Wanton sex appeal; crass exploitation; exploding blood and gore and violence that no mop and bucket could possibly clean up: this recipe, if not for a successful video game, at least would make for one that would pass your time well—especially one that is innovative with depth to game play, challenging and actually fun to play. However, if you read and believe everything you read in video game journalism you may be missing out on a worth while game; from what it appears also missing out maybe the video game journalists who believe their own bad press.
Oneechanbara: vorteX (2006), made by Tamsoft and published by D3, is a budget video game based on the long running Oneechanbara series (the English version is written with one less "e"). Having debuted to Japanese gamers on the budget "Simple 2000" series on the Playstation 2, the franchise has since crossed platforms onto the Xbox 360, the Nintendo Wii and cell phones. This popularity spawned a live action motion picture, "OneeChanBara: The Movie" (2008) starring celebrity actresses and idols Eri Otoguro, Chise Nakamura and Manami Hashimoto that was released in Japan and screened at the New York Asian Film Festival. Oneechanbara: vorteX sold so well in Japan that it placed 32nd in the top 50 lifetime domestic sales on the Xbox 360 in 2007, selling better than such games as Call of Duty 3 and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. (http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=220841) This is a successful video game in a popular franchise that has sold well in Japan; it should then be logical to think such success would carry over for the 2009 United States re-release.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad, the title for its US and European release, was received very poorly from video game critics; the aggregate critic score on Metacritic (based on 33 reviews) is 39 out of 100, a low and rare score. Despite the success of the game in its native Japan, Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad was generally criticized for its bad production involving graphics and sound, nonsensical story, crass sexual exploitation, repetitive game play and a minimal presentation that had no tutorials or other explanations of game play. A gross oversight on the part of publisher D3, this lack of polish on the Western re-release--a game in-waiting for 3 years--ensured the long running Oneechanbara franchise would not enjoy the same success as it did back in Japan.
However, this lack of presentation and tutorials also had another unexpected result: based on playing the game and the lack of information it gave them, many video game reviews made statements that simply weren’t true. Determined to let a lack of information set the bar on a review full of opinions, certain journalists braved forging ahead without bothering to get their facts straight. Judging from their comments it seems that many of these reviewers simply played through Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad once quickly in order to write their review without learning about what this game can offer them.
“But while you will need to mix up your attacks for some enemies, for the most part you can just jam on buttons indiscriminately without too much worry.”
“Every attempt to leave the tedium of button mashing behind results in pure stupidity.”
- Kevin VanOrd, Gamespot (http://www.gamespot.com/xbox360/action/chambarabeautyx/review.html?om_act=convert&om_clk=gssummary&tag=summary;read-review)
Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad is a button-masher, an action video game that is dependent upon pressing buttons quickly and often, but it isn’t a mindless button-masher as described by Mr. Van Ord. Instead, this is a button-masher with style. In an interesting case where style is more important than substance, Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad is a game that rewards the player for being stylish rather than opting to go the easy route, say like to plod mindlessly through the game pressing attack indiscrimminately like Mr. VanOrd appears to have done. This game does for beat em' ups what Project Gotham Racing has done to the racing genre and what The Club did for first-person shooters.
“This usually consists of beating one of three attack buttons, and while it’s possible to chain together combos – all with a rating, as seen in countless action games – most foes are so easy to defeat that there's very little reason to ever learn a sequence by heart.” – Simon Miller, 360 Magazine
In the case of Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad the style is all about timing and not about learning complex button procedures like Street Fighter II or even contemporaries like Devil May Cry or God of War. Called a “Cool Combo”, this is performed by precisely pressing attack the very moment your first attack lands; doing so will cause a large white “x” to flash on the screen, the resultant sound effect, the rumble pack to activate—in other words, you can’t miss it unless you are blind, deaf and aren't touching the game controller. Performing a Cool Combo will exact double damage and lead to a drop of larger experience orbs, but they aren’t easy to pull off. Your character in the beginning will have at most a three hit combo, and with a Cool Combo can extend this to four. However, if you upgrade Aya’s combo meter to its maximum you will be able to perform a room clearing twelve hit combo; with double sword style this can be raised to an astounding seventeen--astounding because each of these hits must be pulled off with split second accuracy and then be repeated for each time. Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad has the zombie perfectly cast as the enemy because the game is not about how difficult the foe is but rather how stylish you can pull off your moves. While there are several different moves to learn, the Cool Combo is the most important and is the essence of game play.
