Monday, May 30, 2016

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes Review

Over the span of the previous two console generations, the nature of the hack and slash genre has substantially evolved; today, two different breeds of hack and slash titles exist.  On one side, there are the "smart" titles, which refers to games such as the God of War or Devil May Cry series; these put an emphasis on skillful, fast-paced combat, requiring players to memorize attacks, and how to approach enemy encounters with the selection of weapons and techniques available.  However, on the other side of the spectrum, there are "chaotic" hack and slashes, which are all about slaughtering massive hordes of enemies using a multitude of moves, weapons, and rapid button mashing against the opposition.  Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, the third but only second game in the Sengoku Basara series to be released in the United States, falls into the latter category.

Set during the 16th century, Sengoku Basara's story mode chronicles the efforts of various characters and their attempts at taking over the country of Japan.  Each character's story highlights the alliances, betrayals, and twists involved as he or she gradually spreads their empire all across the land.  Unfortunately, with all of the characters available to choose from, seventeen in total, it quickly becomes challenging to keep track of all of the story arcs going on.  As such, the story becomes a background note, and something to not pay attention to.  Yet, one narrative aspect I do appreciate is the world this game establishes.  Although the game may be set in what is considered to be a historically significant time period in Japanese history, many facets and people of the era have been significantly exaggerated for video game purposes.  A prime example is the character Magoichi Saika; in reality, this person was a male general, but in this game, he is a she and her primary method of attack involves different firearms including pistols, shotguns, and rocket launchers, even though such weapons did not exist at the time.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes utilizes a similar gameplay structure found in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors games.  Most of the levels in the story mode involve guiding your currently selected character through different battlefields as he or she takes over enemy bases and defeats enemy officers and the presiding general of the area, all the while slaughtering thousands upon thousands of enemy troops using weapons and a slew of combo attacks.  Each character has two different energy gauges in addition to their health bar.  One is devoted special energy; when filled up entirely, a devastating attack can be performed, which if timed correctly, can be used to gain the upper hand against bosses.  The other meter is for an ability called Hero Time; when activated, time slows down for a brief period, allowing players to deal tons of damage before things speed back up.

Every level has their own primary and secondary objectives, and the goal of the main objective is to eliminate the head general of the current stage, but different factors, such as shifts in the enemy attacks or other generals showing up to assist the head one, can alter the focus of the current order.  Taking over enemy camps and eliminating officers acts as the secondary objective, but some levels make it a requirement to complete.  Conquering camps increases the strength of your army, and if the conditions are right, bonus rewards can be granted as well.  Eliminating bad guys and completing goals earns the player XP, and when a character levels up, new moves are unlocked, or the size of their health and energy gauges are extended.  Besides earning XP, characters can also acquire money, armor, and weapons by opening up crates or by defeating officers and generals.  Money is used to buy special attributes that can benefit the player in multiple ways, but only two can be selected at a time, meaning choosing the right ones is a must.

All of these ingredients would suggest that the game is fun to play.  At first, it's entertaining to slice and shoot through a sea of troops in order to see the combo multiplier get higher and higher; in fact, if one is skilled enough, it's possible to raise the multiplier up into the thousands.  However, as you progress through the game with the different characters, one realizes that there's not much variation in the grand scheme of things.  Nearly every level involves accomplishing the tasks mentioned prior, and when the formula is shook up, it's only for the part of the story where the tide of war has reached a critical turning point.  As a result, the feeling of repetition becomes larger the more one spends time with the game.  With these types of titles, its best recommended to play them in short bursts, rather than in long play sessions.

Another recurring issue regards both the partner and enemy AI; simply put, your large squad of troops and fellow comrades are a fairly inept group, which can get annoying when you're getting beat up by the boss of the stage and your partner stands there doing nothing to help.  The enemy generals can be somewhat aggressive, but even then, they go down with ease since rapidly alternating between the two attack buttons generally guarantees victory.

Though lacking the visual sharpness of the PlayStation 3 version, Sengoku Basara on the Wii still looks fine with colorful and flash visual effects and decent character models and environments, plus the framerate never chugs, even when there are hundreds of enemies onscreen.  Voice acting is quite campy and ridiculous, which fits with the over the top tone of the game, but the music, aside from a couple of tracks, is forgettable.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is one of those titles you'll either like or not, depending on how much you enjoy these type of games.  From a gameplay perspective, Sengoku Basara does not deviate greatly from the formula set in stone by the Dynasty/Samurai Warriors series, which means that the game is initially fun and quite chaotic, but the entertainment factor starts to wear off once the feeling of tedium starts to kick in.  Though fans of this style of hack and slash will certainly get the most entertainment out of this game, for everyone else, it's a competent but moderately enjoyable time.

Final Score: 6/10

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