Release date: November 17th, 2017
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed)
D3 Publisher, the company responsible for the infamous Onechanbara series, which has currently spawned 11 video games and two movies, is now taking the series one step further and starting spin-off games, starting with the subject of this review, School Girl / Zombie Hunter.
If you’re not familiar with the series, it takes Japanese levels of violence, gore, and fan service to extremes, featuring scantily clad girls fighting hordes of zombies and monsters, with blood spraying in every conceivable direction while they slice and dice everything and everyone to pieces.
They’ve decided to take this new spin-off game in a new direction, focusing on gunplay instead of swordplay, and featuring 5 main characters to play as on your journey. Does this entry live up to the rest of the series and is it worth your time?
SG/ZH lays its cards right out on the table, and what you see is essentially what you get. The story is about five high school girls getting trapped inside a school while a zombie outbreak happens, and the objective is to escape. The way to escape is basically playing through about 30 very primitive and short levels of third-person shooting to eventually encounter the ending.
Unfortunately, the game does lack some depth and variety compared most of the other entries in the series it belongs to, especially since all the characters play almost exactly the same as each other, with only very small differences, and most of the stages are just slight variations of the ones you just played on, with very little change in scenery.
You collect various guns and gain experience to level up and enhance the performance of the characters, but these things rarely ever feel like they’re really changing the game in any major way, leaving an empty void where many games would have a progression system.
While on the subject of visuals and characters, there’s also a very cheap and strange visual style to the game, with all of the enemies, characters, and environments looking like shiny plastic dolls and toys instead of having a more stylized or interesting in-game appearance. Besides that, the main characters are all generic and look really similar to each other, almost like clones of each other with different hairstyles, and it feels almost like really bad idol group.
If you’ve ever played any of the entries to the series so far, you may know that it is a series that has traditionally been full of technical faults, from performance issues, shoddy controls, and just about anything else that could go wrong with a game from a technical standpoint. That being said, most of the games still manage to have some enjoyable qualities about them, despite their shortcomings, not different from a campy, guilty pleasure B-horror movie.
School Girl / Zombie Hunter is no different in this regard, where even on a PS4 Pro, the game is still gets a lot of random slowdown and low frame rates, on top of the controls never quite feeling right, no matter how much adjustment is done in the menus. It is unfortunate that it suffers so much in the performance and control departments, though I can’t say it isn’t expected.
These things certainly don’t make the game unplayable, but they can really cut down on the enjoyment of the experience overall. As annoying as these things can be, it fits right in with the rest of the series, and many other Japanese 3rd-person action games and just becomes one of those things that you tolerate so you can just get on to seeing what else the game has to offer in style.
SG/ZH even tries to take the fan-service that this series is already well-known for to a new level, with the characters’ clothes being ripped off as they take damage, and even an option to strip all your characters down to their underwear with just the push of a button! Unfortunately, these things don’t even begin to compensate for the lack of depth and effort put into the game, even if these things can feel novel or amusing at first.
There are some little points where the humor got a chuckle from me and the combat and exploration in some of the levels is almost fun, but it never really reaches a level that I’d say is wholly enjoyable. Collecting guns and items has a certain appeal if you’re into that kind of thing, but again, it still isn’t very fulfilling in the end.
Even after finishing the main story, no extra modes or interesting content really unlocks, only some higher difficulties where you play the exact same stages with little bumps in difficulty. The game does feature an online co-op mode, if you manage to find other people to play with, and it can be fun, but an option for local co-op would have been a nice addition, especially since most of the other games in this series had the feature.
It’s pretty hard to recommend this game to anyone who isn’t already a big fan of the Onechanbara series or niche, low-budget 3rd-person Japanese action games in general, and it isn’t even one of the better examples of this genre, since it is missing a lot of the campy charm that many other similar games have.
One plus side is that it is a budget release, coming out at only $40 in the US, though I’d say it’s only worth about half that price unless you’re a real die-hard fan of this style of games.
Overall, this is probably one to avoid unless you know already that this is a style of game you enjoy before you even play it, and even then, it feels like it’s even disappointing when this is the case.