Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 2/6/21
"Onechanbara: Origin" is the eleventh game in the series and celebrates the franchise's fifteenth anniversary by re-imagining the first two games. Aya is a sword-wielding zombie slayer who inexplicably wears trashy lingerie, a feather boa, and a spotted cowboy hat. Her bloodline is cursed with "baneful blood," which gives her extraordinary strength, agility, and resilience, but can also lead to madness and demonic transformation. The game opens with her mother's grave being robbed and her father disappearing. Aya's estranged sister Saki has been brainwashed and ordered to kill Aya by the sinister Eva, who has gone insane following the death of her daughter. Aya is assisted by a mysterious woman named Lei (sometimes spelled Rei), who may or may not be Reiko from the original game. It's not clear. The first half of the game focuses on the struggle between the two sisters, while the second half has them working together to take down Eva.
The game is more than just an update to the original and is essentially a complete rewrite. The most striking difference is that the game opts for a more anime-styled look, with brightly colored cel-shaded characters instead of the traditional 3D models that the previous games used. It's a refreshing look that reflects Aya's and Saki's youthful energy and glow. The only problem I had was that none of the characters had upper lips, which really bothered me. The voice acting is very good, and Aya is portrayed as an exuberant and flighty teenager with a fondness for cute and girlie things. She likes stuffed animals and her mobile phone is bright pink with rabbit ears, which is shockingly different than her more mature and stoic portrayal in the later games. However, her taste in clothing (or lack thereof) hasn't changed at all. Even though Saki is younger, she's the more serious one and likes to tease Aya about her quirks, kinks, and questionable fashion sense. The banter between Aya and Saki is playful and quite enjoyable, assuming you can read the subtitles fast enough and you're not in the middle of a fight. Saki is a much softer and sympathetic character in this outing instead of the cold, vengeful, and heartless bitch she was in the original. In this retelling, she's a victim instead of a villain, and her blood feud with Aya has been transferred to Eva instead.
Much to my relief, the gameplay was completely revised and streamlined to use the same modern conventions and mechanics as "Onechanbara Z2: Chaos" (2015), which makes it considerably easier to play than the original game. In the original game, if you didn't keep your sword clean, it eventually got stuck in an enemy's body, which left you open to attack while you tried to pull it out. In this game, you still have to clean your sword, but it just becomes weaker as it gets dirtier. Additionally, in the original game, going into a blood frenzy would literally kill you unless you found a goddess statue or reached the end of a level. As a result, collecting red orbs was actually a form of punishment and you wanted to avoid them for fear of succumbing to your baneful blood and going berserk. That's fine from a story and character perspective, but it's not a good gameplay mechanic. In "Origin," berserk mode simply increases your speed and attack strength, while lowering your defense until the effect wears off. Additionally, you can go from berserk mode to an even more powerful vo-ga mode, which literally transforms you into a super strong blood demon for a short duration. I don't remember that being in the original at all, but it's been a long time and I admittedly never finished that game. The mini-map is gone, and chapters are so small and linear that there's no way to get lost. The original game also had no way to block or parry attacks, so you were constantly at the mercy of the undead that surrounded you.
Despite its updated mechanics, the core gameplay hasn't evolved much at all. Aya and Saki still hack and slash their way through endless hordes of undead fiends, while severed limbs and buckets of blood fly across the screen with reckless abandon. However, I don't recall getting kicked by any split torsos, which was one of the funnier aspects of the original. There isn't much variety in the enemies you face, so you just keep mindlessly killing the same goons over and over again. The boss encounters are tough, but manageable on the easiest setting. Unfortunately, the camera tends to spaz out during boss battles, and you spend more time reorienting the camera and trying to find the enemy than you do actually fighting them, which leads to lots of cheap offscreen attacks. Speaking of camera issues, that's been a constant sore spot with the entire series. However, I didn't get quite as queasy playing this game as I have with previous entries. This is possibly due to the fact that the game offers multiple camera speed options, and I set mine one notch slower than the default speed. The bosses aren't particularly memorable, except for a large demon baby with a snapping umbilical cord whip. That one definitely had some gonzo Japanese flair.
The game has surprisingly few extras, and the deep character customization options of the previous games are absent. There are some downloadable costumes for Aya, Saki, and Lei, but most of them aren't very interesting. Downloadable weapons, music, and bonus missions can also be purchased, but since I played the Asian PS4 release, the DLC is unavailable to me. If you download the game via Steam or the PlayStation store, you'll have access to all of the extra goodies. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like there will be a proper physical release in the US, so I'll have to stick with all of the base options. Story mode is split into twenty-five bite-sized chapters and it took me about eight hours to complete. I actually enjoyed this game a lot more than I expected to, but my expectations were set pretty low going into it. While it simply offers up more of the same, the new aesthetic makes it feel fresh and exciting, and the simplified gameplay streamlines the experience to minimize boredom and frustration. "Z2: Chaos" certainly offers more variety, options, and shameless titillation, and the boss monsters are far more interesting, but the character dynamics and setting in "Origin" are more to my liking.