Note: This review is part of a series I am going to call “Resurrected Reviews”, essentially stuff that I wrote for previous (now deceased) blogs and review topics on various gaming forums over the years. I have dragged them kicking-and-a-screaming into the harsh light of the present day and revamped them where necessary. Some may say “Rehash” but I say “Recycling”.
When I completed Onechanbara Z Kagura with NoNoNo! (more on that nutty subtitle later) for the PS3, I contemplated reviewing this import curio but eventually decided not to bother. Why? Because it’s flippin’ tough to form a stack of paragraphs for a game that has the player hacking up zombies as girls in skimpy bikinis – that’s why. There’s scant room to expand on this paper-thin concept. Z Kagura is one of those games that you simply cannot sit on the fence with; you either feverishly imported a copy as soon as it was released OR are currently about to click away from this blog to go and read something more highbrow on a different site…a detailed analysis on particle theory 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 Japanese-only PSP instalment and the gloriously-titled Bikini Samurai Squad on the Xbox 360 (a system I don’t own). The older games felt punishing and extremely bare-bones with excruciatingly sluggish levelling up systems and the less said about the hellish Wii waggle-a-thon controls in Bikini Zombie Slayers, the better. Z Kagura immediately struck me as easier to stomach for long periods of time and the game generally felt better presented with solid controls, a compliant manually adjustable camera and more fluid hack ‘n slash action than ever before.
(But wait; this is turning into a review after all isn’t it? Fuck.)
Otherwise it was business as usual and thanks to the greatly improved aesthetics and sense of progression (upgrades are much easier to afford and equip than in past 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 wonders of the customisation mode (or ‘co-ordinate’ mode as the game 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 a fact that these kinds of outfits aren’t suitable for a desperate battle against the undead can they?
Kagura can go to war against the zombies with either a pair of katanas or her long-reaching blades that she swings about on the end of a chain just like Kratos from the God of War series. Her sister meanwhile can flick between fighting with her fists and feet to using a chainsaw. It was nice to have a variety of weapons rather than another all-swords affair but I didn’t really gel with Saaya’s hands-on melee style or her cumbersome chainsaw attacks so tended to stick with Kagura. Her chained blades are useful when you need to fight from a distance and the katanas are just that much more speedy as well as visually pleasing.
The linear nature of the series hasn’t changed though. You still have to eliminate all enemies within set areas before moving onto the next zone and occasionally facing off against an ugly boss. Thankfully though, the combat itself was much more enjoyable this time largely due to the decent camera (manipulated freely 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 rampage state (induced by doing enough killing to fill a 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 playthings but ultimately too frustrating beyond the first few stages to properly enjoy. 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 to become available because – y’know – this shit is just too weird for us over here apparently. That said, there isn’t much that a language barrier can do to complicate a hack ‘n slash game when all you need to understand are the concepts of swords, zombies and breasts.
Speaking of weird, there’s that subtitle to address: Onechanbara Z Kagura with NoNoNo! That’s not the sound of the game’s heroines protesting as the developers dump them into a zombie apocalypse with bikinis for protection; it’s the name of Z Kagura’s special guest character, unlocked by completing at least five of the game’s ‘Quests’ (a screen of various targets to meet i.e. collect enough yellow orbs, use enough items in battle, clear missions without switching characters etc.). This is an Onechanbara game though so it’s no great shock when NoNoNo! turns out to be a blue-haired maid with ginormous boobs and a ludicrously round rear end that could only exist in such a smutty videogame as this where developers have sat at their workstations playing God when it comes to plausible anatomy.
NoNoNo! fights while cheerfully dancing about and shooting at zombies with some sort of sci-fi laser pistol and…yeah. Because Japan. I had a brief look online and couldn’t find out who this character was supposed to be. I can only assume that she’s some sort of Japanese idol or ‘vocaloid’ character similar to Hatsune Miku but as much as I love all things Japan, I’m clearly not Otaku enough to know the truth about NoNoNo! (searching on Google 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 deflated after all that work for the unlock but there was at least her tasteful and conservative rampage mode costume, certain to please progressive gamers:
So it’s ridiculous, gory and sexy but there were some things that I have to grumble about. First and foremost are the numerous glitches. I experienced a few nasty ones:
- Getting stuck in the boundary fencing during a boss battle and being unable to avoid being beaten to death or fight back.
- Hitting a zombie through a boundary fence and being unable to clear all enemies from the area in question.
- Falling through some scenery and getting stuck inside before falling again into a horrible, blurry black abyss of glitchy hell.
All of these required software resets and generally gave me little faith in the game’s stability, leaving me waiting for the next game-ruining gremlin to pop-up. This wouldn’t really be something you could moan about too much on the older PAL PS2 games since they were cheap, budget affairs that didn’t warrant any sort of expectations. Importing is expensive though and Z Kagura was more or less the same price as a brand-new, full price PS3 game for a sealed copy so these bugs irked me more than usual. That said, expecting a lot of polish from an Onechanbara game is like expecting a Sharknado sequel to stand alongside Citizen Cane.
Another issue is that you won’t be able to access the game’s DLC unless you mess about with multiple PSN accounts. It’s not a strike against the game itself of course but it is a shame because Z Kagura’s add-ons include customisation parts, new outfits and even Aya + Saki from the previous Onechanbara games as playable characters. On a side note, a quick images search online shows that some of the DLC outfits are so skimpy that the player might as well sell their imagination on ebay because they likely won’t need it anymore. Who said DLC was cynical?
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 to expect anything else by now would be foolish and it’s almost a part of the series’ charm in a crappy way. If a studio such as Platinum were given the keys then we might see something truly extraordinary but until then, this is bizarre Japanese budget gaming at its most enjoyable. My only advice would be to skip ahead to the sequel, Z2 Chaos, which received a worldwide release on PS4 and should be an even better game at a more affordable, non-import price. Unless you really must play as NoNoNo! of course…
So rubbish, it’s amazing. That’s always been the Onechanbara way and it’s no different with Z Kagura. You already know if you will enjoy this so you really don’t need my seal of approval.