Review: Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes (Sony PS3)

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes
Genre: Action
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 10/12/10

The Sengoku Basara name is hardly one that’s going to sell itself to gamers, as aside from anyone who’s a fan of the series, most people probably have no idea what the game even is. While there have been a few games in the series, across the PS2, PSP, Wii, and even in the arcades, the only one with any sort of actual US release has been the PS2 title Devil Kings, which came out back in 2005. Sengoku Basara acts as Capcom’s answer to Dynasty Warriors, featuring a fantasy world instead of historical settings and magical warriors instead of historical figures, but the premise remains the same: they have an army, you have an army, wipe out their army by spamming a button a lot before they wipe out yours. Well, with the exception of Sengoku Basara X, which was basically Guilty Gear with less ridiculous characters. Capcom has apparently decided to give the franchise another go in the US with Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, a US port of Sengoku Basara 3 that looks to take the gameplay of Devil Kings, expand it, and slap on some prettier visuals along the way. Will that be enough to pry you away from your eager anticipation of Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage (and I know you are)? Further, is it, gasp, better than the Dynasty Warriors series at this point? Let’s find out.

Astonishingly enough, Sengoku Basara IS based in historical fact; specifically the Warring States Period of Japan. That’s about where the factual accuracy goes out the window, as aside from the names and places, the game is straight medieval fantasy mixed with magical people, so it’s by no means an accurate depiction of anything. The story picks up after several of the warlords from prior games have been defeated or killed, as you’ll learn when you jump into everyone’s storylines, and each character you can play as will begin trying to break down enemies and forge alliances in an attempt to unite Japan under one banner, though for what purpose depends on the character. The stories are fairly in-depth, featuring various pieces of dialogue before, during and after the stages, as well as various cinematic bits here and there. As such, you get a fairly good idea of what everyone’s motivations are as you play. It’s also nice to see that most of the characters aren’t expressly good or evil, just passionate about their beliefs, which is always the sign of a good “good guy” or “bad guy.” The stories aren’t anything more involved than your typical fare, mind you, so it’s not classic literature spilling forth from the PS3 to your eyes and ears. The stories are entertaining and well thought out, and for the most part they work just fine.

Sengoku Basara, while not the most technically proficient game on the PS3, has a certain visual quality to it that is pleasing to the eye. The character models are well rendered and animated nicely, especially when they’re wiping the floor with the various grunts you encounter. Said grunts are varied enough from one force to the next, though they tend to noticeably repeat amongst their own groups. The environments are nice enough and showcase a good amount of variety, and the game is capable of handling plenty of characters on screen at once. The game isn’t a technological powerhouse, and to be honest, Yukimura runs like an idiot, but for the most part the game looks good. The audio is also pretty good all around. The game music follows the Dynasty Warriors pattern of using classical sounding, occasionally ethnic tunes along with heavy rock guitars to good effect, and the music is fun to obliterate armies to. The game is entirely dubbed in English and the dub is generally pretty good all around, even if the mouths of those speaking almost never come close to matching up to the speakers. The sound effects are also fine enough and make war sound as it should, which is a good thing overall.

Sengoku Basara basically plays almost spot-on like a Dynasty Warriors title, though the combat mechanics are more robust. In the beginning, you’ll be able to attack regularly with the square button, while the triangle button is mapped for power attacks that can be strung to combos in different ways. To start you’ll have a stationary attack and an attack with a button pressed, but as you level up you’ll develop moves that can be done with R1, R2 and while holding L1 for added combo options. X is your jump button, while circle kicks in your typical special attack move for big damage. L1 acts as a block/dodge motion, which allows you to dip and dash around while blocking attacks from the front. The left stick moves and the right stick rotates the camera, as you’d expect. Indeed, this game more or less borrows from the Dynasty Warriors series very liberally, so fans of that series should be able to jump into this game with little to no effort whatsoever, and as such, the basic of the game will make sense pretty quickly.

After picking a character, you’ll be able to choose various battlegrounds to besiege to progress the campaign of your chosen warrior. Each battleground works in similar fashion, though it may have various gimmicks sprinkled around in cases. You’ll start on one end of the field, your enemy will have the field taken over, and you’ll have to run from location to location, beating the enemy general in those locations to take them over. Each stage will task you to complete certain objectives before offering up the primary boss for you to face, which could be as simple as taking over the field or as complex as fighting through multiple generals in a row. Once the boss is offered up to you, you’ll have to face down said boss to win the level, and many of the bosses you’ll face will also be various playable characters in the storyline themselves. Taking over bases and beating bosses earns you experience points which help to level up your character, earning them additional attacks with which to lay waste to the enemy forces. Your regular power attacks level up as you do, allowing you to charge them up for big damage, though you’ll also earn Super Moves as you level. Unlike an actual Super Move, these are simply powerful regular moves you can use with the R2 button for big damage. You can earn up to three of these powerful moves, though you can only equip one at a time.

