Reviews | Xbox 360
Oneechanbara vorteX ~Imichi wo Tsugumono Tachi~
By Alex Kierkegaard / January 31, 2007
Before playing the new Oneechanbara I had somehow managed to convince myself that it would turn out to be a decent game. Half an hour in and the only thing on my mind was: "How much more of this do I have to endure before I can sit down to write the review?". In the end I persevered for another couple hours until I reached the seventh stage, at which point I'd had about enough. I ejected the disc from the console and flicked it across the room, towards the steadily growing pile of discarded Simple series games I keep in a corner (the other four Oneechan titles are all there as well).
Okay, so I am lying, I don't really have a pile of discarded Simple series games in my room, but, believe you me, I do have one somewhere in the back of my mind. Among all those titles the Oneechan games have perhaps caused me the most consternation; that they are absolutely worthless is obvious after, yeah, about thirty minutes of starting one, but then how come they sell well enough to warrant so many sequels/slight upgrades?
The low price is of course always a factor, as many copies are sold to those who are just curious, and the insatiable lust of Japanese otaku for cool-looking "characters" no doubt accounts for the rest of the sales. So Tamsoft has churned out four of these games already, and this fifth one shows that they've no intention of giving us a break (in fact the sixth installment will soon be released for Japanese cellphones, under D3's Simple 500 label). Still, you know, I don't resent those guys, for making all these godawful button mashers that I am forced to waste my youth slogging through. If anything I pity them, as I know that actually working on these games for months on end is a far more soul-crushing experience than playing them for a few hours and writing some lazy reviews.
So anyway, let's get this lazy review over with then. In Oneechanbara vorteX Aya and Saki go up against yet another zombie situation, starting off at a graveyard somewhere in Tokyo and continuing on through the usual assortment of outdoor areas and labyrinthine corridors. Soon after the game begins the two gals are joined by a third one, the blonde police officer Anna, who wears garters and has the legs of a supermodel. Anna may lack a sword but she packs a set of handguns, a shotgun and a submachine gun. If the need arises, she can also use these guns as melee weapons by slapping her enemies with them.
The variety of moves on offer is the only aspect of the Oneechanbara games which is significantly improved with each successive iteration, and at least in this respect vorteX is a nice step forward. You can now perform a couple more context-sensitive moves (such as Aya's whirlwind attack, which I still don't know exactly how to pull off), as well as a double-jump which can be mixed up with the regular slash and kick attacks. Pressing Y and B together results in a desperation move, which causes all enemies to momentarily freeze while you pull off a lightning-fast sword slash, reminiscent of one of Moriya Minakata's techniques in Gekka no Kenshi (1997). Moreover, from the third stage onwards Aya can pull out a second blade and fight with a slightly-modified two-weapon moveset, and then from the fourth stage Anna joins the crew and provides even more variety with all her different gun attacks.
The tag element introduced in The Oneechanbara 2 remains, so in stages where the plot allows for it (i.e. in most of them) you'll choose two of the girls and be able to switch between them on the fly. It's a good idea to always have Anna in your team, because that way you can alternate between slashing and shooting, and thus make the extremely boring fighting slightly more bearable. And I say slightly because, despite all the new moves you can pull off in this game, hacking up the hordes of zombies gets old before the first stage is even over. And the reasons for that are the same as they always were: a fighting system based on button-mashing (without blocking, dodging or any advanced techniques), a clunky engine and a useless camera, and enemies with just a single attack and non-existent A.I. And since the basic slash combo will see you fine through most stages, there's really no need to mess with any of the other moves, nor to put any effort into the elaborate combo/stat-upgrade system. Of course, as before, there is a bit of strategy involved in managing the two blood meters, so that you go into berserk mode at certain tough spots, and then quickly find a way to snap out of it before it kills you. This is the only truly successful aspect of the game -- though it's certainly far from enough to save it.
The stages remain little more than glorified keyhunts. Every now and then you are trapped in an area by ZOMG! a waist-high wooden fence that bursts from the ground, and forced to remain there and kill zombies that just simply materialize out of nowhere, and so on and so forth until a boss fight. The first boss is a hulking brown blob that takes about a hundred slashes to die; the second boss is a useless Yakuza-type thug; the third boss is TWO hulking brown blobs, etc. etc. For a change, the fourth boss is a striking warrior girl with a sword as big as the one Guts has in Berserk, but fighting her still boils down to slashing as fast as you can, so that her health bar gets depleted before yours. Not a single enemy in this game (or, at least, in the seven stages I put up with) gave me as much pleasure in fighting him as even the lowliest grunt in Ninja Gaiden (2004), and the mindless hacking has been pulled off a hundred times better in over a dozen Shin Sangoku Musou sequels and clones.
It's worth mentioning that there is at least one stage (there may be more, but I will probably never know) during which Aya rides a Ducati 916-knockoff motorcycle down a long straight stretch of road, while being chased by a bunch of zombiefied wolfs. It is the most terrible motorcyle segment I've ever played. The game's engine is obviously inadequate to keep pace with the increased speed, and the ridiculous amount of pop-up is proof that, at least when it comes to Japan, Microsoft enforces no minimum quality standards whatsoever. You can actually ride the bike at, like, two miles an hour if you want to while hacking with your sword left and right, something which just looks laughable (under a certain speed it's impossible for a bike to stand upright unsupported). Much like the general concept behind the Oneechan games (i.e. sexy girl bathed in blood), a motorcycle rider wielding a sword is a cool idea, but only makes for a fun experience if you manage to pull it off well.
In light of all the above, the game's numerous other modes, unlockables and additions are superfluous (Practice Mode? Gimme a break -- practice what?). I did like the Dressup Mode, though, where you can dress the girls with clothes and accessories you unlock in Story Mode, and then use these outfits in-game. It's a neat idea and I hope it one day replaces the current standard in action titles, which is to give you the new costumes AFTER you've finished the game, when you of course have no use for them. Anyway, even the new co-op mode (which is split down the middle, as in the recent Chikyuu Boueigun 3) doesn't help this game, which is about as damning a criticism as one can level at it.
At the beginning I said that, before I played it, I believed that vorteX would turn out much better than its predecessors, and it certainly made sense to me that Tamsoft would pull all the stops to ensure that it did. This was the full-price debut of the series (on an obscenely powerful console, no less), and they spectacularly blew it. Even the graphics are lame. Of course they look better than those of the PS2 games, but certainly not by a wide margin. At least Sandlot gave us next-gen(ish) eye candy in EDF 3, whereas I've no doubt that vorteX could have been pulled off even on the original Xbox by more capable developers. After five Oneechan games I am now convinced that Tamsoft keeps failing to make something decent not because they don't have the time or the budget, or because they don't care, but simply because they can't.