There’s trouble brewing at the local school. Zombies are everywhere and it’s up to five girls to take up arms and fight back the horde. SG/ZH is third-person manic action shooter. And if the name didn’t hint me in on the fact that this game is a heaping helping of hot and buttery fanservice, the tagline on the back of the box that shouts, “Lose the clothes, save your life” sure did. Toss in the fact that the box proudly proclaims that SG/ZH is set in Tamsoft’s Onechanbara Universe, and I found myself pretty prepared for what to expect. So, yes this is an outrageous fanservice title and it’s not ashamed of it. It also happens to be a pretty fun game.
SG/ZH is broken down into missions spread across five chapters. Missions take on different flavors from hunting down items, getting from Point A to Point B, defending positions, finding and destroying Hell Portals, or just trying to survive for the alotted time. None of the missions are terribly long, in fact they all tend to have time limits. Some missions will require you to play as a specific girl for the first time, others will let you choose. In some missions you’ll be solo, in others some of the girls will accompany you. At the end of each Chapter, you unlock a handful of optional mini-game missions, which can be fun. The main missions have to be taken in order, but once a mission is completed you can come back to it any time. Replaying missions is encouraged in order to level up your characters and find more guns.
And that’s what this game is all about: Girls and guns! The girls each have different strengths and weaknesses. One is better at First Aid for reviving downed team members, another is better at using melee attacks to escape from being overwhelmed, while another has an innate power to locate hidden items. I found that last one to be the most important when replaying levels, some of which have five zombie crows hidden throughout and shooting them all nets you special guns or outfits. Experience is doled out at the end of each successful mission, which helps your girls get leveled up.
Guns are broken down into classes: Handgun, shotgun, sniper rifle, SMG, assault rifle, and rocket launcher, and these can be picked up from some dispatched zombies during the missions. You can carry up to five weapons, but you can’t equip a newly acquired weapon until the next mission. In fact, you don’t even find out what it is you picked up until the mission is over. Guns recovered during missions have varying stats from damage to reload times, and some have extra bonus attributes, like Blast, which knocks enemies back. You can reload your weapon at any time, but it makes you vulnerable, so a modicum of strategy is needed. There’s tons and tons of different guns in the game, but I found that rapid fire weapons combined with Blast effect worked best for controlling the zombie crowds. All of the guns in the game sound and feel great, and mowing down zombies by the dozen with an automatic weapon was pretty damn satisfying. Each girl also has a signature melee attack, as well as an evasive roll and the ability to run, but all of these will consume stamina.
In addition to customizing your weapon load-out, the game also offers plenty of options for the girls themselves. You can find different outfits for them, different colors of underwear, as well as different hair colors and styles if that’s your thing. As the girls take damage, their clothes get shredded. The outfits that I found weren’t anything special and included Summer and Winter uniforms, swimsuits, and nurses outfits. The game also grants you the opportunity to strip down to your undies during a mission. Why? Because when you toss your clothes, the zombies will be attracted to them like bait, allowing you to get away or take care of business without being constantly harassed. Aren’t you glad you asked?
And that leads me to the manic part. The game starts out fairly tame, but before I knew it, shit hit the fan rather quickly. There are tons of zombies in the levels and no matter how many you kill, more are always going to spawn. Zombies also come in all shapes and sizes, from the slow and lumbering kind to the super-fast ones that charge right at you. Crawling double-torso beasts in gimp hoods snap at your heels, others crawl across the ceilings at you. Each type of zombie can come in a couple of different flavors too. Green ones will explode and inflict a slow damaging disease on you, while orange ones will just explode. There are also weird alien eggs that will explode when shot or approached. The game can get really crazy, and a bit frustrating when you’re just trying to get something done.
There are a handful of boss fights, most of which involve fighting zombie clones of the girls. I thought these were the weakest part of the game. There’s not a lot of strategy and I found that we were just blasting away at each other until one of us was dead. I just made sure to bring the most powerful gun I had and some restoratives and I usually did OK.
The maps are huge, but the game uses arbitrary force fields to close off certain paths. Not only does this contain the player to certain areas, but the game will also use these force fields to tailor mazes for each mission. No matter how familiar I became with an area, it didn’t matter because one of these force fields could be barring my way. The blue ones are permanent, while red ones will spring up requiring all zombies in an area to be exterminated before allowing passage through. Finding my way through these while constantly getting pursued by zombies sometimes got a little frustrating.
The game looks nice and runs along at a pretty good clip, despite the insane number of zombies and action going on. Missions are set both inside and outside the school, and in most cases you can wander in and out of the buildings and even go up on the roofs. There are also some missions that take place in an underground facility, which adds a little variety later on in the game. The character models are also quite good and have fluid animations. The in-game engine is used for the cinematics and reflect all the customization you do to the girls. All the voice work is spoken in Japanese with English sub-titles. The localization is good and the music is a bouquet of synthy-pop with twangy guitars that got me in the mood to fight zombies. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed the music.
The only real complaint I have was the rather lengthy cutscenes before and after each mission. These do their part to advance the story and there’s a lot of interplay between the girls, who start out at each others throats and slowly develop relationships with each other. If you’re into it, you can really get to know them, but sometimes these just didn’t interest me at all. Thankfully these are skippable. I did watch some of them, but in most cases I just wanted to get back into the action.
In the end, SG/ZH was a really fun ride. It didn’t take me more than a handful of nights to complete the 50 or so missions, and that’s with me going back to some in order to find all the zombie crows, but I can definitely see myself coming back to it now and again for a quick arcade-style zombie blasting fix. I grabbed this one at about $20 and it was money well spent.