Review: Sengoku Basara X (PS2 Import)

Sengoku Basara X
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 06/26/08


Okay, so see if you can follow this logic: Capcom is one of the most well-known developers of 2D fighting games on the planet, having developed about half a billion games with the words “Street Fighter“ somewhere in the title in addition to franchises like Darkstalkers, some Marvel fighting games, and of course the VS series of games (IE Marvel vs. Capcom, SNK vs. Capcom, etc). A good portion of their existence was spent churning these sorts of games out so often it seemed like that was all Capcom actually made anymore. They’ve released a few compilations recently based on their more successful fighting game franchises to bang out an extra buck, they’ve basically made more money than anyone on games based around two or more people beating the crap out of one another, you get the idea.

So, after years of this thing, Street Fighter IV is going to be a 3D fighting game with 2D play mechanics and, when put into the position of making a 2D fighting game based on the franchise Sengoku Basara (Devil Kings in the US), they turned development duties over to Arc System Works.

Now, the former is partially understandable; 3D is big now and everyone seems to like it well enough (even if King of Fighters XII is going to be 2D), but how do you go from being the biggest 2D fighting game manufacturer on the planet to handing off such projects to other people because you can’t be bothered with them? This is absolutely mind-boggling, and it kind of feels like a slap in the face to Capcom fans who love their fighting games, doubly so because, at this point, the ASW bred Sengoku Basara X has no planned US release date.

But does it even merit one? Let’s take a look.

Sengoku Basara X offers up the standard gameplay modes one has come to expect from the genre; you’ve got your Arcade mode (which is just multiple fights in a row to clear the mode), your Vs 2P and Vs CPU match play, and your Training mode to learn the game. You’re also offered a Challenge mode, which is actually closer to a Survival Mode, and a Gallery where you can view artwork, animated movies, character history (in Japanese), and Titles Earned (which we’ll get to later), as well as listen to the sound and BGM test. There’s a decent enough amount of things to do with the game, all in all, and while there isn’t really anything new or special (the closest being Challenge mode, which we’ll discuss in a bit), what’s here is about what you’d expect in this sort of game.

Visually, SBX looks like every ASW fighting game, IE supremely awesome. The character models are high-resolution sprites that are detailed, vibrant, and generally well-animated, and the backgrounds are lively, animated, and nice to look at in general. The visuals are pretty much spot-on across the board and look great all in all. Ditto the audio; the background music fits the mood of the game just fine, the voice acting is solid and sounds good (or, at least, better than the voice acting in Devil Kings), and combat sounds like two people beating each other up, which is all that you can really expect from it. As usual, the presentation levels from ASW are good across the board.

Now, as noted in the Fist of the North Star review, if you’ve played a Guilty Gear game from about the second game onward, you probably have a rough idea of how SBX plays also, because Arc System Works is kinda funny like that. If not, this is how it works: this time around you’re given three attack buttons, in weak, medium, and strong flavors, which you can use in tandem with other buttons or directions to chain together combos and special moves and such. You’re given twelve characters to choose from here, each of whom has various normal and special moves at their disposal. Once again, in ASW fashion, not all special moves are universal across the buttons, meaning that a fireball motion with your weak attack might throw a projectile, while with the strong attack it might do a dashing move or something else, or it might not even do anything at all. Since nearly everyone in SBX is armed with some sort of weapon or another, attacks and their effects are dependant upon the character in question, meaning some characters have odd bars and such they have to monitor in addition to the normal bars on-screen, and other characters afflict odd status effects on opponents. You’re also given the normal “super moves”, here called Basara Moves, which are executed once you fill your Basara (Super) Meter at the bottom the screen. Everything is fairly intuitive in any case, so you should be able to figure it out with little effort if you’ve played a fighting game, or even better, an ASW game before. For more advanced players, there are various special techniques to employ, including Perfect Guards (eliminate blocking damage and push back foes at the cost of some super gauge), launching moves that can knock opponents across the screen and into the air, landing recoveries and such as you might expect, and they’re all generally easy to initiate, if not to time.

