Look, Onee Chanbara Origin isn’t going to win any arguments for those in the video games as art camp, but this hack-and-slash adventure remake certainly benefits from the current (soon to be last-gen, which is just weird to think about) console generation. It is a mashup of the first two games in the series, with updated visuals and voice work, allowing the presentation to have a much truer anime quality aesthetic.
Back when the series first released on older PlayStation 2 consoles, things were a lot more barebones. I suspect it was a combination of hardware limitations and budget. Now we have visuals that are notably improved between smoother animations, excellent color and a lot of nice little visual flourishes. We also get all new voice acting that compliments the dialog quite nicely. The story is a pretty over-the-top one. If you’ve ever seen a trailer or played the series, you pretty much know what to expect as our bikini-clad protagonist uses a sword to take out droves of undead. If that sounds like a rather ridiculous premise… well, it is, but it’s all good fun that is ably wrapped up in a fun if often somewhat shallow combat system.
We follow Aya, who in her cowboy hat and bikini makes for a flashy intro as she uses her katana to cleave a zombie in half. From there, Onee Chanbara Origin teaches you the basics of combat, which has just enough nuance to keep things from getting too repetitive through the roughly two dozen levels that make up the game. The stages themselves look decent, if perhaps are a bit linear in how you work through them. What starts as simply mashing a couple of buttons slowly reveals combat that provides enemies that require differing tactics, an ability to unlock a demon-blood form, flashy execution techniques and more. On easier levels of difficulty, you still have to use the provided parry / stun / combo tactics to win, but these systems become far more valuable on more challenging difficulty levels. Little touches like how your weapon needs to be cleaned during combat helps to stave off repetition, as it becomes less useful over time if you don’t.
Once you get past the narrative’s more overt tropes, you find yourself guiding Aya on a path to find and battle her sist, Saki. There’s some interesting notes here about how the once-close sisters are now destined to fight it out as the stories from the first two games are essentially blended into one here. Sure, there’s plenty of plot items never addressed like… why is the world overrun by zombies? In a world that’s gone to pot, how does Aya have working cell service with a pristine cell phone when she herself is perpetually soaked in zombie blood? Things like that which are kinda silly but fall into the notion of ‘because anime’. For an origins story, the focus is on the characters, not actual world-building, which is fine if a slightly missed opportunity given there are more titles in the series (and one would think perhaps more to come given this remake’s arrival).
There are some nice RPG-lite elements that help with game progression. You earn scores at the end of each level for how effectively Aya’s been dicing and slicing the zombie masses, and those become experience points that lend themselves to leveling up. Levels grant you points that can be dumped into a few different categories such as attack and hit points. Given that the enemies scale up in their own stats each level though, it’s mostly a for-show hamster wheel of sorts as it doesn’t really do anything to make Aya seem all that much more badass than she was back in stage two. You can also earn coins that can be used to purchase some one-shot consumable items that help with things like boosting stats or hit points, or rings that be equipped to provide different status improvements. It is not a great deal of depth, but it’s still welcome throughout the roughly dozen hours of campaign. Each stage takes about ten to twenty minutes to beat, giving Onee Chanbara Origin sort of a short burst of gameplay feel.
That playtime feels just about right, frankly. With such a relatively shallow combat system (some sort of level-related unlockable new techniques would have been welcome for the sake of variety), the mission structure and playtime keep Onee Chanbara Origin from overstaying its welcome.