If you’ve been following me on Twitter during the last month or so you’ve most likely seen my tweets swearing talking about Sengoku Basara. It’s really all I’ve been doing for the last month. In a desperate attempt to get something out of all the time I spent playing it (which is like 200 hours), I figured I might as well review it.
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is actually the third instalment of Capcom’s Sengoku Basara series, but the first one to be released in North America under the name Sengoku Basara. The first Sengoku Basara game received an overly localized release here under the name Devil Kings, and the second one was never released here at all. Apparently Capcom thinks just dropping the third game into a market with no real exposure to the series is a formula for success. But I digress. I’m not here to talk about what a terrible idea it may have been to release the game here, I’m here to talk about the game itself.
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes focuses on the Battle of Sekigahara, when Ieyasu Tokugawa lead the Eastern Army to fight against the Western Army, which in this version of the story is lead by Mitsunari Ishida. Ieyasu wants to unify the country and bring peace to Japan, while Mitsunari wants to get revenge on Ieyasu for killing their former master. There are about fourteen other characters, each with their own storylines, but the game basically boils down to the battle between Ieyasu and Mitsunari.
One of the foremost problems with the story and characters is that for people unfamiliar with the series and the characters, which would be most of the people playing it, the whole thing can be a little confusing. There are character relationships and events from previous games referenced frequently, with next to no background information given in this one. Newcomers aren’t going to really understand the ongoing rivalry between Yukimura and Masamune, which was established in the first game. They just seem like two dudes who like fighting each other for no established reason. There’s also the character Tenkai, who is actually a character from the earlier games in disguise. Again, this would be lost on newcomers. There’s a host of story and character references to earlier games that are lost on anyone unfamiliar with them, and some of these references are important to some of the different storylines. There’s a clear barrier caused by the first two games never being released here, but considering that the actual story is fairly basic and serves only to get you from one huge fight to the next, it’s hardly that much of a problem.
If you’re familiar with the gameplay of either Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors, then you pretty much already know how Sengoku Basara plays. For those of you not familiar with either of those, you play as a character who single-handedly mows through hundreds of enemy troops, meeting next to no resistance until you come across a boss, all while your own troops run around accomplishing exactly nothing. In Sengoku Basara specifically, your goal in each stage revolves around capturing enemy camps. The more camps you take from your enemy the weaker the stage’s boss will be. There are a wide variety of stages, some with gimmicks like flooding an enemy’s base, or an enemy that moves around the stage hiding in the sand, or a layer of fog preventing you from using your map. The problem is that no matter what particular gimmick a stage has, it basically boils down to capturing your enemy’s camps. That’s it. Want to flood the enemy’s base? Capture the the designated camps. For the enemy constantly hiding in the sand you just capture the camps to force him out, and for the fog you just capture all the camps to make it go away. It all boils down to capturing camps.
The actual combat is actually really fun. There are sixteen playable characters, each with completely different move sets and styles. The moves are stylish and it’s fun to mow through those countless enemy troops. Problem is, it gets really repetitive really fast. Despite each character having a unique move set, all the button combinations are the same across all characters. So while there is variety among attacks, there’s no variety among how you execute them. If your goal is to just play through every character’s story it isn’t that bad. You may end up playing the same stage a couple times, but since the story mode is short you’ll be finished with a character before you get tired of them. But if you’re insane and decide to go for the platinum trophy (like I did) you’ll have to play through the story as each character a minimum of four times, then get each one to the max level, and then find all the weapons for each one. So if there’s one or two or eight characters that you don’t like playing as it stops being fun very quickly.
There really isn’t much to be said about the graphics. They’re nothing spectacular, but they’re still good enough for a PS3 game. It certainly looks better than its Wii counterpart, which isn’t really a hard thing to do. There are points where things kind of go downhill though. For some of the stage bosses that aren’t playable characters, they really didn’t put much effort into their character models. During whatever scenes may pop up during the stage, they’ll look kind of blocky and flat without any detail. It’s even more noticeable when the characters talk, because they couldn’t even be bothered to animate mouths for some of them. Most of the characters do look good, but they kind of dropped the ball for a few of them.
There isn’t much to say about the soundtrack either. There is one particular scenario where it stands out, which is the final battle in either Ieyasu’s or Mitsunari’s storyline. Each one obviously ends with the two going one on one, and during this fight the game’s theme song, Naked Arms by T.M. Revolution, plays in the background. When you have the two going at it one on one, with Ieyasu shouting his cliched lines about peace and unification, and Mitsunari shouting his cliched lines about revenge, and that song playing in the background it creates this really climactic feeling that’s easily one the best moments of the game. But this is really the only time the music stands out, and for the most part it’s kind of mediocre and forgettable.
A lot of people were annoyed that the Japanese voice acting was left out of the English release of the game, so the English dub kind of had high expectations to live up to. Fortunately, it’s a very good dub overall. The most noteworthy performance would be Troy Baker as Mitsunari. He does an amazing job of capturing the character’s pure rage and hatred, and does a great job with the many angry shouting lines, managing to pull them off without sounding cheesy. Liam O’Brian gives a good performance as Ieyasu, and John Fitzgerald’s voice is an amazing fit for Nobunaga Oda. Johnny Yong Bosch doesn’t quite fit as Yukimura Sanada though. He just doesn’t quite capture the hot-blooded side of the character. There are also a few instances where what the voice over is saying and what’s written in the text boses don’t exactly match up. There are a few poor casting choices, but it’s an excellent dub overall.
Sengoku Basara is a pretty decent game overall. It can get a little repetitive, and there isn’t much story to speak of, but it’s undeniably fun. There are a few problems caused by the previous games not being released here, but it’s hardly enough to make the game confusing or unplayable. It’s cheaper than most new PS3 games, and if you have a high tolerance for repetition or plan to go for the platinum you’ll easily get your moneys worth out of it.