Sengoku-period samurai leaders rendered as superheroes. The slaughter of thousands with naught but a single strike. A disrespect for historical accuracy that borders on hostility. A testosterone-infused adventure full of ridiculously manly characters and situations.
These are just some of the qualities possessed by the Sengoku BASARA franchise, a property credited with contributing to Japan's pop-culture "Samurai boom". Now, western gamers can experience it in its purest form: via the games that instigated the phenomenon in the first place.
But is the experience worth putting ya guns on for? Is Sengoku BASARA: Samurai Heroes a game worth playing?
Are you ready, guys?!
Sengoku BASARA: Samurai Heroes (PlayStation 3, Wii)
Put bluntly, Sengoku BASARA makes no attempt to hide that it is pretty much a clone of Koei's Warriors franchise titles. The player, as a souped-up version of a popular historical figure, is dumped onto a sprawling battlefield with instructions to hammer buttons until every enemy on the field is dead, or the controller breaks. Either is equally likely.
With the basic premises almost identical, direct comparisons between Capcom's Sengoku BASARA and, say, Koei's Samurai Warriors 3 are nearly impossible to avoid, so I won't even try.
Like its kissing cousin, BASARA has players mainly alternating between light and heavy attacks, combining them in various ways to string together long combos, keeping enemies (or groups of them) airborne as long as possible.
Also like its kissing cousin, most BASARA missions revolve around territory control, with players dashing about the expansive field to take over specific "camps", which when captured confer various bonuses such as increased defense or attack power.
And of course, there are the heroes. Duels between hyped-up historical figures are common and are pretty much the end objective of every mission, and every hero has an arsenal of ridiculous-looking, screen-clearing attacks ("BASARA Arts" in this case) with which to slaughter hordes of unnamed soldiers.
With that out of the way, the differences become more subtle, and reveal where Capcom's upstart might have the advantage over the Koei incumbent.
Perhaps the least obvious difference, at least to outsiders, comes with regards to attitude. Sengoku BASARA has embraced the inherent absurdity of its premise to an extent that not even its inspirations have dared to manage. What kind of twisted mind would reimagine the supposedly unstoppable Tadakatsu Honda as a flying giant robot, complete with jet boosters, missile launchers and drill lances?
In Sengoku BASARA's world, medieval samurai wield gatling guns and World War I-era artillery cannons, and any man worth his rice would use two spears instead of one, and where shooting eye beams or blasting apart the earth with a single punch is absolutely a normal thing you can do. Sengoku BASARA doesn't "go over the top", so much as it grabs the top and drags it ever higher, setting new standards in testosterone-fueled insanity.
This attitude permeates the entire game, from its "Hero Time" ability (which is basically bullet time, but for heroes), to the fact that every super attack ends on a freeze-frame as the hero strikes a pose. The capture of an enemy camp is accompanied by a giant explosion that sends every enemy grunt in the area flying. Taking the gatehouse doesn't "Open the Gate". Instead, it "OPENS THE ULTRA IMPENETRABLE FORTRESS BARRICADE!!!". Heroes don't just approach you, but get their own mini-cutscenes that show both their name and an awkwardly descriptive catchphrase. For example, "Toshiie Maeda: Hungry As Ever!!!"or "Masamune Date: Ready to Party!!!"
And there is a boss creature that is a fireball-and-lightning-spewing cart drawn by a monster horse that is also on fire. It is called "DEATH CHARIOT SPEED DEMON".
The game is garish, noisy and loud. If it was a blogger, it would type in all-caps or use "leetspeak" (one in-game trophy is even dubbed "Frenzy n00b") and flashing colored text.
All that absurdity makes it easy to overlook the relative dreariness of the well-worn Warriors gameplay formula, and conveniently covers for the fact that Sengoku BASARA isn't quite as refined in that formula's execution, either. There are no mid-mission saves, online multiplayer options (only local split-screen), or custom character creators. The battle system is simpler and somehow even more mashing-intensive, and its mission structure too simplistic compared with a contemporary Warriors title.
What BASARA does hold over the other Warriors titles, though, is an actual, honest-to-goodness plot. It's a simple one, surely, but it's more complex and coherent than its competition, which tends to simply retell a series of key Sengoku-period events like the Battle of Sekigahara and such.
In a way, BASARA does the same, but makes them more character-driven, by distilling the grand strategies and factional politicking of real history down to the personal relationships between all of these manly superheroes. Perhaps the most familiar example of this is the eternal rivalry between franchise veterans Masamune Date and Yukimura Sanada, who in real life never actually met in-person.
That said, those two are sidelined in terms of the story, which concentrates on Mitsunari Ishida's vendetta towards Ieyasu Tokugawa. Ieyasu, who's ditched his weapons for gauntlets and a shiny aura of righteousness, has chosen to unite the country through bonds of friendship (and conquest), while Mitsunari's out for blood (which happens to be his catchphrase, too), seeking revenge for Hideyoshi's defeat at the end of Sengoku BASARA 2.
Veteran voice actors such as Liam O'Brien, Troy Baker, Reuben Langdon and the ubiquitous Johnny Yong Bosch turn in respectable performances playing their manly-man roles, but the lack of Japanese voice options prevents fans from indulging Masamune's penchant for random Engrish, dampening the enjoyment somewhat.
Yes, for all narrative intents and purposes, Sengoku BASARA: Samurai Heroes is the third season of the Sengoku BASARA anime series, except that, this being a game, you can do all that crazy fighting yourself. That kind of trans-media presence is perhaps the game's greatest advantage over the Warriors titles, which as yet have no anime or manga of their own. Fans of the anime who aren't turned off by the Warriors gameplay formula can jump right in and beat up thousands of dudes to T.M. Revolution's "Naked arms" theme song.
Of course, that sword cuts both ways. If you don't care much for wearing your controller buttons down, you might instead opt to watch the show. Then again, either way you've picked Sengoku BASARA, which is probably what Capcom wanted you to do in the first place.
Score: 7 – Good (Replayable, fun, but nothing innovative or amazing. The game potentially has large flaws that, while they don't make the game bad, prevent it from being as good as it could be.)
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