Sengoku BASARA: Samurai Heroes Review (PS3)

Koei’s Dynasty Warriors games have spawned many spin-offs and imitators such as its own Dynasty Warriors Gundam and Konami’s Ninety-Nine Nights. But the majority of these releases have been carbon copies of original templates, regardless of their chosen historical or fictional backdrop. Even the core Dynasty Warriors series itself, caught up in its strangely evergreen success, has found no need to change its ways since its inception at the turn of the millennium.

Sengoku Basara Samurai Heroes, the third title in a relatively young imitator series, looks to beat the Dynasty Warriors franchise at its own game. While not the reinvention of this genre-all-to-itself that many have cried out for, it does boast a few improvements that Koei would do well to learn from.

The deeper than expected combat helps make this feel less of a grind than the competition

The core tenants are exactly as you’d expect. A typical campaign consists of back to back missions, each requiring the player to beat down hundreds of generic troops, conquer all enemy territories and defeat a couple of challenging bosses. Lather, rinse, repeat over and over for a few hours and then do the same for the next character’s campaign.

But the devil is in the detail. With a little more polish here and a bit more depth there, Samurai Heroes manages to stand out from the crowd, elevating itself from a mindless, wretched grind to a mindless, palatable romp.

Combat in the Dynasty Warriors games have remained simplistic with a weak and strong as providing an extremely limited range of attacks. Samurai Heroes however offers four different attacks per character, most of which have different permutations depending on whether they are performed when stationary, as part of a combo, charged up or initiated in the air.

This might be standard fare for a typical character action game, but for a game of this sort it’s positively a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still a walk in the park and doesn’t require the finesse needed in a Bayonetta or a Ninja Gaiden. But it does provide a lasting appeal and gives you something to experiment with while you go about slaughtering the hundreds of enemy troops required.

The story is loosely based upon the feudal or Sengoku period of Japanese history, much like Dynasty Warriors spin-off Samurai Warriors. As you’d expect it’s not particularly engaging and is largely ancillary to the game play. However, what’s worth noting here is that the voice acting is a cut above Koei’s games. Capcom saw fit to hire some well-respected performers from the anime and video game spheres (I recognised at least four of the cast of the critically acclaimed Persona series here) and as a result the audio is not a complete cringe-fest from beginning to end. Sure the dialogue isn’t going to win any awards but it’s at least delivered with conviction and doesn’t loop so much that it makes you want to rip out your own eardrums.

Despite the use of some well known voice talent, the obligatory story fails to engage

Also boosting the game’s presentation are the visuals. The stylised anime aesthetic is vibrant and polished, suiting the over the top action much more than Koei’s realistic yet drab approach. Even more impressive is the rock-steady frame rate that stays smooth no matter how many enemies you’re tossing around at any given time. There are a few low resolution textures here and there (the blurry recreation of Japan on the map screen being the prime example of this), but this doesn’t drag down the overall presentation too much. While Samurai Heroes is never going to rival some of the best looking PlayStation 3 titles like Uncharted 2 or Metal Gear Sold 4, it does at least look the part.

There are a handful of other subtle touches and additions that keep the pace of the game upbeat. Tighter level design, boosted running speeds and technology like catapults and zip lines minimise the amount of time spent between conflicts, preventing the game from dragging quite as much.

There’s also something to be said about Samurai Heroes’ attitude. It embraces the faintly ridiculous nature of the series that it apes and purposely amps up the action to hyperbolic levels. Expect to see huge explosions that send troops flying in all directions, use of hilariously historically inaccurate firearms and special attacks that border on Dragonball Z territory.

As with all beat-em-ups of this ilk, Samurai Heroes has legs. There are sixteen playable warriors (though only six are unlocked at the outset) each with their own campaigns to be beaten. Sadly, most of the game’s missions crop up many times across these campaigns further adding to its repetitive nature. Collectible weapons, upgrades, a free play mode and two player offline co-op all add up to a healthy amount of longevity. Just how much of this you’ll experience depends on how much of the grind you’re willing to ride out.

For all the minor improvements that Sengoku Basara Samurai Heroes makes over the competition it still feels like a missed opportunity. Aside from its combat it never really attempts to address the core problems of these Dynasty Warriors inspired games, instead choosing to polish up what was already there.

The anime influenced action is vibrant and fluid in motion.

Because it sticks so closely to the basics of Koei’s games many of the same complaints carry over. Soldiers on both yours and the enemy sides are completely ineffectual, there’s no variety to the game play, death results in starting missions over from the beginning and there’s zero online support.

With these issues addressed, I could see a follow-up becoming the true next-generation of the historical beat-em-up. But as it stands, Samurai Heroes probably won’t change the minds of those adverse to the Dynasty Warriors template. If you’ve ever been attracted to these mindless, over the top action romps on the other hand, this one might be worth your while especially given its lower than average RRP.

Top Game Moment: Mastering some of the deeper combos to juggle hundreds of troops in the air.