I thought it might be fun to record my personal hopes for Sengoku Basara 4 before we have more information about what the game will include. This way I can look back on it later and laugh at how optimistic I was during the early days.
Here's some wild speculation based on the little we know so far.
Prediction 1: Every character with a full move set and story from Sengoku Basara 3 or Sengoku Basara 3 Utage will be a playable character in Sengoku Basara 4.
All of these characters already exist in playable form and dropping them into the game has no drawbacks, especially since it's been confirmed that there won't be many changes to existing gameplay. It will be seen as unreasonably mean if Capcom deliberately cuts any of the 24 fully-playable characters who appeared in the last game in the series (Sengoku Basara 3 Utage). However, it's possible that some will only exist as bonus characters rather than having story modes of their own.
To support my prediction, let's review history (excluding the spin-off games). The first Sengoku Basara (2005) had 16 playable characters along with a number of unplayable bosses, all of whom would eventually become playable by the end of the PS2 era.
Sengoku Basara 2 (2006) increased the number of playable characters from 16 to 22. Nobody was cut: 2 boss characters from the first game became playable and 4 newcomers were added.
Sengoku Basara 2 Eiyuu Gaiden (Heroes) (2007) kept those 22 characters and added 8 more, all of whom had been unplayable boss characters in Sengoku Basara 2 or earlier. The total number of playable characters was now 30 and all of the favourites were accounted for other than the brand new boss, Matsunaga Hisahide.
The series then moved to the PS3 platform, requiring upgraded character models and a redesign of the battle system to accommodate more techniques for each character.
The first PS3 title in the series was Sengoku Basara 3 (2010), which cut a whopping 19 characters and added 5 completely new ones for a total of 16 playable characters. 8 of the cut characters were demoted to non-playable status while 11 were either removed entirely, or only appeared in cutscenes. The reason for Capcom savaging the roster to this extent seems to be that they didn't have enough development time to finish the characters who had been made non-playable; most of those who had been completely removed were done so for story-related reasons.
Most recently, Sengoku Basara 3 Utage (2011) kept all 16 of the playable characters from the previous game and added 8 more; 3 of these had been available in the PS2 games and 5 were unplayable characters from the more recent titles.
In addition, 6 characters from the earlier Sengoku Basara games were brought back as bonus characters. All except one of them had been unplayable bosses in Sengoku Basara 3 (Takeda Shingen had only appeared in cutscenes). The bonus characters were finally playable in Sengoku Basara 3 Utage but lacked stories, alternate special moves, second costumes or additional weapon designs.
The total number of playable characters in the PS3 games now stands at 24 characters with full move sets plus the 6 bonus characters. The same number available at the end of the PS2 era. The only time that Capcom has ever removed characters between games in the main Sengoku Basara series was when it moved from the PS2 platform and had to give the characters significant overhauls. That's not necessary this time around.
The only real room for doubt is with the 6 bonus characters from Sengoku Basara 3 Utage. They still need additional work and it's possible that Capcom will push them back for a future expansion or leave them as DLC downloads in their incomplete state. I hope not, though; they're all important and represent factions which really shouldn't be omitted if we're going back to the roots of the Sengoku period.
Prediction 2: Old favourites from the previous games in the series will return.
While there are 30 playable characters in Sengoku Basara 3 Utage, the total number of playable characters across the history of the series is 40. Who's missing in the PS3 generation?
Nouhime, Mori Ranmaru, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Takenaka Hanbee, Azai Nagamasa, Honganji Kennyo and Imagawa Yoshimoto are officially dead by the time of Sengoku Basara 3 so it made sense that they were excluded even though it was disappointing for their fans.
Since Sengoku Basara 4 is taking the story right back to the dawn of the Sengoku period and including characters from many different generations, there's now no reason that these older characters can't return. They possess some interesting fighting styles, they're popular (well, except for Kennyo and Yoshimoto) and all are important historical figures in their own right. With the Toyotomi and Oda armies regaining their central roles in the story with Sengoku Basara 4 it would be crazy to miss out on at least including Hideyoshi, Hanbee, Nouhime and Ranmaru so we can see them interacting with their new allies. I'm not sure what to make of Nagamasa; he's certainly popular, but with Katsuie taking a central role in the new game there's a chance that they'll save some of the potential drama his return would entail for a future expansion.
The second group of missing characters was never officially killed in the games. Itsuki's absence may have originally been caused by the sickness (and eventual death) of her voice actress. Zabii headed overseas to give his 'replacement' Sourin some motivation and Miyamoto Musashi has only ever been a bonus character. It's possible these three will appear as well, yet I also can see them being held back as non-playable characters or put into a future expansion to avoid cluttering the roster too much. It would be particularly great to get Itsuki back and there are several indications that she'd fit in well: she has a unique fighting style, there's nobody else representing the peasants, and with three new male characters already announced we could really use a few more females to even the balance.
If the staff manage to cram in all of these older characters as well as adding new ones, this will be the biggest Sengoku Basara to date!
Prediction 3: Characters will retain their Sengoku Basara 3 fighting styles.
While many characters have changed considerably over time, a few have been transformed so much that they're almost unrecognisable. The most obvious example of this is Tokugawa Ieyasu, growing from being a short kid with a spear in the PS2 games to a burly youth who fights with his fists in Sengoku Basara 3.
Going by what KobaP has said in interviews, the characters continue to develop over time and each game drops them into a new 'parallel world' version of Sengoku-era Japan. I believe that this means the older versions of the characters are gone for good and future games will stick with their newer incarnations.
This leaves one character in particular whose fighting style changed tremendously between Sengoku Basara 2 Eiyuu Gaiden (Heroes) and Sengoku Basara 3: Oichi. Her old naginata style still has a large number of fans, but I still think that Oichi will be keeping her newer 'dark hands' move set in future. It's something that's unique to her in story terms, and it looks amazing. It also makes playing as her a very different experience to using a weapon-based character.
The best hope for the naginata fans would seem to be Capcom adding a brand new character with the same style, though that would mean giving another character links to the dark hands. I can't see them adding the old moves as another stance because Oichi's already strong the way she is. One insightful suggestion that's been made on forums is to replace her mediocre character-specific accessory with one which gives her access to her naginata. This certainly wouldn't be unprecedented, and it could add a new dimension to Oichi's gameplay without harming her existing style.
Prediction 4: There will only be a few new playable characters, but several new bosses.
The main boss of Sengoku Basara 4 has already been revealed along with two brand new characters. Even though I think we'll see a few more new names before the announcements are finished, it's likely that most of the new warriors will end up unplayable until future expansion(s).
I quite like the way that the series teases its fans by making newcomers unplayable at first in order to gauge reactions, before taking their time and fleshing them out as finished characters later on. The more characters there are, the more interesting the interactions between different factions become. If there are too many new names vying for attention it can be overwhelming, and I'd like to see the old favourites take priority this time instead of having them miss another game in favour of newcomers.
As for which historical figures the newcomers will be based on, I wouldn't dare speculate at this point. The chance of guessing correctly seems low after the staff have already made it clear that their choices are intended to surprise people.
Well, that's enough speculation for now. Hopefully we'll have more information within the next week and discussion will really start to heat up. I can't wait!