Onechanbara has finally come back to US shores in the latest localized adventure, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos. In addition to the original Japanese, the game is also dubbed into English. One part of this that is really cool is how they handled some of the dialog. In the original Japanese version, some lines were done in broken English. In the dubbed lines, the same characters do the lines with broken Japanese. A small touch, but pretty cool. Other than that, the dub is your basic budget title variety.
Onechanbara is a hack and slash game series. The Square and Triangle Buttons attack with your weapon while Circle is your sub-weapon. Each girl has a primary and secondary weapon and moveset to go along with it. As you cut up enemies, your weapon gets bloodier and bloodier, which will affect its damage and speed. A simple button press can clean the blade and restore its shine. Sub-weapons, while weaker, will not retain blood. If you can correctly press the attack button right as the attack hits an enemy, you get a damage and speed boost. These are known as Cool Combos, and if you get the whole combo correct, you get an extra move at the end (after you have purchased the appropriate skill). These are harder to pull off than you would think, so practicing and the Practice mode will help a lot in getting the timing down.
Since there are multiple heroines, multiple will join you on each stage. Save the first few story stages, you will have all four available, and can set their order in battle. Pressing Up or Down on the D-Pad will switch whomever you are controlling, allowing the others to recover some health. There is meter around the girls' protraits, and once that is filled, you can press the touch pad to summon the others to fight. This is great for bosses and bigger groups, and really helps get the score up for the higher ranks. However, it can be very easy to lose someone with low health, as I have done several times. Oops. Still, a great function in a pinch.
"But wait, there's more!" You also have a meter than can build up that will allow you to unleash Ecstasy Combinations. These super moves are fairly powerful, and very useful since you are invincible during them, and they can easily clean out a room of enemies. The meters fill as you attack enemies, but quickly drain, especially if you get hit (since then you aren't hitting enemies). Sadly, you can't really build them up and save them for when they would be needed most. That's my complaint with them, as I would prefer to save them for bigger groups or bosses, but you have to pretty much use them or loose them. It is possible to switch the character out and retain the meter, but that's not really the best solution.
There is also a blood meter around your health. When it builds up, Aya or Saki will go berserk, increasing their attack and speed. If you played any of the other Onechanbara games, this should be familiar to you. However, the other two characters, Kagura and Saaki, gain the ability to transform, which must be activated when the blood meter is filled, and has a similar effect on your stats (Aya and Saki will eventually learn this as well). It's nice that you can save it, plus it will constantly fill your Ecstasy meter, so you can throw out super moves a lot while transformed. Needless to say, this ability is great for tough mobs or any of the bosses, especially when combined with the cross merge attacks.
The game starts off pretty linear, as it will split up the four girls into two teams and you have to complete a stage or two with them. Once they meet back up, you can choose the next five levels in any order you want. Then it goes back to being linear for the rest of the game. I don't really have a problem with it, but it would be nice if the five choice stages had their numbers listed before you did them. There is a stage order, but they won't tell you it. It doesn't matter much, but I see no reason not to let the player know the correct order so they can do it if they want. It's just silly, but not a huge deal.
There also exist many skills you can upgrade and pieces of equipment to buy. The most useful skills you can buy are the combo attacks, since those increase the length of your combos. The equipment is mainly divided into weapons and rings. Weapons are pretty self explanatory, and each new purchase will be stronger than the one before it. Each weapon can only replace its own type, and for better or worse, must be purchased in order. This means it takes a lot of money to get them all. Rings offer other benefits, like increasing attack or defense. There are also some expensive but useful benefits, like converting some of your damage dealt to health or increasing the money (yellow souls) you obtain for kills. Each ring can only be worn by one person at a time, which limits their usefulness. Since you don't have a level, it would be nice to have the attack and defense rings on each of the girls.
There are a total of 16 stages for the main story, and five different difficulties if you want to tackle them. It took me a few hours to run through the story the first time. The game got a little harder on hard, but not as much as I thought it would. Stages vary in their length and difficulty, but the hardest parts are usually the boss monsters. Stages that are only a boss aren't so bad, though, since they are short and you can just concentrate on defeating the boss for a quick victory. You also can get some items that refill health and other standard things to help you through any tough spots. I used very few healing gems in my first run, but I can easily see that going up with the highest difficulties, since I don't see a way to increase your max health. The hardest part isn't usually surviving, but getting a high rank on the level.
There are a few more things you can do in the game. There are separate missions you can do that have specific score goals and strict requirements. One might only allow special moves to kill while another might only allow kills while multiple characters are out. They are fairly quick and can be fun, but ones with multiple bosses quickly get irritating. The variety starts off pretty good, but then they quickly become "kill all/x amount of enemies", which is a bit disappointing. This is at least for the "medium" difficulty setting, as I have not yet done many of the "hard" ones.
Completing the missions and the in-game "quests", which are things like "perform x cool combos" or "transform x times" will reward not only trophies, but also outfit pieces and game art. The gallery, where you predictably see all the unlocked art work, doesn't open up until you beat the game. Strange, but I suppose it is to not spoil the story. Still, why not just say when it opens, since you unlock stuff for it but cannot see it until you beat the story. The outfit pieces allow you to change the costumes of the girls and have a fair amount of customization. Somehow some of them make the girls even more scantily clad... I didn't think it was possible!
Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is a fun action game. I realize not everyone is going to like it, since it isn't super pretty, super hard or well-known. Still, it is very stylish, has a decent amount of content if you are willing to go through the game a few times. It has its fair share of fan service and gore, so be aware of that before diving in. Fans of the franchise should definitely check it out, as it adds more to the series since its last US release. I'd also recommend action game fans check it out, since it has a few things not found in other titles, plus you can master the cool combos to show off your skill.