own can probably understand…y’know, with the zombies and all. The plot has some twists and turns, suffice to say, and it’s all just as ridiculous and campy as you’re thinking.
There you have it! Zombies! Kill them! Aya’s got a sword and is quite capable of using it to slash the undead to bits. Doing so results in satisfying amounts of gore flying everywhere, splattering all over the camera, dousing the ground with goop…it’s fun for the whole family, really. A focused beating can bring enemies to a vulnerable state where it’s easier to keep them stunlocked with combos, so there’s a little bit of strategy involved, and you’ll periodically have to take a second to clean the blood off your sword and keep it sharp. Later, you’ll unlock special attacks and a super mode for even more carnage, as well as other characters with their own weapons and movesets. On the defensive side, you can dodge and parry enemy attacks, with bonuses for doing so at just the right moment.
All things considered, the earlier Onee Chanbara games that are remade here in Origin tended to feel a little janky. Origin changes all that, meaning you’ve got a pretty respectable character-action system that’s surprisingly rewarding for players who are willing to put in the time. Case in point: carefully timing your attacks rather than just button mashing turns regular combos into Cool combos, which are more powerful and offer a post-mission score bonus. This adds an additional plate to spin while fighting, since you’re doing all this timing while still dodging, parrying and aiming your attacks.
It ends up feeling a bit like playing as Nero in the Devil May Cry games with his Exceed button-tapping combos, and if I’m able to favorably compare an action game to Devil May Cry then it’s doing something right. That’s not to say that there’s a lot of depth to the combat system but you’re not going to need it, either. There’s varying difficulty options available for the campaign as well as a survival mode, so there’s no shortage of challenging content if that’s what you’re after. Oh, and one of the playable characters is unlocked for getting through a hundred floors of said survival mode, so good luck with that!
Origin also shakes up the series’ usual graphical presentation. This actually takes it a bit further from DMC, since you’ve got a more anime-style cel-shaded look rather than the grittier aesthetic seen in previous games. It’s a welcome change and it does a lot for Origin’s style, particularly on PC where you’ve also got top-notch performance. From a sound standpoint, this series is known for its music and Origin doesn’t disappoint, combining classic tracks and a few new entries that serve as a great background to your zombie-slaying.
Long-time series fans don’t need me to tell them that Onee Chanbara Origin is worth a look, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. Newcomers might need to hear it, though: fanservice aside, this is a shockingly competent action game with a goofy plot and plenty of gore to go around. Plus, you know, the bikini clad heroines are always fun. You’ve played worse brawlers than this. If you’ve never given the Onee Chanbara series a shot, Origin’s a great place to get started with the zombie choppin’.