However, it seems that a few crazy people wanted to know what I thought about it after all the months of hype. I decided to gather my impressions some time ago and the imminent anniversary of the game's release seemed like a good excuse to finally post them. As usual, I haven't structured this post as a review so much as a jumbled stream of consciousness.
One other thing that I should mention is that I mostly play in two-player co-op mode for the first few months of a Sengoku Basara game release; my partner's interest tends to wane more quickly than mine and it's fun to experience the new stories together for the first time. In that respect my opinions on some gameplay decisions might be unusual since two-player mode makes some parts of the game much easier, and others rather more challenging.
One of the biggest changes in Sengoku Basara 4 is that it dropped all support for the Wii, allowing the creators to push the PlayStation 3's limits further. Whether you consider this a good decision will probably depend on whether you had a PS3 or not - it's my preferred platform so I was one of the lucky ones. The graphics are great for this type of game and presumably the move to a more advanced version of the MT Framework engine than before made it easier for YamamotoD and his team to implement their ideas.
To complement the appealing visuals, the team at Capcom have done some great work with the soundtrack. T.M.Revolution's opening song Count ZERO was an instant classic from the moment I first heard it in the trailers, but SCANDAL's upbeat closing song Runner's high has also grown on me after hearing it play over the credit sequence. The rousing lyrics are a pleasant way to end a campaign.
When it comes to the background music the game contains the usual assortment of new themes and familiar classics. Yoshiteru's regal presence has given the staff an excuse to incorporate a wealth of sweeping melodies to set the atmosphere from the very moment the player selects Sengoku Creation mode from the menu. It's difficult to pick a favourite piece. Standout tracks include stage themes like Battle of Sekigahara: Eastern Sun and the new character themes for Sakon, Matabee, Shikanosuke and Maria. Of the older songs, my very favourite is probably Hanbee's updated theme song. It's so dashing.
To make the audio experience complete the game's voice acting is flawless, as can be expected from a seiyuu cast of this quality. I usually translate the character interactions for my partner as we play so that he knows what's going on and it's very interesting to watch his reactions.
(Sometimes I ask him what he thinks they're talking about first - the Japanese voice acting is so good that the emotions generally come across perfectly so long as they aren't talking about something specific. Once, he stopped me mid-sentence. "You don't need to translate Kingo at all," he said, "I can understand everything he says just fine.")
It's a great shame that there's no English language version of the game since the shift in the presentation of the story from cutscenes to audio drama is likely to be disappointing to gamers who don't understand Japanese. A few of the early complaints were that the game has no story at all, which isn't really fair - it's there, it's just they've blended it in with the game's progression instead of relying on dramatic cutscenes. This is where two-player mode makes things harder as concentrating on the gameplay, my partner's reactions and the mid-battle conversations between the warriors can be challenging (on the other hand, it gives the game a lot of replay value as I can go back later and catch up on anything I missed the first time).
A number of multilingual English-speakers have been steadily chipping away at the language barrier over the last few months to help their fellow fans. I can highly recommend Moemine's candid story summaries if you want to get more out of the game without knowing Japanese, and there's another collection of translations in this thread over at Koei Warriors.
Speaking of the stories, I feel that the game succeeds in providing a better variety this time compared to the overwhelming drama of Sengoku Basara 3. There are some very emotional, dark storylines here too, but there are also quite a few lighthearted events to keep things from getting too depressing. I can honestly say that some moments made me laugh out loud while others made it difficult to fight back tears.
One early disappointment was discovering that some characters only have a single story mode while others have two, or even three alternate endings. I've since come to terms with this as it's much better than adding uninspired stories simply to meet an unnecessary quota, and with a couple of exceptions most of the characters who miss out still feature heavily in other storylines. The anime cutscenes are a nice little bonus as well, though a couple of characters still feel overlooked. I hope they'll fare better in the next game.
Sengoku Basara 4 incorporates a number of small enhancements to the already-solid gameplay from Sengoku Basara 3 Utage which will be immediately obvious to returning players. One of the most welcome of these is actually something which was never documented - characters now continue to run if you jump mid-sprint. This used to drive me crazy in the older games...