“This is one of those games that hopes to sell itself to gamers based solely on the premise... There is little in the way of substance or compelling gameplay to back up this concept.” – Eric Brudvig, IGN
As stated, this is not an integral component to finishing this game; one could mash their way mindlessly through the game, be done in three or so hours and write a quick review. However, once the Cool Combo is learned and accessible, it becomes a self-fulfilling goal of the player. Similar to playing Star Wars Arcade (1983), destroying the Death Star is end goal of each chapter but is not as fulfilling a goal as shooting down all the laser turrets on towers on the second stage. In fact, in could be said that the real game of Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad is the challenge of the player besting himself, trying to outdo himself by continually performing successful Cool Combos in succession; this game specifically targets the issue of bad artificial intelligence, common in many video games, by deliberately taking the focus off it.
“It does indeed transpire the combat system is much more complex than it appears. There are upward slashes, jumping kicks, taunts, counter attacks and all manner of other moves to perfect... [In the game’s manual it] is explained over the course of three pages, seven paragraphs and 650 words. Though from what I can tell it could be summarised as "keep pressing X ". - Ellie Gibson, Eurogamer
The combat system in Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad is surprisingly deep for a beat em’ game; zombies can be dispatched in any number of creative ways. While the Cool Combo is the staple in this formula, each character branches off into their own specializations. Aya has two sword styles that can be upgraded to a maximum eleven hits on the single sword and seventeen hits on dual. Saki specializes in martial arts where she can wrestle with various zombies; Saki can perform suplexes, tear off arms and decapitate zombies with her knee. Annna has a choice between two weapon sets and can perform such stylish maneuvers as shooting from the floor and with arms akimbo, both in front and behind as well as to each side. As a matter of fact, a PDF file that details the movesets, a walkthrough and a FAQ of Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad comes in at 83 pages. Each page doesn’t describe a special move as “keep pressing x”.
“A rigid camera means you are often slashing or shooting blind, unable to see most of the enemies attacking you.” - Scott Alan Mariott, G4tv.com (http://g4tv.com/xplay/reviews/1928/Onechanbara-Bikini-Samurai-Squad-Review.html)
“Its level of difficulty is so cheap, the camera so bad, and the controls so unresponsive that the game's poor quality comes immediately into focus.”
-Kevin VanOrd, Gamespot(http://www.gamespot.com/xbox360/action/chambarabeautyx/review.html?om_act=convert&om_clk=gssummary&tag=summary;read-review
Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad features a lock-on camera that allows you to specifically target one enemy at a time. By pressing the right bumper, a green arrow will target an enemy that will flash green as well; pressing down on the left thumbstick will allow you to shift between the enemy of your choosing. This is the same type of z-targeting featured in “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” (1998) that allowed circle strafing around enemies and had the camera locked on such that both you and your chosen opponent are on screen and centered at all times. Whilst locked on in Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad and jumping to the left or right, your character will perform cartwheels to elude enemy attacks; if an attack is dodged at the last moment a slow motion "bullet time" will occur, allowing you to perform greater damage.
Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad features the tightest controls you’ll find in any game. The heroes in Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad don’t conform to the natural laws of physics, thereby able to stop on a dime and change directions or are able to move basically as quickly as you can control them. The greatest testament to the responsive controls is that the game will perform each and every of your button presses; if you were to press attack or jump one too many times, this game will perform that action. Therefore, an on screen character that “spazzes out” and is hard to control is indicative of a player that simply mashes the buttons without any thought and not of controls that are unresponsive; if anything, the controls in this game are too responsive.
