Like all successful games, Dynasty Warriors has its own set of copycat titles. Having one person with a melee weapon and facing off against hordes of soldiers has struck a chord with faithful gamers, and over the years and two console generations, publishers and developers have wanted to capture a piece of that audience. Back in the PlayStation 2 days, Capcom released its version of Japanese warriors with swords taking on battalions of enemies. Though they had better graphics and more flamboyant characters, the original Sengoku Basara (or Devil Kings as it was called in North America) never took off like Capcom had hoped, ensuring that the sequel stayed in Japan. With a new generation of consoles upon us, Capcom figured that the game was worthy of a second shot, and the result is the third game in the series, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes. Whether the third time is the charm remains to be seen.
While the game has a large cast of characters, the story really focuses on two of them. It is the Sengoku era of feudal Japan after the defeat of Nobunaga Oda at the hands of Mitsuhide Akechi. Like Oda, Akechi sought to unify Japan, but once he succeeded, he set his sights on spreading Japanese rule to neighboring countries. Ieyasu Tokugawa, one of Akechi's allies, no longer supported the actions of Akechi and turned against him, defeating him in the process. With the land at war, Tokugawa wants to unify Japan once more under the banner of peace while Mitsunari Ishida, another follower of Akechi's, wants revenge on the man who killed his master.
Right off the bat, you can tell that this game doesn't take its history or universe too seriously. The garb for the main warriors is far from historically accurate, as it bleeds with style that would be ineffectual in the battlefield. You can expect plenty of ornate headdresses and armor that fails to cover everything — especially for some of the female fighters. You could also expect some modern styles being retrofitted for the time, such as Tokugawa's faux hoodie and ropes in place of dangling chains.
Some of the weaponry also borrows heavily from modern inventions. Rifles and pistols may be fine, but the shotguns, machine guns and rocket launchers that Magoichi Saica carries and Tadakatsu Honda's armor, which has a jetpack and drill spear, definitely ensure that the game is not historically accurate. Seeing Tokugawa ride away on Honda's back during a few cut scenes makes you feel like this is a manga-like approach to Japanese history. You'll also get a sense of how silly the characters can be; the cut scenes and dialogue refer to how charismatic a leader can be, how the clan leader has turned soldiers into food snobs, and how armies need to look proper before engaging in a fight. Intentional or not, it makes the situation more humorous than expected.
The gameplay is exactly what you'd expect from a game of its ilk. After selecting any one of your 16 warriors (10 of whom are unlockable through the course of the game), you select a battlefield and enter combat. From there, you take on hordes of soldiers, cutting them down as you march toward each enemy base, defeat the commander and take over the base. You then take on the warlord of the area, and the mission is complete. Your spoils can include new weapons, new accessories, items to forge new accessories to supplement your weapons and money. Depending on the level, you also get new allies for future battles, and all levels give you the chance to earn experience, which benefits your character with a larger health bar for the next fight. Between each level, you can change your equipment and accessories before choosing another level and starting the process again.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes does a few things right. The first is the use of multiple paths for each player's story. The small number of characters is a concern for players who are used to having a large cast of heroes. To remedy this, Capcom gave each warrior another battle path after the initial one has been completed. The different battle paths give players the opportunity to continue leveling their character along with the ability to obtain more items and weaponry for later, thus extending the experience of the overall game.
Another welcome change comes in the form of item sharing. The items and money collected during anyone's campaign is shared among all warriors; with the exception of your first level with the first chosen character, playing through the game becomes a much easier task. This also encourages you to create more items and collect more materials since you'll know that they'll be put to use after you finish a character's complete battle path.
Another change has to do with your kill count, which rewards you with a small health recovery boost for every 100 kills in battle. It's also important to take over bases, since doing so reduces the strength of the enemy warlord you're facing. It's a small bonus but encourages people to fight instead of simply making a beeline for the boss. Some stages not only ask you to take over the base but also force you to hit certain bases first to gain a tactical advantage later on. Other stages have you racing warlords from one spot to another to avoid difficult fights later on.