The more significant changes are a mixed bag. I like the new formations a lot, but some can be more annoying than challenging (the worst offenders are probably the burly soldiers who dog pile the player). They also make some levels look emptier even if the enemy count has been increased since the soldiers end up standing in a clump, and some formations are a little too easy to destroy. The new dodge looks cool, and the optional 'quick time events' when capturing bases are a nice bonus. I love being able to collect shared experience points and materials on other characters, too; it makes time spent playing your favourite characters feel much more productive.
Another interesting choice is the weapon inscription system; new players really need to spend a while getting to grips with it as a completely new character with no weapon upgrades is very weak indeed. You can still make yourself incredibly overpowered, but you'll need to build your own customised selection of weapons for each character if you want the full range of gameplay options. It can be time consuming. On the flip side, if you get lucky with upgrades it can make some parts of the game too easy even before levelling your character up.
The 'play book' system which allows you to modify gameplay and carry buffs (or handicaps) over between characters feels interesting but underdeveloped; if they keep it for future games I'd like to see it expanded to include even more options. For example, it could incorporate the buffs from the sorely-missed 'personal items' each character had in previous games. There's a lot of potential for this system if the developers keep adding more options to the mix.
When it was revealed that the partner system from the last few games had been developed further, I was surprised to see a number of western fans asking whether you could play completely solo and leave their partner behind. I don't remember any such complaints about the 'bodyguards' in Sengoku Basara 3 and the tag system in Sengoku Basara 3 Utage seemed very popular! In Sengoku Basara 4, you can choose to ignore your partner, direct them or - after levelling them up - switch between them freely. After getting used to the new system, I keep finding myself trying to control my friends with the L2 button whenever I go from single player to co-op...
Tag mode obviously opens up a lot of new gameplay potential (especially for fans who skipped the previous game). Likewise, the ability to equip all three of a character's special moves instead of choosing a favourite before battle means that situational abilities are much more useful than before. I rarely tend to deviate much from my optimal setups because I'm lazy and some moves are clearly better than others; making them all available encourages experimentation.
I like the new interface a lot. While there's a lot of information flying at the player mid-game, with levelups, rank points and fugitive bingo to keep track of, it's all presented neatly on screen and anything important is visible through the pause menu if you miss it. Since I was posting news long before I got to grips with the game's single player mode myself, I was worried about some aspects which turned out not to be a problem at all - you can even see the randomly-selected hidden objectives in one-on-one battles through the pause menu.
This praise doesn't meant that I can't see areas where the interface has room for improvement, though. Two-player mode is definitely a problem; they've added improvements like individual combo counts but at the same time there's simply way too much interface clutter in split-screen mode. For example, if you're on the top half of the screen for Kingo's stage you'll find that you can hardly see a thing during the trial where you have to season his broth. The progress bars are right in the middle of where you need to look!
This isn't the only indication that the game received less rigorous testing than usual. There are a few bugs which actively hamper gameplay, and chances are that if you play the game enough you'll encounter at least one of them. The worst bug I experienced happened the first time I was playing through one of Yoshiteru's palace stages as a low-levelled character. I'd worked really hard on the roulettes and picking up items, but once I got to the boss fight the game glitched and I lost control of my character. The camera switched to giving me Yoshiteru's perspective instead of my own as he circled my character, who was frozen in place. I couldn't even control my ally; none of the buttons worked.
I didn't lose all my progress, but I had to start the stage from the beginning again. It was frustrating and it simply shouldn't happen. Even though most of the hours I've invested in the game have been bug-free, a patch to address the common issues people have been reporting would have been greatly appreciated.
I suppose I should also include some thoughts on one of the main attractions of the new game: the new characters!
Poor Katsuie seems to get a lot of flak for appearing out of nowhere and attempting to invade the established Oichi/Nagamasa dynamic. I liked his gloomy personality from an early stage, yet even after watching dozens of demonstration videos it wasn't until I started playing that I realised he also has a fantastic fighting style. I'd made the mistake of assuming that his moveset would be mundane since his weapon is relatively simple.
