A great game which may never see the English light of day, sadly.
Japanese Name: 戦国BASARA４
English Name: Sengoku Basara 4(?)
Platform: Playstation 3 (region-free!)
Worldwide Languages: Japanese
Release Date: January 23, 2014 (Japan)
Recommended For: Upper-Intermediate+
Best Suited: Upper Advanced
In a few words, Sengoku Basara is Capcom’s answer to Dynasty Warriors. It’s a hack-and-slash game where a pair of warriors run around giant battlefields leaving hundreds of enemies in their wake. Unlike Dynasty Warrior’s Chinese warring kingdoms backdrop with famous Chinese characters as the heroes, Sengoku Basara takes place during the Japanese warring states period (roughly 1467-1573AD) with famous Japanese historical figures as the heroes. As you can see, they’re totally 100% completely different games.
While this is the fourth main entry in the Sengoku Basara series, the plot follows an alternate storyline, so newcomers to the series can jump straight in. Additionally, old characters who died in previous games, such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, are playable again.
The game opens with the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru giving up his right to rule out of boredom so that everyone can fight to claim their place as the leader of Japan. Each character has their own storyline to follow, which is boiled down to voiced dialogue between each battle. Dialogue happens during the battles as well, but it’s often skippable banter. Occasionally, towards the end of each character’s short storyline (depending on speed, thirty minutes to a few hours) the player is treated with a fun, unique cutscene or two.
New to this installment is the “anime storyline routes” which are available to three characters. The anime routes give additional plotlines and end with a cutscene animated by Production I.G., the same team that created the Sengoku Basara anime. While these cutscenes are always good and interesting, their sparseness in the game makes them feel like an afterthought. Three cutscenes does not a feature make.
Of course, the Sengoku Basara games have never been about their amazing, well-crafted storylines. Instead, the characters really steal the show here. Each of the thirty-two playable characters feels distinctive in personality, with some off-the-wall antics thrown in on the side. Whether it’s six-sword-weilding, English-attempting Date Masamune wanting to conquer, laid-back ninja Sarutobi Sasuke discussing how he came to be friends with Sanada Yukimura, or gaint silent flying robot Honda Tadakatsu, the cast is fun to watch. Without knowing which characters were playable or not, I kept wondering and being happily surprised when the game let me control new characters, sometimes because of their personalities alone. So the story is weak, but the characters more than make up for it.
During the main story mode, the player chooses a character and follows their path along 5-8 battlefields, depending on the route taken. Each battlefield is distinctive, but follow two basic models: 1) defeat all the outposts and proceed to fighting the boss, or 2) fight the boss. The latter fight is naturally very quick while the former often has fun mini-goals within the battle. While the mini-goals amount to little more than killing specific enemies, they keep things interesting to the point when two maps using the same basic battlefield feel more like creative fun rather than laziness on the developer’s part.
In between battles, alongside the storyline, players can customize each character’s weapons, buy new weapons, as well as combine weapons together to make slightly stronger weapons. Compared to previous Basara games, more control is given to the player on what kind of weapons they want to have at their disposal. Upgrading items can be found in levels or bought with money. Alongside upgrading items are special experience stones that let you upgrade characters you aren’t playing with. Even the characters you hate need some love too.
The graphics are nothing special, but they aren’t bad either. The clusters of similar-looking fodder enemies obviously had little time spent on them, but the main characters are all well-put together. Battlefields are often bright and interesting, but they won’t blow you away. On the flip side, the music is downright fantastic. While the quirky characters have their own odd songs and the fun characters have guitar riffs, the epic thematic music makes the game. Going out of my way to listen to a music track, such as going to the menu to listen to it, is the litmus test for whether the game has a solid soundtrack, and Sengoku Basara 4 fits this bill.
Game itself: 8.5/10
From a language-learning perspective, this game is a bit of a mixed bag.
On the plus side, all the dialogue in the game is voice-acted and it’s done well. Each character’s unique talking style is conveyed well, giving players a good, if over-the-top variety in Japanese. During each battle, voices are constantly being thrown at you with text, so there’s never a moment without some Japanese entering your ears (unfortunately, most of the dialogue is text-only, so context clues are rare). Moreover, for someone with a love of Kanji, more often than not, common words that usually forego their kanji in daily reading have the kanji here. For some basic examples, ある is often seen as 有る and 在る, ありがとう is often written 有難う, and ごめん becomes 御免.
Stylistically, this isn’t a haphazard choice. The game is going for the period drama (時代劇) feel, and like other shows that adopt this style, their language is often odd by modern standards. Some misinformed people say that learning Japanese from anime is dangerous, but their qualms should probably be more directed at period drama language. もしもし becomes 申し申し, もちろん becomes 無論. Sure, I can find 閻魔帳 in the dictionary, but it doesn’t mean anybody in my office understands it. It feels “harder” and in modern day language is almost nonexistent. I like it, mind you, but it does mean that for beginners, the language is often too difficult.
Thankfully, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. Some characters speak very plainly, like Sasuke or Ieyasu, while others can be frustratingly difficult to understand. It gives variety, but again, for a beginner or even intermediate language learner, some of the terms can be real roadblocks. On occasion, two characters would have complete conversations and I came out of it none the wiser.
Without the ability to pause in the middle of conversations (start just skips it all), it is a bit of a pain to use it to study. On the other hand, the game does let you replay the dialogue again if you want to hear it. Unlike an RPG, understanding the dialogue won’t prevent you from advancing in the game.
As casual study, the game worked great. But I didn’t feel like I learned nearly as much as I did playing games like Pokémon or other RPGs (like Tales of Vesperia and Zelda).
Language learning: 5/10
-Fun game with lots of unique characters
-Language suited for advanced learners
-Full voice overs and Kanji galore for those who enjoy that
-Need to import, but it can play just fine on your non-Japanese PS3
-Don’t expect to learn too much
-Pretty great soundtrack
This is a good, fun game that unfortunately may never make it out of Japan. Unfortunately, it’s not the best for your language practice. If you’re looking for a good hack-and-slash game, then this is a good option. If you’re looking for a new way to study Japanese, and you’re not an expert on 時代劇, look elsewhere.