“Then there's Rampage Mode, which characters enter when they are totally covered in blood. It makes them move twice as fast and deliver double the damage. Great, except they also take double the damage, and their health meter drains constantly. Which makes it one of the more rubbish berserker modes ever invented,” - Ellie Gibson, Eurogamer
All the points Ms. Gibson makes about Rampage Mode are true, but she leaves many points out. Throughout the game as the two half-sisters slaughter zombies and accumulate the resultant red orbs their “Splatter Meter” rises. When full, the hero will enter Rampage Mode and have the abilities of moving twice as fast and dealing double the damage but also have the disadvantages of taking double the damage and a persistently draining life bar. These disadvantages can be offset by the use of strategy. The red orbs that formerly added to the splatter bar now will contribute to the character’s health. In this fashion, game play resembles arcade-style action and becomes exciting race against time to kill more zombies and harvest more red orbs before your life bar drains and your character suffers major damage.
To add to the strategy, hearts obtained from mud zombies with a technique called “pulling hearts” can be used to heal a character in Rampage Mode, and as these mud zombies are more prevalent than rare healing crystals it would be worth it to keep a character in Rampage Mode. In fact, with two available characters for play, a strategic move would be to leave one character in Rampage Mode and one in normal and switch between them as the situation required. This blend of strategy and arcade action makes it, arguably, one of the best berserker modes ever invented.
“Some other modes add replay value, but they don't improve the game's quality; since the title isn't worth playing the first time, any replay value is wasted.” - - Robert Verbruggin, Cheat code central
Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad features an upgrade system where one of four statistics can be increased: Combo, Power, Vitality and Reach. (in the case of Annna Reach is substituted with Gun). Experience is gained by collecting yellow orbs from fallen enemies. Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad differs from other third-person action titles like the Devil May Cry series and the God of War series because there are no purchasable moves; this applies to the sword-slinging half-sisters Aya and Saki but not to the gun-toting Annna. Instead, maxing out a combo bar will add one more hit to the existing combo; basically this means to max out the entire Combo stat lots of experience must be gained, thus ensuring several playthroughs—and defining one single playthrough as missing out on a lot of the experience. This may seem like a cheap way to encourage gamers to replay an inferior product, but it does take a lot of practical experience to pull off a “Cool Combo”—especially one that ultimately adds up to a room-clearing twelve hits on single sword and an astonishing seventeen on dual swords for Aya. The technique of completing “Cool Combos” is necessary for defeating Blood Mist zombies and acquiring bracelets that can change your character status and gameplay greatly, like doubling yellow experience orbs or preventing your “Splatter Meter” from growing permanently.
There are a great number of other features that won’t need further explaining: sword fatigue that requires regular cleaning else the blade may get stuck in an enemy; a three tier “Ecstasy” meter in which successive successful attacks culmulate in an invincible attack, independent of the “Splatter” meter; strategizing character switching between their specific attacks as well as being able to regain some lost health; a Practice mode to learn and rehearse special moves and combos; and a Quest mode in which completing certain tasks items are unlocked for use in Dress Up mode, a mode where the player can dress the heroes in different clothes. What is important is not whether or not these modes, combos and game play are valuable assets to this game but rather the fact that many reviewers did not make any mention of them, specific or otherwise, but were still compelled to judge these games as journalists.
It’s very clear that D3 was lazy and released a video game that is largely incomplete despite having three years since the first time it was released; it appears the only change made to the Western release are adding subtitles to the cut scenes and translating the game menu and story script to English. For such little effort expended it looks like their business plan of not making any money on a product they didn’t spend much on succeeded. However, it is also clear that many video game journalists were content with their first impressions and didn’t bother to investigate further into a video game many of them considered not worthy of their time. By doing so they let their personal opinions and genre preferences get in the way of being able to report faithfully on a topic. Obviously, any of these video game reviewers can state that they judged and criticized a game specifically with the material at hand, just as the common consumer would do with purchasing Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad from any video game retail store. After all, this is the final product D3 released for sale and consumption.