I was completely wrong, thankfully. Katsuie's playstyle is unique, easy to learn, fun and very appropriate for the world of Sengoku Basara. In addition, his second outfit is my favourite in the entire game. It's going to be great to see how he reacts in future games as the Oda army (hopefully) returns to its former glory and he gets more chances to appear in a positive light.
Another surprise was how much I ended up liking Sakon, despite him being unapologetically dumb, irresponsible and shameless on many levels. He's flawed, yet charming, and Vibra once raised a good point in the comments section by saying that he helps bring out Mitsunari's good points along with the other returning Toyotomi commanders. I think that's an excellent way to look at it; Sakon isn't the deepest character ever but what he contributes to the roster overall is very important. His outgoing personality also makes it very easy for him to make (and break) bonds with other characters.
Sakon's fighting style requires considerably more concentration than Katsuie's - it's also necessary to pay attention to which stance he's in at all times or you'll slip up. I think he's worth the trouble though; it's great fun to dart all over the battlefield kicking things!
Naotora is a strange character for me. I'll admit first of all that I'm not keen on her fighting style, which is a problem in a combat-heavy title like Sengoku Basara 4. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it (if anything, she has one of the most satisfying movesets of all of the newcomers), it's just that I don't personally like two-handed swords and branching button combinations that much compared with the other styles in the game.
With that said, I'm mostly going to focus on Naotora's divisive personality instead. She's not my favourite but I like her feisty, deeply flawed attitude; her backstory lets her interact with the mostly-male cast in an entertaining way. It works on two levels; gender roles were an issue back in wartorn Japan (as they often still are across the whole world). Naotora has chosen to take a stand against the unfairness and gives us an exaggerated look back at an old system with present-day sensibilities. Her brutal treatment of the game's much-loved male characters is a constant reminder of how ludicrous sexism can be, no matter which way it goes. Nobody wants to see someone lashing out at their favourite warriors unfairly.
However, the reason that Naotora's attitude amuses me so much is that the world of Sengoku Basara is a little different to real-life history in a few important ways. Since the prejudice that Naotora is rallying against doesn't actually exist there, she comes across as a raving lunatic rather than as an admirable supporter of women's rights. In Sengoku Basara, the female warriors are generally given exactly the same respect as their male counterparts so Naotora's melodramatic reactions come off as deliberate parody. Even more ridiculous is that the main object of Naotora's hatred is Takeda Shingen - one of the fairest, wisest and most straightforward leaders in the entire series. The way he responds to her aggression is magnificent.
Naotora's comical wedding-themed design is wonderful as well. I think she's a strong addition to the roster with a lot of future potential.
For some reason, every time my friends visit and
Sadly Shikanosuke hasn't had much of a promotional push from Capcom in his first game; a side effect of his firm position in the 'comic relief' category. In addition, while I feel his fighting style has potential it's not one of my favourites; there are too many moves which seem impractical so I end up relying on the same few staples. Shikanosuke will probably benefit greatly from some tuning in future games (especially if the personal accessories for each character return to add more options). It will be great to see whether he rises in prominence when his missing lord finally shows up again one day.
Along with Shikanosuke it felt as though Matabee had a low-key debut - does anyone who isn't interested in the series already actually know he exists? The lack of promotion doesn't seem to have hurt him too much amongst fans, though, and he's ended up ranking quite highly in several unofficial character rankings. The combination of his unkempt looks, viciousness and a thoroughly unpleasant personality has proven to be far more interesting than it sounds on paper.
From the perspective of a mediocre player like myself, Matabee's fighting style is good fun. His savage moves are satisfying to pull off and there's enough variety to keep things interesting. I have to confess that I've been charmed by Matabee's creepiness; I really hope he'll have a more prominent role in future!
