Onechanbara’s story, which is like a psychotropic walk through a B-movie horror film at the best of times, certainly isn’t anything that’s going to be held up as “one of the greats.” The basic gist is that two sisters are battling the citizenry of Tokyo, who have unfortunately been infected by something known as “Baneful Blood.” Through some not at all clear miraculous happenstance, the sisters themselves are infected with this same blood and, naturally, instead of being turned into flesh-hungry zombies themselves, they become the perfect zombie killing machines. The remainder of the plot goes through a series of plot progression points that likely only make sense if you had the steel fortitude to play through the previous games in the series.
She's got two very important weapons...
To be fair, though, a great story isn’t exactly a requirement for a game to be fun. After all, Left 4 Dead just sets up the idea that the world’s been overrun with zombies and Francis, Zoey, Louis, and Bill are four survivors that are trying make it alive before getting to the actual zombie killing. So despite the awful story, Onechanbara still had the opportunity to redeem itself by providing fun game play. Yet even in these respects the game seems almost determined to disappoint.
The game mechanics center around mindlessly pressing the attack button to hack and slash the zombies into chunks of their former selves, which is, all things considered, pretty fun. That is until you inexplicably go into some kind of rage that slowly drains your health until you beat the level or – and how you’re supposed to know this is beyond me as nothing is mentioned in a tutorial or the manual – you find a statue (hidden somewhere in the level) that fixes this problem. In other words, the game creates an artificial timer to complete the level, which can only be removed by going off track and finding a special item, and essentially punishes the player for doing the one thing that is absolutely clear in the game: killing zombies. All of this still holds true for the co-op aspect of Onechanbara, but at least having a partner means you can either beat the level faster or cover more ground when searching for the statue. Unfortunately, this is also about as good as the co-op play gets.
Having a friend around to help fend off the undead hordes is, generally speaking, a good thing. However, when the main protagonist is capable of staving off the undead onslaught all on his own, a partner starts to become something more of a novelty. That is the essence of Onechanbara’s co-op play, something that exists as a novelty instead of a true co-op experience. There were times when I was playing Onechanbara that I found myself wondering why exactly a partner was needed at all. After all, the basic sword weapon I started off with was pretty good at slashing through the zombies, and even the boss characters weren’t difficult enough to really require another person. The game must have been reading my thoughts for just a couple of levels later, I was suddenly playing the game by myself. No, my partner didn’t quit the game and no, he didn’t die. I was simply playing the game by myself while he watched. To put it another way: a game that features co-op game play actually contains levels where only one person is playing. The reason why this is a couch co-op only game became very clear to me in that instant. If you could play this game online, countless people would be off doing whatever else they could to ease the boredom while their partners shouted into their headsets, “You can come back now! The solo portion of the co-op game is over!”
A modern day video game, by a broad definition, is comprised of three main elements: story, game mechanics, and graphics. A really good video game likely has a great story, excellent game mechanics, and graphics that work well for the particular game. This isn’t always the case, as there are quite a few games out there that stand out because they have a really great story or a really great game mechanic or the most amazing graphics ever seen, but most of the bigger games released these days successfully hit at least two of those three areas. Onechanbara, in spite of the questionable attention heaped upon its protagonist, does have graphics, at least, that are appropriate for a game that’s the equivalent of a bad pulp fiction novel, i.e., it reads poorly and it feels like it was put together with bits of straw and sawdust. Being an action horror game, though, Onechanbara brought to mind one of the great horror writers of the 20th century, H.P. Lovecraft, and the group of writers that followed. In “The Salem Horror”, Henry Kuttner tells of an Old One that is described as “the Thing that should not be.” Certainly in the world of games, Onechanbara approaches that same level of description as “the game that should not be.”