Along with the praise comes the scorn, and there are a few things that Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes does differently that aren't necessarily better than the competition. The most noticeable change is with the base commanders, who not only stay in their bases for the duration of the fight but also stand on a platform while being attacked. Once you figure out that this is how all of the base commanders are laid out, the levels devolve into races to reach the commander as quickly as possible to take over the base and get huge hit combos due to the explosion caused by the commander's defeat. Oddly enough, defeating the commander allows enemy soldiers to appear on the field, so you still have to clean up things at the base after you've overtaken it.
The overall difficulty isn't much of an issue since most fights are rarely difficult. The enemy foot soldiers run toward you and wait to be slaughtered, and a few of the higher-ranked officers do the same. Only the larger characters, like the ones throwing boulders and firing flaming arrows, seem ready to fight; even then, they miss their shots or take too long to attack, so they're only a little more problematic than the standard enemy. Warlords put up a decent fight but only because they are rarely surrounded by other attacking soldiers. Finally, while you may bring an ally to a battle, he isn't very effective during combat. You'll usually see him standing around and doing nothing while enemies rush you. It seems like the ally's sole duty is to be present so it looks like you aren't fighting entire armies on your own.
There is a multiplayer component, but it doesn't feel like the developers have pushed it as far as gamers would like to see it go. Split-screen co-op is available for every level, and every character is selectable. Stories don't change much when a second player is involved, but a few gameplay rules change. Both players gain items on the field, such as minerals and materials for item construction, but experience is solely based on the player's kill count. Sitting back and letting one player hog up all of the kills doesn't net you much experience for your fighter, if any. The experience is fun locally, but a lack of online play hurts this title, especially when you consider that the Wii-exclusive Samurai Warriors 3 boasts online play. This title feel like it's a little behind the curve in its genre.
The game's audio is well done and stays true to its slightly silly nature. As expected, the music consists of hard rock with guitar riffs, but it also branches into other genres. You'll hear sweeping orchestral scores in the menus and world map and, depending on which warlord you're fighting against, you'll hear the score change to Latin guitar, piano jazz, or something from a Looney Tunes cartoon short. Luckily, the score isn't overpowering, so you're never overwhelmed by it. The voices are rather well done, and the cast almost mirrors that of the voice cast used for the upcoming anime dub. What's interesting is the conversational banter that occurs during the boss fights. It feels odd to hear a warrior talk about his love for the forest or how both fighters agree to an alliance while still trying to tear each other to pieces, but it's strangely fitting when you think of the other odd things going on. The delivery of some lines falters every now and again with the foot soldiers, but it generally sounds good despite some of the cheesy lines. The effects emphasize punches and sword swipes while playing down others, such as your hero's footsteps.
Graphically, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes fluctuates between doing some things better and some things worse than the competition. The character models look much more detailed, with some characters sporting actual stitching on their clothes. There are also better animations, especially with enemies, who try to crawl away when they're close to death instead of just fleeing. The environments look fine, and there's no sense of fog of war effects hiding the horizon. Particle effects, such as the trails left from special attacks and muzzle flash from gunfire, look good as well.
When compared to other games in the genre, it seems like the enemy count is reduced in this title. Most of the time, you'll be fighting against small platoons of enemies instead of large crowds. You'll only see large crowds appear when you take over a base, and even then, you can eliminate many before they become problematic. The issue of pop-up doesn't just occur with environmental details like the grass but also with enemies. You'll often see enemies fade into view when you're close to them, and while the fade-in doesn't give them a tactical advantage, it makes you wonder if these issues would have been mitigated if Capcom had used its full MT Framework engine instead of the "lite" version.
The controls remain easy to learn for anyone who's picking up the game for the first time. You have your basic weak and strong attacks, along with a special area-clearing move that requires a filled meter. You also gain charge attacks as you level up your character, but given the game's lower difficulty level, you'll rarely use the moves unless you merely want to see what they look like in action. While it looks like you can jump rather high, you can't jump very far. Your characters can run well and break out into a nice sprint for quite some time. The controls are responsive, and no one should have any trouble with them.
Most action fans who play Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes might feel the same way that they do about Dynasty Warriors, since the formula is practically the same. For people who have already distanced themselves from Koei's game series, this title will do nothing to change their minds about the genre. For fans of the formula, though, the decision of purchasing this game comes down to whether or not they can live with its trade-offs. For those who can live with the changes, the game provides a fun experience that will last for quite a while.
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