Review: Sengoku BASARA Samurai Heroes (Wii)

So many bad guys, so little fun

It's easy to think all hack & slash games are mindless and repetative in nature, but it doesn't have to be that way, as fans of the genre will know. Unfortunately, "mindless" and "repetitive" are the very words that spring to mind when writing this review, not because it's a hack & slash game, but because that's the route that Capcom has trodden on to arrive at the shrug-of-the-shoulder destination that is Sengoku BASARA Samurai Heroes, referred to as SBSH from here onwards.

Set in the Sengoku period of Japan when the country was divided into conflicting warring states, SBSH has players taking on the roles of various warriors as they fight for their lives to unify the country under one rule. Don't let the serious nature of the subject matter fool you into thinking this involves historical accuracies, because the character designs and dialogue are anything but serious at times.

The game starts off with six warriors to play as, with ten more to unlock. Each character has a different weapon of choice and accompanying attack moves and, depending on who the player chooses, different events will play out during the course of the game, but ultimately they're all the same. It doesn't matter who the player chooses, each warrior has a chip on their shoulder and actions are motivated by either pride or vengeance. Play through the game with different characters and it becomes evident that their paths are loosely intertwined, but not in any meaningful way as there's an element of randomness involved.

SBSH is constructed of a series of battles and they are so formulaic that the following description can be used as a synopsis for each and every one of them: slash through hordes of enemies, destroy some camp towers to occupy that area of the map and defeat the end guardian. The standard attack consists of using Normal Art and Super Art, each assigned to its own button and when strung together in different sequences, combinations can be formed. Using BASARA Art allows players to perform a more powerful attack, and entering Hero Time allows players to heighten their senses and take on their enemies with time running as if it's slowed down. On paper that might sound like the game offers a wealth of options when it comes to forming attack patterns, but it's not as varied as it sounds. Utilising BASARA Art and Hero Time requires the player to fill up meters by slashing their way through hordes of idiotic foot soldiers, and that's an area of the game that loses its appeal very quickly. Having to essentially button-bash in order to get to the more visually and practically pleasing attack moves puts a downer on the whole thing.

Having dozens and dozens of enemies generated on-screen does look impressive at first glance, especially since the game experiences no drops in frame rate, but that amazement fades away once the player realises that there's no intelligence behind the absurd number of enemies that's running towards them. Notching up combination hits in the four-figure numbers shouldn't be as easy as it is; in fact, after accomplishing them with relative ease, players will become desensitised to the actual achievement and these high-hitting combos won't seem so special anymore. The A.I. is almost non-existent as many soldiers just stand around waiting to be killed. Being surrounded by the enemy loses the level of threat it should generate as the player knows all it takes is just the repeated bashing of as little as one button to dispose of them in no time. Yes, it all looks nice as mobs of enemies are battered left, right and centre, with some attacks sending them sky high, but not only do they all look the same, their movements are so unison in animation it just looks ridiculous. Olympic synchronised swimming teams can learn a thing or two here.

To defeat the named generals at the end of the stages require more thought behind the attacks and it's helpful to reserve the BASARA Arts for these occasions but, at the end of the day, all it takes is parrying and a dodge here and there, meaning overcoming them is only slightly more challenging than the rest of the game. Should players die at the hands of these generals, they're forced to replay the stage from the start, so we're not sure why check-points haven't been installed because having to replay everything to have another crack at the bosses drains the motivation from the player. However, once stats are improved and weapons that deal more damage are available, deaths occur less frequently and the player will find less to be disappointed with.

Experience points are rewarded after each battle to go towards levelling up the player's character, with periodic increases to the health gauge and new attacks being learnt. As well as equipping different weapons that can be earned by defeating the generals, players can combine money and materials to manufacture accessories that give various statistical advantages. Certainly not the highlight of the game, but it definitely helps break up the repetitive nature of the main game.

As boring as SBSH can get at times, the scenery is actually really lush and the crisp game environments are so high in detail it's a shame there's not enough opportunities to soak them in and enjoy the effort that has gone into rendering them. Maybe it has something to do with the modified version of MT Framework that runs the game, maybe it's just good programming, but one does wonder why the same amount of effort wasn't put into the gameplay and difficulty curve. The camera system is a bit clunky too, especially when using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination but less so with the Classic Controller. Since there's no lock-on when attacking enemies, the player should only have to focus the thumb on the melee buttons and not adjusting the camera view every ten seconds because the game does nothing to make it a more helpful experience.

It's very easy to get bored with the monotony of the single-player mode and the prospect of having a friend join in on the action in a split-screen co-op might seem like the game's saving grace, but it's not. If "a knife through butter" sums up the single player experience, then the metaphor that describes two-player co-op would be something like "a chainsaw through butter". Having a human ally only serves as a reminder of the lack of involvement a computer-controlled ally brings to the table, as they often just stand around doing next to nothing. Some levels have horses dotted about which attempt to encourage horseback combat and to get to destinations quicker but are largely unnecessary, and the only time spent on a horse that's useful is when racing rival generals.

Throughout the game, the characters' constant dramatic declarations of struggle and victory will test the patience of the player. There are sprinklings of tongue-in-cheek banter every now and again but even these start to wear thin. The soundtrack is more pleasing to the ears, with its up-tempo stringed compositions that enhance the frantic action; definitely better to focus on than all that babbling.

There's not much replay value on offer, as aside from the many in-game audio tracks and cut sequences earning all the titles and character profiles isn't exactly fun. Playing through the game as different characters will utilise different narrative strands but since their stories are so weak, it feel like they're essentially the same person. The Quick Battles mode allows players to replay their favourite battle with their favourite character should they want to, but we can't think of a reason why you would. Yes, they might have different weapons but the rehashed gameplay overshadows any hint of variety they might offer.

Conclusion

As the third title in the Sengoku BASARA series, this game doesn't feel like it's matured in any way – if anything, it's like it's taken a few steps back. Gameplay becomes repetitive very quickly and the wow-factor of disposing hordes of enemies loses its appeal as soon as the player realises that every battle is the same as the rest. In a way, the game gets easier as the player progresses because the end-of-stage generals essentially all have the same attack patterns, and when the player's character increases their stats and equips better weapons, any hint of a challenge fades away. If you love hack & slash games and don't mind repeating the same objective over and over again, this might be worth renting to kill a few hours but we can't recommend it to anyone who's on the fence.

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