Nonetheless, a video game journalist is not the average consumer. A level of professionalism should be required for a video game journalist that shows expertise and impartiality and an impetus to provide for the truth; after all, a journalist is someone who contributes to the public good. Just as we would demand that a video game in the beat em’ up genre should be reviewed by someone knowledgeable in the subject, so should we demand that a video game should be reviewed in context to previous games in the franchise, similar games in the genre, and also to what the video game is trying to achieve: not every game is trying to be Halo or Gears of War; Katamari Damacy, Braid and Portal are all games with limited resources that make due with what they have successfully, but also don’t make any apologies for looking or sounding any better nor being longer.
Some journalists found time to use an internet search engine and provide some background information on the game. While information is scarce on Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad, information like the IGN pdf FAQ, written by Leonard D. Lyons III and of undeterminable date of origin, do exist as long as you search for it. While searching for answers to questions that some would consider not worth asking may seem beyond the call of duty for a video game review, one video game journalist did just that.
Andy Eddy of Team Xbox gave Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad a 2.7 out of 10. While this does not stray from the average Metacritic score, what is out of the ordinary is the reaction Mr. Eddy had with a game that had “incomplete information”; frustrated that the video game and the manual did not explain the game to him well enough, Mr. Eddy took it upon himself to find out the truth. By asking a co-worker with previous Oneechanbara experience and through other means, Mr. Eddy was able to find out about the game play (Cool Combos) and the various modes (Quest, Practice, Free, Story) and other unrevealed information. Mr. Eddy was ultimately disappointed and called Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad “an incomplete game”. He would do what no one else would care to do: he based his opinion on facts that he investigated when no facts were readily available.
While Mr. Eddy’s final assessment isn’t that different from that of his peers, what is different is the weight of his opinion, having done the legwork to investigate a game that proved difficult to appreciate. And though the game proved to be of not suitable quality to Mr. Eddy, the game was suitable enough for Mr. Eddy to investigate, proving that good journalism is a deed in and of itself. While opinions are not fact and can’t be right or wrong, proven or otherwise, what can be wrong is the lazy attitude towards journalism and the assertion of opinions of fact when no research is undertaken to support arguments. While video game reviewing doesn’t safeguard lives like flying an commercial airline or performing brain surgery, it is journalism and journalism is, basically, telling the truth for the sake of the truth—even if that truth is the journalist saying, “I don’t know.”
As objective as truth is, it is rather subjective. Specifically, truth is whatever people perceive it as. So if enough people will follow a certain type of thinking, opinion becomes belief—and if unchallenged—belief becomes fact. So if video gamers persist in giving the authority of opinion to an elite few who remain unaccounted for then it is no wonder why these same gamers who also persist in complaining so loudly about small grievances in video games (like the current controversy with Resident Evil 5’s DLC) will find themselves last to blame.
1) Oneechanbara refers to the Japanese name of the budget D3 video game franchise of the same name that stars half-sisters Aya and Saki in revealing sexy clothes and features intense violence and gore. “Oneechanbara” is a Japanese pun called a “pillow word” that features two words combined together: “oneechan” is sister and “chanbara” is sword, so together “oneechanbara” means “sister sword” or “sword-fighting sisters” or “sister sword fight”.
2) “Onechanbara” refers to the US release of “Oneechanbara: vorteX” which occurred three years after the Japanese release, and is specifically missing an “e” in its title which can be seen in box-art, press releases and in-game. A similar typo exists for the third main character, “Annna”, whose name is written specifically with three “n’s”.
3) Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad is not the first western release of the Oneechanbara franchise. The Oneechanbara and the Oneechanploo were released in Europe by 505 Game Street as Zombie Zone and Zombie Hunters in 2005. Both games were not released in the US.
