Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 3/11/17
Given my weakness for girls with guns, and especially when they're Japanese school girls, playing this game was a no-brainer. Coming from Japanese budget publisher D3, I knew it would be awful going into it, but that didn't stop me. The game takes place in the "Onechanbara" universe, and even features a cameo from Anna (spelled with only two n's this time). The story begins with a horde of zombies attacking a high school, and five girls manage to survive the initial onslaught. For some unexplained reason, they all have access to high powered firearms, including pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, and sniper rifles. Together, they have to stay alive long enough to figure out how to put an end to the undead menace.
Just like every other "Onechanbara" game, this one is a guilty pleasure of anime styled fan service aimed squarely at teenage boys who want to see half naked girls blowing apart undead fiends and splattering blood all over the place. The unabashed presentation gets straight to the point and doesn't bother at all with subtlety. Not surprisingly, the girls all fall comfortably into the standard anime harem stereotypes. You have the perky, cheerful, and upbeat leader (Sayuri), the shy and quiet melancholy girl (Risa), the dark and moody serious one (Enami), the young and overly enthusiastic airhead (Mayaya), and the rich and spoiled diva (Rei). The graphics and character models are sub-standard and reminiscent of PlayStation 2 era games, albeit with higher polygon counts and sharper details. The animation cycles are awkwardly stiff and walking looks more like sliding. Hair is also completely stiff and tends to be unnaturally lifted in order to minimize clipping issues (which are still blatantly present). Lip-syncing is poor, and there's only one mouth animation that opens and closes. Dynamic lighting is extremely flat, which isn't unreasonable for the anime styled presentation, but weird shadows often play across the characters' faces for no discernable reason. And of course, whenever the camera angle changes and a girl starts talking, their breasts briefly bounce up and down.
While the characters are all charming and likable in their own anime inspired ways, the best part about them is the voice acting, which is extremely good. The voice actors sound very professional and the sound quality is excellent, which really brings the characters to life. This is a good thing, because the girls spend A LOT of time standing around and talking. Even when the room is full of approaching zombies, they continue talking to each other for uncomfortably long amounts of time. Unfortunately, everything is subtitled in Japanese and as of yet there's no U.S. release on the horizon. It might happen, though, as the Tokyo Game Show trailer was entirely subtitled in English. I guess we'll have to wait and find out. The "Onechanbara" games have never been popular in America and this one is even more perverse than the others, so it's definitely a risk for any publisher who dares to give it a shot.
For the most part, it's just a simple run-and-gun third person shooting game, but since everything is in Japanese, the mission objectives aren't entirely clear. Every mission is timed and requires either killing every zombie in the area, collecting special items, or making it to a target destination. It's often impossible to tell what you're supposed to do, so you just end up running around and blasting everything in sight. Each mission has you playing as a different character, but the other girls often end up assisting you. As far as AI's go, they're pretty helpful, although they can die and they have a tendency to trap you in small places. You have infinite ammunition, but reloading takes time and leaves you vulnerable to attacks. In close quarters, each girl has a melee attack related to whatever school club they belong to (kendo, soccer, naginata, karate, baseball), but you can only use it a couple of times before having to recharge your physical energy.
Thankfully, you don't have to deal with Aya and Saki's baneful blood problems, but you do have to worry about zombies trying to rip off your clothes. Apparently, zombies are attracted to school girl uniforms, which obviously makes you a target. However, you can choose to rip off your clothes and throw them at overly aggressive zombies if you want, which works as a diversionary tactic. There's even a dedicated button on the controller for doing this. Later in the game, we learn that zombies are also fond of panties, and you can actually toss "panty bombs" to attract zombies. The longer you wear your panties, the more potent they become. However, these tactics don't work on female zombies, so you have to deal with them differently. Sadly, I didn't make it far enough in the game to see this in action, so I can't give a firsthand report on how this actually works. Taking this even one step further, one of the girls seemingly has a thing for zombies, and thinks they're cute. She even calls them "zom-zoms." Wow. Only in Japan...
In addition to the low budget graphics, the controls are a bit finicky and the chase camera is nausea inducing. I haven't experienced motion sickness in a video game in about ten years, but this one had me wanting to puke within twenty minutes. Incidentally, this was pretty much my exact same experience playing the old PS2 "Onechanbara" games. With at least fifty missions, the game offers a lot of play time. Unfortunately, even on the normal setting, the difficulty ramps up sharply after the first 5-6 missions, making the rest of the game a serious chore. There's also not a lot of variety in the types of enemies you face, so they just become stronger, faster, and more numerous. I only managed to play for about two hours before it became too hard and I had to give up. There's a fair amount of character customization available, including weapons (and weapon color), outfits, shoes, hair color, and underwear (since you spend a lot of time running around half naked). One of the underwear options consists of only two cherry tomatoes and a small cabbage leaf. Let's hope none of the zombies are vegetarians...
Overall, yes, it's an incredibly tasteless, sexist, violent, gory, and offensive game that only the Japanese market could get away with churning out. It is low budget entertainment that appeals to the niche exploitation audience, which D3 has built its entire catalog around. The only difference is that this game sells at a top-tier price point, which makes it a difficult purchase to justify. Even though I only made it through about 20% of the game, I found its charms and novelties somewhat enjoyable and was always looking forward to seeing what the next horrible B-movie cliché was going to be. If a domestic release does come out, I'll more than likely pick it up just to see how much I couldn't figure out on my own.