Matabee doesn't have a stage of his own in the game so you only ever see him when he invades a boss fight with one of the other characters. While this quirk provides some variety, it's less of a shock than it could be since the game hints when he'll appear. While I'm hesitant to demand he gets his own stage in future (some of the single-boss battles in Sengoku Basara 3 became monotonous after a while), it would be neat to see him team up with someone else on a new stage. I want to see a proper Kanbee/Matabee map, especially after the tease of that short story running in Sengoku Basara Magazine...
I still don't feel we know Maria all that well. Is it because she spends relatively little time confronting the player on her own? Since most of the stages in Sengoku Basara 4 are shared between several enemy commanders, she often seems to be needling her allies as much as the player character. The way that she toys with the others verbally - using her limitless self-confidence as a weapon - is hilarious. I want to see more of her so let's hope she's playable in the series' next instalment!
Last but by no means least, Yoshiteru has made a strong debut in the series. Unlike with Sengoku Basara 3, where the established heroes would tend to have stronger ties to one of the new leads or the other, and Sengoku Basara 2, where it was possible to play without having much crossover with the main Toyotomi plot at times depending on which character you picked, Yoshiteru is a constant presence lingering in the background of just about every story in this game. He's an extremely likeable guy despite his flaws; while I hate him for being one of the nastier opponents to face in battle (not to mention that he triggered the fighting in the first place), I also admire his magnanimity.
Now that we've seen Yoshiteru from so many perspectives, it's going to be a treat to get a look at his viewpoint when he becomes playable in some future title.
At this point it's fun to think about what kind of things I'd like to see in a future expansion, other than improvements in the areas I've highlighted above and the usual additional gameplay modes. This is my current wishlist:
1. The return of the 'Utage Six'. I want to see Shingen, Kenshin, Kasuga, Ujimasa, Toshiie and Matsu reinstated as playable characters, and that means fully playable characters with completed movesets, alternate costumes and story modes. Additional new characters would also be welcome, but I'd strongly prefer to see the half-finished ones treated right as the first priority. It's unfortunate that they have never been brought back properly for the PlayStation 3 era; now's the perfect time for them to return and headline the expansion along with...
2. Playable versions of Ashikaga Yoshiteru and Kyougoku Maria. It's almost guaranteed that any expansion would include these two and I want to try them both out. I suppose that it's possible that they'll keep Yoshiteru unplayable for a while yet to make the most of his status as an overpowered 'megaboss' in the series' canon.
3. A bunch of extra costumes for everyone. There's plenty of space in the game's interface to accommodate lots of alternate outfits and it's a relatively cheap way of making the game look as though it has more content. And it's fun. Many of the characters already have alternate costume designs from the PlayStation 2 era which I'd like to see revived one day. I'm genuinely amazed that they didn't exploit the fans by releasing more paid DLC costumes for the base game. I'd have bought them all.
4. Less waggling. Although the new formations are interesting, sometimes I fail to avoid trouble and often end up being dogpiled or trapped several times in a row. It's annoying to have to keep shifting my hands on the joypad! I'd like the enemies which require waggling the sticks on the controller to appear less frequently so that I can focus on the fun stuff.
5. Even more cameos from the rest of the older characters. It would be best if all of the old characters from the PlayStation 2 games are brought back for the next game, but if that's not possible then I feel a suitable compromise would be to start including a few as unplayable bosses or mentioning them more in the story to pave the way for their reintroduction. The three returnees were given fantastic improvements for Sengoku Basara 4; if the other missing characters can be brought up to that standard too then I'm sure they'll be well received when the time comes. Incidentally, the two I want to see return most of all are Ranmaru and Nouhime; they'll really help strengthen Katsuie's character (and they're both awesome). Itsuki, Yoshimoto, Musashi, Xavi and Kennyo all deserve to return as well one day.
6. Personal items for every character. One of the most surprising omissions this time around was that the traditional 'personal items' which let you activate some kind of special trait for each character were all completely removed. They could easily be re-added as play books or with a single equipment slot system. It's probably annoying to balance all of the personal items while retaining a sense of uniqueness for each character, but gosh, some of them were really fun!
