There is almost no escape from conversations about female characters and their portrayal in games. However, it’s not until you start up a game like Onechambara Z2: Chaos that you really get an idea of why that conversation. Onechambara is a series that refuses to shy away from its overly sexist portrayal of women, and the apparent desire to watch nearly-nude women get covered in blood and guts. That leaves two approaches to enter the game: either you want a shameless, grind house experience, or you want a perfect example of what was wrong with the gaming industry 10 or 15 years ago.
The Onechambara series has been popular because of its exploitation, not in spite of it, which is strange in its own right. Still riffing on the Dynasty Warriors style of gameplay, there isn’t a lot of progress here in terms of playability, design, or even graphics in comparison to the previous entries.Strangest of all is that Z2: Chaos is a sequel to a game that never arrived in the United States. Luckily, context and plot cohesion are two things that really have no place with the Onechambara games in general, so going in blind is pretty much the same as going in having played all of them. So, I suppose that’s a point in Z2‘s favor?
The game consists of ushering you from one small walled-off section to another, slicing your way through poorly textured and detailed enemies, then moving on to the next one. In an ambitious move, Z2: Chaos forgoes a normal or canonical enemy list, instead throwing every monster from page and screen at you in some bizarre explosion of cliches. Zombies, werewolves, gargoyles, gorgons, they are all there. Thankfully, slicing through these hordes of haunted house characters is fast and frantic enough that you won’t have time to think too hard on it.
Outside of swinging around one bladed weapon or another, there really isn’t anything going on in Onechambara Z2: Chaos. There are no puzzles to speak of, no choices or decisions that impact anything, just pure, unadulterated combat. This is not a game setting out to reinvent the wheel, or even add anything new to a well explored genre. It is a budget game, and there is no attempt to appear otherwise. Yet, being able to focus on only one aspect helped to make that aspect mostly a blast.
Combat in Z2: Chaos is fast and joyful. This isn’t pinpoint accuracy on specific enemies, this is joyous slashing through waves of meat charging towards you. In fact, single enemies tend to run or avoid you (leading to some annoying hunts from time to time), instead using sheer numbers to overwhelm you. Amazingly, the 60fps holds through almost everything thrown on screen, something many AAA games can’t even manage. Blood is liberally coating every inch of the poorly detailed environment, including you characters, as well as filling up the infamous “blood meter.” Riding the line between weapon degradation based on the meter and the ability to go into a frenzy at the expense of health. It isn’t a complicated system by any means, but learning to navigate the combat smoothly is essential if you want to move beyond “button masher” syndrome. Occasionally, judging distance is frustrating, and there were periods of unresponsive commands, but over all, it was incredibly easy to get lost in the tidal wave of red constantly filling the screen.
In case you were wondering, yes, there is a story here, but calling it that is really just ennobling it. Two groups from the Vampir Clan and the Baneful Bloods, Aya and Saki, and Kagura and Saaya, are forced to team up to halt the worldwide outbreak of random hellspawn. Both groups are separated and placed with their counterparts, which seems to only be based on who is wearing a bikini and who is wearing a schoolgirl outfit. None of this actually matters. The conversations between these odd couples is about as derivative as can be. There are clever moments, and the voice acting is actually very solid and enjoyable considering the production value, but people are picking up the controller to kill things, not for the anime-light melodrama.
Sadly, it is impossible to not mention the rampant sexism and excess amounts of skin that seems to be the main attraction of the game. The character design is pure fan service, a throwback to the days when young men had to get their titillation from badly pixelated ladies and stolen Victoria’s Secret catalogs. Personally, i like to imagine that we’ve moved beyond these things. Maybe some people are still turned on by these things, but when you step back to think about it, it is pretty nauseating that anyone finds these outfits appealing or arousing. The game would be no less fun with fully clothed women, or men, or any creature imaginable. When so much of your games identity is tied to exploitation, it’s tough to support it regardless of how great the gameplay may or may not be. Here’s hoping this idea fades in future entries. But I’m not holding my breath.
Was I offended by the game at almost every point? Yes. Is the plot almost offensive in it’s structure and delivery? Undoubtedly. Did playing through the game bring far more fun and satisfaction than it should have? Abso-freaking-lutley. This is not a Game of the Year contender, nor is it going to shake the bedrock of the video game industry, but if you want mindless, ridiculous, and bloody fun, you will be more than pleased.