4) OneeChanBara: the Movie aka Chanbara Beauty follows the characters and story of the video game franchise with some liberties; however, all three main characters – Aya, Saki, and Reiko – all appear dressed in the exact same costume as in the video game: a bikini with a cowboy hat and feather boa, a school girl’s uniform and a black leather motorcycle jumpsuit.
IGN, Eric Brudvig, Feb 17, 2009; 30/100
This is one of those games that hopes to sell itself to gamers based solely on the premise... There is little in the way of substance or compelling gameplay to back up this concept.
Muddy controls, an annoying camera, ugly graphics, repetitive level design, little variation from one stage to the next, and an awful story are just the beginnings of the problems found here. Compared to today's sophisticated games, Onechanbara feels -- and looks -- like a dinosaur.
Even so, small snippets of the visuals can't fully convey how monstrously ugly this game is. It looks like a PS2 game blown up into HD, and a budget PS2 game at that.
There are simply too many other better options out there to waste time with this mess.
Gamespot, Kevin VanOrd, Feb 13, 2009; 25/100
But while you will need to mix up your attacks for some enemies, for the most part you can just jam on buttons indiscriminately without too much worry.
Every attempt to leave the tedium of button mashing behind results in pure stupidity.
Its level of difficulty is so cheap, the camera so bad, and the controls so unresponsive that the game's poor quality comes immediately into focus.
On normal difficulty, the early levels aren't just easy--they're yawners, and you'll spend most of your time pounding on the X button while searching for keys to open new areas. Even though it seems like there’s a lot of variety, there isn’t, because all the different options really just boil down to hammering on buttons.
Gamepro, Heather Barton, Feb 10, 2009; 1 star/5 stars
As I approached the first boss (who resembled some sort of sloppy tumor) I was looking forward to a life-draining challenge, yet was able to button mash the monster to hell with nothing more than a scratch on my nubile, under-aged body. Each boss battle after that mirrored that experience: hack, slash, repeat.
Running around aimlessly chapter to chapter decimating zombies with little to no effort…I survived the entire game without coming close to dying even once, all while button mashing.
Eurogamer, Ellie Gibson, mar 5 2009 30/100
Then there's Rampage Mode, which characters enter when they are totally covered in blood. It makes them move twice as fast and deliver double the damage. Great, except they also take double the damage, and their health meter drains constantly. Which makes it one of the more rubbish berserker modes ever invented,
It does indeed transpire the combat system is much more complex than it appears. There are upward slashes, jumping kicks, taunts, counter attacks and all manner of other moves to perfect... is explained over the course of three pages, seven paragraphs and 650 words. Though from what I can tell it could be summarised as "keep pressing X ".
This game looks and plays like it was made 15 years ago, and fans of the genre have had much better titles to choose from since then.
There's nothing wrong with a good, solid hackandslasher that doesn't pretend to be anything else. But this game is fundamentally flawed, from the daft control system to the bizarre difficulty curve to the appalling presentation.
G4tv.com, Scott Alan Mariott
A rigid camera means you are often slashing or shooting blind, unable to see most of the enemies attacking you.
ZT Gamedomain.com, Professor Chaos
You can just run past most of them, unless you want to level up your character which I doubt you will really want to do.
Cheat code central, Robert verbruggin
Some other modes add replay value, but they don't improve the game's quality; since the title isn't worth playing the first time, any replay value is wasted.
360 magazine, Simon Miller
This usually consists of beating one of three attack buttons, and while it’s possible to chain together combos – all with a rating, as seen in countless action games – most foes are so easy to defeat that there’s very little reason to ever learn a sequence by heart.
Team Xbox, Andy Eddy
Onechanbara is also a game of incomplete information. Unfortunately, unlike poker, it shouldn’t be an integral part of the game and it certainly doesn’t improve the enjoyment you should get from playing a video game.
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