Before you start reading this playtest, you should watch Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes’ localized intro, featuring a T.M Revolution song translated into English:
You’ve got a guy in a sleeveless yellow hoodie riding a samurai robot through the air, people fighting or posing in improbable places, a woman lying on a bed of red guns, and of course, T.M. Revolution singing in English. While very little of the stuff in this intro actually happens in the game, the video conveys Sengoku Basara’s bizarre style perfectly.
While technically a very, very, VERY loose adaptation of some of the events Japan’s warring states period, the game’s story is sparse enough that it might as well be about a war between J-rock frontmen over a magical cupcake. The game is ludicrously off the wall at times, mixing melodrama and surrealism. It almost seems like an affront to those who fought and lost their lives during the Sengoku era, but the overall effect is just bizarre enough to remain entertaining.
It’s fortunate that the game’s strange style is so strong, because the gameplay is initially very dull. If you’ve ever played a Dynasty Warriors game, you’ll know what to expect. Mash square repeatedly, with occasional inputs of triangle. In addition, when certain gauges are filled, you can activate either “Hero Time,” which slows down all of our enemies and gives you more strength, or your “BASARA Art” which is essentially a giant, heavy, elemental automatic combo.
Combine both at once to create an even more ridiculous combo, the “Ultimate BASARA Art.” At the outset, the limited number of abilities makes the game feel overly basic. However, as you level up your characters, you gain more abilities that map to combinations of triangle and/or the shoulder buttons. These abilities are generally the more insane attacks, ranging from elemental control to sword-spinning charges. When your character has all of his or her abilities at his/her disposal, the combat really opens up and 2000+ hit combos start becoming a reality.
If the intro didn’t make it abundantly clear to you, all of the character designs are incredibly flamboyant. This gives Sengoku Basara part of its charm. Instead of attempting to directly imitate the attire of the historical characters featured in the game, Capcom reinvented them.
Date Masamune, for instance, still retains his iconic helmet and eye patch, but now wields six katanas as claws. One of his obtainable weapons replaces his regular katanas for triple-bladed ones.
Further cementing the game’s taste for the delightfully garish is the flavor text that accompanies a boss encounter or a mission objective, generally completely absurd and overblown. In Sengoku Basara, you don’t just open a floodgate, you open a “SUPER ROARING RAPIDS GATE.” If a tiger crosses your path? You will be informed that it is “TIGER TIME.”
In case the point hasn’t been made by now, Sengoku Basara is WEIRD. You’ll fight drill-equipped wooden tanks, zombies, floating men, Bruce Lee wannabes, tigers, Bruce Lee wannabes with tigers, poets, the aforementioned robo-Samurai, stereotypically silent ninja, stereotypically foppish generals, and a whole lot more. All of this is craziness is wrapped up in a story about a war that would determine the fate of Japan. The game’s balance of serious wartime narrative with all the strange events and borderline-bromantic dialogue seems to be just as confusing to me as it is to the game’s fantastic voice cast.
This is the first game I’ve ever seen that gives the voice cast and the characters they play their own page in the manual. These are seasoned veterans, too. Liam O’Brian (Grimoire Weiss from Nier), Troy Baker (FFXIII’s Snow), Reuben Langdon (Devil May Cry’s Dante), and the ever-popular Johnny Yong Bosch (everyone in everything ever) are all cast as main characters.
However, perhaps due to the disjointed mishmash of a story, it almost feels as though this talent is squandered. For instance, Bosch’s Yukimura Sanada in particular always seems to be conveying the wrong emotion at the wrong times, but at least this seems to make the all of his lines hilariously more homo-erotic. Despite the professional voice acting, Sengoku Basara unfortunately lacks a Japanese-language option, which makes the rather stiff localization stand out even more.
Sengoku Basara is so over the top and so strange that it’s hard not to have fun with it. The bland gameplay and weak AI is counter-balanced by combos that last thousands of hits and involve explosions and air-juggles. The stilted voice-acting is almost a complement to the gonzo history and dialogue. And you know what? That’s what makes the game special.
Food for thought:
1. According to a friend of mine, the lack of Japanese voice acting in the game removes some of the humor. For instance, Date Masamune’s hilarious use of Engrish as seen in this video.
2. In that video, Masamune’s horse seems to have handlebars and exhaust pipes. I really wish that had made it into the game.
3. A lot of the humor tends to fall flat, but the sheer absurdity of the game just made me take everything in stride.
4. The powerups in the game look and act very similarly to that of the Dynasty Warriors series. Although the health-restoring dumplings have been changed to rice balls in Basara, the Musou and Basara gauges are both filled up with jugs of what appears to be sake.