You also have two other techniques available to you that can give you an edge in battle, in Basara Arts and Hero Time. Basara Arts are essentially Musou attacks in Dynasty Warriors. You have a bar under your life bar that fills up as you smear enemies, take damage, and collect power-ups, and when it’s full, you can press circle to unleash a massive damage combo that leaves you invincible as it plays out, and allows you to team up with your ally in the process. Hero Time, which is accrued in a similar fashion, is essentially a sort of Bullet Time, and by pressing the L2 button, you kick this in, allowing you to move at full speed while enemies slow down and completely absorb your hideous punishment. You can even kick in a Basara Art while under the effects of Hero Time, dubbed an Ultimate Basara Art, and the effects are as painful as you’d expect.

As you clear out missions in the story mode or the appropriately named “Free Mode,” you earn the aforementioned experience points, which, aside from learning you techniques, also jack out your character’s stats. You can also earn money, materials, accessories and weaponry as you play through these missions. Money can be used to purchase accessories that can be attached to your weapons, for added damage, defense, critical hit chances, and other interesting effects. Materials are also needed to acquire these accessories, with the various materials being limited to the location you fight in, meaning that you are limited to what materials you acquire by both the characters you play as (save for in Free Mode) and the difficulty mode you play under. Weapons are self explanatory, and you’ll earn new weapons that deal more damage, offer added slots or inherent accessories attached, and offer added boosts of various sorts, and each character can unlock various different kinds of weapons, also depending on the difficulty one plays at. You can also unlock and upgrade various allies, either to bring mass damage into battle or to confer added bonuses as you rout the enemy. You can have a friend jump in as well if you want, though the game only offers local multiplayer, so no online play options are here.

You can complete each character’s main storyline in about four hours, approximately, but there are branching pathways in the stories that are unlocked upon completing them once, as well as multiple characters to unlock (the overall roster is around fifteen characters) and four difficulty levels to play through for added benefits… so there’s a WHOLE LOT of content here for your perusal. Even just completing the storylines on the easiest difficulty will probably take you, minimum, about one hundred and twenty hours, and if you want to play through on the harder difficulties, well that only adds to the experience. Being able to go through the storylines with a friend certainly doesn’t hurt matters any, nor does the ability to acquire massively powerful weapons and accessories to stomp in the enemy forces with, and of course, there are trophies to unlock for those who are interested in such things. As such, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes has a lot to offer in the way of content, which isn’t at all a bad thing for the budget price of forty dollars the game came out at.

On the other hand, while it’s certainly a robust game, and certainly more balanced than Devil Kings before it, it’s also an exceptionally derivative affair, and anyone who has tired of the Dynasty Warriors experience will simply throw up their hands and proclaim “AGAIN?!?” at it. Without the history of the Dynasty Warriors series or the licensed names of Dynasty Warriors Gundam or Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage, all the game has to sell itself to players is a name that isn’t even the same name as its prior US release and the knowledge that it’s like a game that we’ve seen done a million times already by more than a few developers. While the game’s historical bent mixed with heavy fantasy elements is nice, it’s not new, as you can easily play Samurai Warriors for a Japanese history lesson and Ninety Nine Nights for a fantasy army-killing good time. In addition, the fact that it feels very much like Dynasty Warriors means that it carries many of the same flaws, including the repetitive feeling of the experience and the need to go through the same things over and over in order to complete the game, which will, unfortunately, not be for everyone.

As a game in the genre, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is certainly a fine one, as it’s generally full of content and personality and plays fine, but it’s really no different from other games in the genre and has nothing to carry it save for the fact that it’s from Capcom instead of someone else. The story is engaging, if missing some things, and the visual and aural presentation is full of personality. The game is easy enough to pick up and play, and incorporates many of the same elements as other games in the genre, making it easy for fans to understand. There’s plenty of content to the game, all in all, and whether you take it on alone or with a friend, there’s plenty of fun to be had if you’re a fan of the sorts of games this is like. However, the game does little to differentiate itself from Dynasty Warriors outside of its presentation and brings very little new to the table, it lacks any sort of a name brand that’s likely to attract players, and it’s liable to put players off who have already worn themselves on the Dynasty Warriors style of game previously. If you’re a fan of the genre, Sengoku Basara is a perfectly fine entry, but if you’re not, this game does nothing that will make you want to play with it.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GOOD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is a fine effort from Capcom that is going to be easy to recommend to Dynasty Warriors fans, and it’s stylish enough that it might attract some new fans, but it does very little to interest someone who isn’t a fan, as it’s really a lot of the same thing. The story carries things along and is involving enough to be entertaining, and the presentation is slick and vibrant, if not technically superb. The gameplay is to learn and a lot of fun, and anyone who has played other games in the genre will find this an easy game to enjoy. The game is also full of content and anyone who’s looking for a robust experience will log many, many hours into this game, easily. However, the game does little that its predecessors have not, and it offers no reason to jump in for those who are worn out on the Dynasty Warriors style of gaming, as it makes many of the same missteps as those games do. Sengoku Basara is a fine game, and it makes a strong case in its favor if you like the genre, but if you’re not a fan of Dynasty Warriors it might be a hard sell.

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