The Onechanbara series has been around for a while in Japan, shamelessly fusing ridiculous combat with girls in skimpy costumes for a good 11 years now. It's safe to say that it's a franchise that knows what its fans want, and as such, it's never tried to move away from its aforementioned core concepts. The same is true of its newest iteration, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos, which marks the property's return to Western shores after a six year break. It's a release that's uncompromisingly daft – but it wouldn't work any other way. Featuring a story about rival clans consisting of young women who team up to save the world from undead hordes, it's unsurprisingly over the top from the word go.
Story mode is the meat of the game, as you guide four playable characters through a selection of stages that span the globe, slashing and smashing zombies to pieces along the way. It's a decently sized main course that's got more hilariously camp cutscenes than you can count, and while the plot does sport some semi-interesting backstory, there's really no need to pay much attention to the narrative as a whole; superhuman girls in thongs kill bad guys is ultimately all that needs to be said.
You may actually end up liking the involved characters, though. Our four heroines range from brash and foul mouthed to meek and psychotic, and it's arguably refreshing to see female characters being so unapologetically uncouth. None of the personalities are explored particularly deeply, but they get the job done, and their crazy antics are enough to make you cheer for them. What's more, you can switch between English and Japanese voiceovers, and contrary to what you might think, the Western dub is actually quite good. The cast performs well across the board, which is impressive given how bad or downright silly the writing can be at times.
In any case, no one's here purely for the story. Z2 Chaos is all about the combat, which is decent when you get a feel for it. Its biggest strength is that it provides plenty of options; you can switch between the four party members on the fly, and each character has two different weapons that can also be swapped out with the press of a button. Combine these two mechanics and you've got the recipe for some absolutely devastating combo chains, and fans of action titles are bound to get stuck into the system once they've got the controls down.
Gameplay as a whole is all about hacking enemies to bits in relatively small arenas before moving on to the next. It's just about the most basic structure that you can imagine, with gates to new battlegrounds opening up when you've beaten a set amount of goons, and the fact that the level design is so bland and uninspired doesn't help. Fortunately, the combat is just enough to keep things moderately entertaining, but even then, there are a few flaws that hold it back from being better than it is.
For starters, the camera is awkwardly positioned. You can tap R1 to lock on to enemies which keeps them centred, but since you're usually fighting whole groups of foes at once, its usefulness is limited. Plus, locking on to larger bosses tends to result in camera positions that obscure half of your character as they point upwards at an angle, and some cramped locations make the damn thing zoom in even further. Zip about too much by making use of an evasive roll or a distance-closing dash, and it can even start to get a bit nauseating.
There's just not enough weight to attacks, either. Most zombies take a lot hits before they return to the grave, and although this is great for racking up combos, it can feel like you're whacking on some opponents for minutes at a time with weapons made of Styrofoam. The copious amount of blood helps give some moves a bit more impact – as does the dismemberment – but you never feel quite as badass as the game so clearly wants you to. This is especially true when the release commits its most heinous crime: non-flinching bosses.
You can plough through standard enemies and satisfyingly send them hurtling in all directions, but against most bosses, you're unable to make them bat an eye even if you're seemingly pummelling them into dust. The only feedback that you get comes from watching their life bars chip away, and with that, brawls that should be the highlights of the experience become somewhat anticlimactic slogs.
The content's not all bad, though. There's a simple upgrade system in place so that you can purchase new techniques and boost the effectiveness of your weapons, and there are numerous costumes and accessories to unlock. Speaking of which, the customisation options are almost limitless, as you're able to resize, rotate, and apply equipment to any of the four playable characters. Want to cover a zombie slayer in slices of bread from head to toe? Go for it, we won't judge.
Sprucing up your party is something that you'll probably want to try, too, because the rest of the game looks atrocious. Environments and monster models are straight out of a PlayStation 3 title – a really ugly PlayStation 3 title – and there's so much graphical clipping on display that for a time, we thought that we were back playing Godzilla. Still, we have to give props to the framerate, which stays at a rock solid 60 frames-per-second no matter how hectic the action gets.
Elsewhere, the audio's full of cheesy sound effects that suit the hacking and slashing quite well, but the heroines' incessant panting when they're moving around outside of combat is completely overdone to the point where it gets tediously annoying just ten seconds into a sprint. Meanwhile, on the soundtrack side of things, there are some surprisingly catchy beats to be found here, but the majority of the music sounds like an angst-ridden teenager has remixed Persona 4's typically cool tunes – and not for the better.
Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is essentially Devil May Cry on what feels like a budget of about £20, which is funny, since you can buy the far superior Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition on the PS4 for that same amount of money. To be fair, though, Z2 Chaos does have its fun moments, and it's kept afloat by a decent combat system that has a lot to offer once you've got a handle on the controls. It's not a totally brain dead release, but it's hard to recommend when it's launching on a console that already boasts several better action games.