Of course, SBX has a couple of gimmicks up its sleeve to differentiate it from other 2D fighting games, in the form of the Engun System and the ASW standard of Basara KO’s. The Basara KO’s are simple enough; you have a gem on the end of your Basara Meter that flashes when you do certain things (combos, Engun uses, Basara Moves, and so on), which is apparently called the Ichigeki Meter. When this fills up, the gem flashes brightly, and by pressing all three attack buttons you enter into Basara Mode. From here, you simply input a command (the same one for all characters, a quarter circle back, a half-circle forward, and the strong attack) to initiate your Basara KO, which, if it hits, ends the round instantly. This can be blocked, of course, but you only get one shot at it; if you miss the attack, your gem shatters and cannot be used for the duration of the battle, meaning you have to time your use of the move properly or risk wasting it. It also tends to take a decent amount of work to charge the meter up, meaning that you’re more likely to see the meter charge in back-and-forth battles than in one-sided ass-kickings, which actually makes it less of a “let me show you what I can do” show-off move and more of a strategic final blow that can mean the difference between winning and losing, which is actually a pretty nice way to implement the system.

The Engun system, on the other hand, is a surprisingly versatile system that, despite feeling a bit reminiscent of systems from other games (the Striker system from the King of Fighters series and Assists in the Marvel vs. Capcom series) is completely its own entity. Basically, every character has an Engun, IE a support character (or two) they can call on to aid them in battle. Pressing the button to summon your Engun once calls them into battle (which takes a few seconds), and upon arriving at the battlefield they can be summoned to assist you by pressing the button as needed. The first interesting thing you will note is the “Level” attached to the character; as time elapses, your Engun will grow in level so long as they are not doing something (attacking and traveling to the battlefield stall leveling up), and their level dictates their attack range and power, with higher levels meaning better performance. The second thing of note is the meter below their portrait, which indicates how often they can be used before being inaccessible. Basically, the meter charges when the Engun is inactive, much like their levels, and pressing the button drains the meter. Higher leveled Enguns can also act more frequently because they have a larger bar to draw from. Now, in theory, Enguns basically work like the aforementioned mechanics from other games, and if you simply choose to use them that way they work perfectly fine, but the really neat thing about the Engun system here is that your Engun can be used for damn near ANYTHING. They can make a basic attack, as you’d expect, and they can interrupt an opponent’s attack to counter if you want, but they can also be used to extend combos (basically to hit an opponent and allow your character a chance to chain together more moves) to disgusting extents in the hands of a skilled player, they can be used to counter other Enguns (you can actually have your Engun counter an opponent’s Engun counter, if you’re quick enough), and they can actually contribute additional damage to some super moves. These techniques aren’t free, of course, with many costing a full Basara Meter (and some actually depleting the level of your Engun), but they really add a surprisingly interesting level of depth to the game in the hands of an experienced player.

Gameplay mechanics aside, SBX does a few other neat things, though how neat they end up being to you depends on the sort of person you are. Challenge Mode works as a weird mash-up of your typical Survival and Challenge modes from other games; basically, you’re started off against a CPU opponent who is as dumb as a rock, and as you beat the hell out of this opponent and further challengers, the CPU reacts accordingly and ups the challenge level until you hit your own personal wall, and all the while the game records various things you achieve in this mode (things like First Strike, Combos achieved, Engun Assists, and so on), and gives you Titles for it to commemorate your successes. This is neat in a “I’m so awesome because I can do this thing” sort of way, though this particular part of the game will require a FAQ guide to follow along with, as it’s entirely in Japanese, and it doesn’t seem to do a lot when you unlock these various things. The Gallery is also neat if you enjoy looking at the various cinematics and/or artwork from the game, and it’s fairly easy to unlock a lot of it (beating the game with the various characters accomplishes this thing nicely), though if you don’t care about in-game art galleries, well, this isn’t going to matter. It also bears noting that the game is surprisingly forgiving to new players, as it offers both an Easy Control mode (IE you can unleash special moves by pressing the triggers by themselves or in various combinations in case you can’t get your rolls down properly) and difficulty selections that actually MEAN WHAT THEY SAY THEY MEAN (IE lower difficulty settings take it easy on you, while higher difficulty settings unleash hell, instead of the more modern “Easy is only easy to veteran players” difficulty settings most 2D fighting games seem to be emulating), meaning even a bad player can have some fun and perhaps even, gasp, IMPROVE WHILE PLAYING instead of having to be talented from the get-go. SBX is also quite import friendly; aside from the Titles and Character Histories, figuring out what buttons mean what will take maybe five minutes or so, and like most fighting games, the important things are in English, meaning there’s little to have to fool around with.