7. Less weapon management. I love that you can customise weapons properly this time. I don't like that it's limited to twenty weapons per character and can sometimes obtain five new ones from a single battle - it ends up requiring a lot of shuffling and dismantling which gets in the way of the actual gameplay. I'm sure this could be organised better by letting you store stacks of base weapons then only having the ones you've bothered upgrading or buying from the shop counting towards the limit.
8. Adjustments to the inscription system. I feel that the weapon inscriptions in this game are a huge improvement over previous systems, but the fact that every single character has their own pool of inscriptions is frustrating. Especially when you manage to create the rare green-coloured upgrade you've been looking for - on the wrong character. It would take a lot of patience to build up a perfect collection of weapons for all 32 playable characters, and in trying to do so I imagine that a few players have become bored with the game. There are a few other niggles as well: it's frustrating when you want to combine two inscriptions which are both already on the same weapon, and it's hard to remember who has which upgrades without going into their individual weapon list and looking around. I think the whole thing could be improved very simply by separating inscriptions from the base weapons and letting each character access the same pool of 'stored' inscriptions. If the developers want to move away from the equippable boosts in previous titles which made it too easy to build up a full set of upgrades, they could simply make it so that the shared inscriptions couldn't be removed after being attached to a weapon (unless they're overwritten, as with Sengoku Basara 4's current system). That way you'd still have to earn your inscriptions the way you do now, but at least you could keep better track of them between characters and avoid wasting them when you're forced to destroy excess weapons for paltry rewards.
9. Bugfixes. While there aren't many bugs in the game they're pretty annoying and need removing, especially the big ones which can waste an hour of progress. The interface issues on some maps I mentioned could also be improved.
10. Make Giga Basara effects skippable. Even though the Giga Basara clips look fantastic, when you're messing around you can sometimes get bored watching the same cutscene over and over again and it takes the player out of the action for slightly too long. It would be nice if pressing the button again would jump straight to the 'Basara-zu' artwork at the end. Or if there was a setting or play book which gave the effect of abbreviated Giga Basara visuals.
11. More gameplay modes. It's traditional for the base games to keep things simple while the expansions add all of the crazy extra modes fans want to sink lots of time into, but without any kind of unification mode at all Sengoku Basara 4 feels as though it has less replay value than usual. It takes absolutely ages to go through all of the characters' stories (even if you cheat and jump ahead to the drama/anime scenes) so it's not as though there's nothing to do. It's just that I'm itching to break out of Sengoku Creation and Free modes and do something else after all this time!
12. More stages. Again, I like the stage selection in Sengoku Basara 4 but without much variety in the gameplay modes there eventually comes a point when you become tired of seeing the same ones popping up over and over again. Each stage has a special gimmick of some kind to make it feel more distinct, which is both a blessing and a curse. While the unique missions are interesting at first, many are less fun than running around cutting soldiers down with wild abandon, which is ultimately one of the series' main selling points. I can't wait to see some more battlefields in the next instalment to keep things fresh.
All in all, a year on from its release my experience with Sengoku Basara 4 has been very positive - I'm still playing it on a regular basis in between catching up on PS Vita titles. There's definitely room for improvement and the glitches are disappointing, but if a future expansion manages to address all of the problems as well as adding more gameplay modes and stages to keep me coming back, I'll be completely satisfied.
The staff at Capcom have been posting messages from the voice actors recently to count down to next month's Basara Matsuri event, so I'm hoping that means they've all been in the studio getting ready for the next big project. I'm eagerly awaiting the next announcement from the Sengoku Basara team!
Sengoku Basara 4 has had three physical releases in Japan, all of which are region free. It was originally available as a standard edition and first press 'Hyakka Ryouran Tamatebako' box set, then later in a limited edition bundle called the 'Special Package'. An Asian version of the game was also released for sale outside Japan; it's identical but often a little cheaper. A digital version of the game can also be purchased on PSN in a number of Asian regions. No plans have ever been announced for an English version of Sengoku Basara 4.