Sunday, November 28, 2010

PS3 Look - Sengoku Basara 3 : Samurai Heroes

The Musou genre is a tough sell these days. Back then titles like Dynasty Warriors 2 on the PS2 were seen as a big deal because they showed off the power of the system. Problem is after a few hundred sequels, several spin-offs, and no shortage of clones it's fair to say that a few people are suffering from burnout. So when a Musou game is announced everyone says "oh good another one of those games where you just hit the X button until you win." and then the reviewers say "don't bother with this. 4/10" and the sales...well they don't say much of anything apparently because these games still keep getting released.

Last generation when the genre was just a bit more fresh, Capcom created the Sengoku Basara series. It's essentially based on Japan's "Warring States" period and features the likes of Nobunaga Oda, Ieyasu Tokugawa, Mitsuhide Akechi, and so on. If those names are familiar to you you've probably either been brushing up on Japan's history or played Samurai Warriors. Though both games have their similarities -- such as being part of the Musou genre -- Sengoku Basara puts more of an emphasis on the fantastical.

To start things off Nobunaga Oda wears a cape that appears to have a mind of its own, destroys his enemies with a shotgun, and laughs himself into hysterical fits at every opportunity. The typical battle consists of just this warlord making short work of an entire army before the climatic battle with whoever pissed him off that day. The grunts that oppose him are peons of the lowest order whose only purpose is to provide amusement. What it usually comes down to is when an army approaches their only purpose is to be juggled endlessly by a constant barrage of attacks. Apparently wicked outfits and crazy special attacks just aren't "Basara". One has to clobber dozens of enemies at once and fling their lifeless corpses around like they're the unluckiest balls in a ping-pong convention.

Then you throw in some trivial commentary about honor, loyalty, and the chaos of war and that is the entirety of the game. Everything about Sengoku Basara is just one notch below total absurdity and that's perfect. The third game takes place during the intense battle between Mitsunari Ishida and Ieyasu Tokugawa. The goal is the unification of Japan and potentially the end to the constant warfare that has claimed so many lives. Since things have a habit of never being easy, many other factions have their own goals in mind.

The colorful cast of characters have been designed around achieving that highest level of basara. Masamune Date is notable for wielding six swords like they were claws, Yukimura Saneda is all about being hot-blooded and carrying two spears, Magoichi Saica carries enough guns on her person to perform a one woman's World War 2, and with any of the other thirteen characters you can bet they're about as extreme as one can imagine. They all have their own techniques for the acquiring of "hits". Sure punching a guy once may count as a hit but in this game the only hits that get the player respect are those that get into the tens of thousands.

Getting these hits may come overnight if the player is diligent enough but for the most part it's a long road to the top. Each character starts off at level 1 and has access to only a couple special attacks. There's the command string of basic attacks, jumping, dodging, and parrying/blocking to help round them out. Over time as the player progresses their characters will gain levels and unlock newer and stronger special attacks. There are also special arts which offer all sorts of nifty uses and through a combination of all of the above a massive number of hits can be attained.

The long road is not a straight path either as each of the sixteen characters have their own story modes. These tales tend to offer multiple paths and even alternate routes that play out events not entirely in tune with history. Each path is broken up into multiple stages where the player goes through an enemy army, takes on some notable generals, and then faces off with the boss. Along the way everything from stats to weapons to money to accessories can be bought, built-up, and in other words upgraded. Fans of carrots and that constant feeling of progress will fall in love with this game.

The stages themselves are very straightforward. The boss is always waiting at the end of the line and along the way there are bases to acquire and sub-missions to engage in. In one stage a heavy mist will roll in where the player will be constantly attacked by tigers. Doing away with this obstacle requires the capturing of enemy bases. Another stage might involve avoiding an exceptionally strong adversary, still others involve racing someone on horseback. Not all of these sub-missions work well as some are just a nuisance and can be more frustrating than fun. Still in the long run they serve their purpose in offering materials, hidden fugitives, and end-of-mission rewards that will eventually lead to hits.

The hit-talk gets annoying I bet but that's what really makes the game fun. Building a character up to the point where they are enveloping their foes in a whirlwind of pure destructive force is just absolute joy. Plus there's a certain skill in finding the right opportunities to trigger abilities like hero-time and the basara attack to keep the combo going. The many accessories that can be crafted or found offer all sorts of different functions that change the way the game is played. While it can get repetitive there are just enough factors that can be changed with every playthrough that the game never feels too much like a grind.

Still the grind is acknowledged as it takes a bit of persistence in the later stages of the game as permanent stat-gains are usually in the hands of fugitives. These jerks love to hide in the corners of the map and while a handful of stages are good for farming them it's still a lot of work for minor upgrade. They're not all that necessary but they make the hardest setting a bit easier. Still unless the player is a trophy-hunter none of this stuff is really necessary. Besides it'll take probably 200 or more hours to complete everything.

Perhaps the best thing about this game is if even with 200 hours the content stays relatively fresh throughout. This isn't Way of the Samurai 3 or some other game that doles out stuff like "more creative name +1" in the 100th hour. A fair number of the late-game accessories make some fairly dramatic changes in the battles and there's all sorts of perfectly acceptable methods of getting that particular level of challenge out of the game. The alternate story routes are entertaining and the characters have enough depth to them that just one of them could take dozens of hours to master. Still all of the best parts of the game tend to involve being showered in gold and enemy bodies as your hero is dishing out hundreds if not thousands of hits a second.

If you haven't been turned off entirely by the Musou genre I highly recommend this game. If you have well that's fine too, but I'd still give the demo a shot.

Game Rating - 4 stars out of 5

Like I said earlier some of the sub-missions don't quite work and the worst of them tend to involve things that don't require hitting bad guys. I mean seriously who thought a horse-race was a good idea? Maybe Capcom should throw in a stealth mission while they're at it. The trophies are also all kinds of ridiculous. Yes they are completely optional but when the average mission can involve the deaths of 500 to over a thousand people, completing a story campaign killing less than 100 people total is just stupid and boring.

My Rating - 4 stars out of 5

A number of characters that were playable in prior Sengoku Basara games for one reason or another didn't make the cut here. I guess it would have been too much effort to develop a story-mode for them but that doesn't mean they should have been dumped out entirely. Speaking of modes this game also cuts back on them. Sengoku Basara 2 had a Survival mode as well as a special campaign where everyone fought each other and rewards were determined by how much of the land the opposing characters controlled. Here it's just story and free-battle which is fine for the game but I think it's lacking. At least there's always room for a sequel/update.

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