The biggest actual complaint that one can make about SBX is that it’s a rather small game, all in all. There are only twelve characters and twelve stages to choose from, and as with Fist of the North Star, the gameplay modes are few. In the case of SBX, this is less of a problem thanks to a generally more interesting fighting system, absolutely, but aside from Challenge Mode, all you have are the standard “Play against friends or play with yourself modes every fighting game has, and only a dozen characters to do this with. The hardcore fighting game fan will not care, as this is honestly a fairly well-designed game, but the cost of the product is rather high in relation to the content provided.

Also, while the game is balanced well in the sense that it doesn’t punish the player, it IS NOT balanced so well when comparing the actual characters. For one, some characters are simply better or worse than others in most respects (Mouri Motonari, he of large chakram and many soldiers, is rather devastating in the hands of someone who can work around his weird play style, for instance), and while with forty or fifty characters this can be overlooked, when you’re looking at a small roster and noticing that top-tier characters are leaps and bounds above others, well, this is a problem. For another, some characters, even though they are decently balanced, simply can not hang with other characters. As an example, in a match between Oichi (diminutive lady who controls shadows) and Honda Tadakatsu (giant dude in a powered suit of samurai armor), Oichi tends to get smeared simply because her damage output is insignificant compared to Honda’s, even with her ability to inflict status ailments, to the extent that even after unleashing three Basara Moves on Honda in one round, Oichi was pretty much flattened even so. Theoretically, an expert player could surmount this, but if an expert Oichi player took on an expert Honda player, chances are good Oichi would still get smeared. In other words, the balance from character to character is, to put it politely, spotty.

Sengoku Basara X isn’t going to win awards for its substance or character balance, but if you’re a fan of the genre, a fan of Arc System Works, or a fan of Devil Kings, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth from it. It looks pretty, sounds nice, plays perfectly fine, is easy to get into and actively encourages you to learn how to improve in a few different ways, and generally does everything that is expected of it, if nothing else. There’s a dearth of content in comparison to other, similar products, and the character balance isn’t as tight as it could be, and if these sorts of issues bother you, the game might be one you can safely avoid. That said, if you’re willing to ignore the depth and balance issues, Sengoku Basara X is a fun and interesting fighting game that will, hopefully, find its way stateside (if not this game, than perhaps a sequel of some type or another), as it’s generally a good fighting game that most fans would find enjoyable.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: GOOD

Final Score: ENJOYABLE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Sengoku Basara X is really everything Fist of the North Star SHOULD have been; aside from the nearly identical visual and aural quality, SBX offers more characters, better overall balance, and more interesting gameplay mechanics pound for pound. As import fighting games go, it’s generally fun, easy to learn and work with, encourages improvement, and offers enough to work with that it’ll keep your interest for a while. There is still a lack of characters and gameplay options to the game, and the balance isn’t quite as good as it could have been from character to character, but frankly, Sengoku Basara X is fun, plays well, and is pretty import friendly, and if you’re looking for a fighting game to import, you could do a whole lot worse than this.

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