The quintessentially Japanese, over-the-top, flamboyant approach to the hack ‘n slash genre is an acquired taste. Some would say that the Dynasty Warriors-style, button-mashing, repetitive actions of slaying hundreds of brainless characters is a formula that is in desperate need of an overhaul. Others may argue that the “warring period” in Japanese history provides an interesting back-drop to the stylish and aggressive combat, where colorful characters and exotic moves make a perfect match. Both views are certainly true of the latest Dynasty Warriors-style game, Sengoku BASARA: Samurai Heroes. Whether you actually enjoy or not, is really going to depend on which side of the fence you sit on.
Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series paved the way for other games in this particular niche of the hack ‘n slash genre to follow suit, including Devil Kings on PS2, a Western release of the first Sengoku BASARA game. It didn’t perform commercially well, so the second game in the series never made it overseas, but the third game was picked up by Capcom and deemed fit for Western release. And so we have Sengoku BASARA: Samurai Heroes, which has received something of an overhaul by Capcom since its Japanese release, with graphical enhancements and lip-synching technology added in an effort to bring even more character to its ornate roster of legendary samurai warriors.
The storyline is predictable, but amusing in places and jam-packed full of surreal moments and farcical characters, such as the cute Tsuruhime with her short skirt and magical bow and arrow, or male hunk, Kanbe Kuroda, with his hand in shackles strapped to a ball and chain that he uses as a devastating weapon. Through colorful cut-scenes and the inter-connecting storyline you get to know the 16 playable characters in-depth. Each has his own branching storyline and through choices you make you see friendships made and destroyed as you seek to rule 16th century Japan by knocking the living daylights out of anyone who stands in your way.
Though each of the playable characters are based on and named after real-life Japanese legends, that really is as close as Samurai Heroes gets to reality. Everything else is dripping in fantasy, with warriors equipped with unique personalities, combat moves and powers that any super-hero would be proud of bringing with them a variety of styles and crazy move sets that turns every battle into an explosion of color. There’s an impressively varied roster of characters that are well-designed, and each of them has a number of entertaining cut-scenes that build on their personalities. Most importantly, though, they’re fun to control.
Gameplay has changed little since the early days of this brand of hack n’ slash title. You quite simply have to destroy hundreds of enemies, moving from one area to the next taking control of regions and hacking your way through them until you get to guys who control them. Beat these bosses and you complete the level and move onto the next battleground. There are side objectives along the way, which allow you earn more XP and level up quicker, but generally the aim is to run around and kill folk until your fingers can stand no more.
There’s two ways you can play Samurai Heroes. For those who just want to cause as much destruction as possible while using the smallest amount of brain power, you can smash down on the buttons aimlessly in the hope that you’ll disperse the hordes of rampaging goons. Or, if you're looking for a bit of depth, you can pay attention to the growing list of moves and attempt to inject some method into the madness. Combat starts off fairly basic with you using the face buttons as simple attack and defense commands, but as you level up the shoulder buttons come into effect, allowing you to pull off more devastating and visually impressive moves and gain access to a range of special attacks.
This refined battle system hasn’t put an end to the button-bashing gameplay of the previous games, but there is a tactical element involved and a number of new features that gives the gameplay some depth. The word "repetitive" is used a lot in games like this, and it does apply here, but that’s exactly what you’re paying for when you buy a Dynasty Warriors-style game. Repetition largely comes from the hundreds of clone-like enemies that you face, but not from the lack of variation to the combat. Combat is fluid and there's a real sense of progression as you level up that makes Samurai Heroes feel less of a chore than previous games of this ilk. There’s also replay value to be had out of taking advantage of the unique and enjoyable move sets that vary between each character.
What lets the game down, however, is the lack of challenge from A.I. opponents. Challenge comes purely from the amount of enemies that are thrown at you at one time, rather than how well they react to your attacks. You won't find clever flanking maneuvers here, or enemies that parry and attack with the brains of well-trained assassins. What you will find is hundreds of mindless clones that look identical when grouped together, providing you with little feeling that you're involved in an immense and meaningful battle. Instead, it feels like you're simply mowing them down without having to think too much. Nevertheless, it can still be a lot of fun doing so. The fact that A.I. doesn't respond as well as it might means you have the freedom to experiment to the max and master the whole move set, while pulling off some explosive and highly enjoyable combos. The more you play Samurai Heroes the more it feels like the A.I. isn't actually supposed to behave with military-style precision.
One of the most enjoyable techniques to use in battle is Basara Arts, which some of you will know as Musou attacks from the Dynasty Warriors series. As you kill enemies you fill up a life bar which when full can be unleashed to chain together a combo attack that is devastating against enemies and impressive to watch play out on-screen at a silky smooth 60 FPS. Hero Time adds some cinematic flair to proceedings, giving you a period of ‘bullet time’ or slow motion that gives you time to composure yourself against the masses. Both techniques add a further layer of depth to the combat if you want it, though you’ll generally still get away with pressing anything you like until you face the main bosses.
What you see is what you get with Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, so if you’ve played any game in this particular sub-genre you’ll know exactly what to expect. It neither looks like a game fit to grace the PS3, nor plays like some of the technically adept games that we’re used to seeing on Sony’s console, but what it does do is provide some mindless fun. At its best, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is fluid, exciting and great to watch as you get to pull off ridiculously long combos and use some inventive weapons. Other times, it can be mind-numbingly repetitive. As for which side of the fence we sit on? Well, we quite like it. There’s a deal of satisfaction to be gained from switching off, sitting back and unleashing some crazily over-powered weapons on enemies. Just how long can this sub-genre carry on though without really evolving is questionable.
|Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes Review by Steven Williamson|
-The Final Word-
Mindless but glorious button-mashing fun, full of crazy characters and over-the-top moves.