Sengoku Basara and Samurai Warriors 3 Spark a Hack-and-Slash Revival

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Hack-and-slashers come in many different forms. Action-RPGs like Diablo, Titan Quest and Champions of Norrath are generally referred to as hack-and-slash games. Then there are action/adventure hack-and-slashers like God of War, Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry. And then there is what I call the pure hack-and-slash sub-genre, which skyrocketed in popularity when Koei stormed onto the PS2 with Dynasty Warriors 2, a franchise that has gone on to spawn countless sequels, spin-offs and copycats.

I dig hacking ‘n slashing, as I’ve professed many times before, but the Dynasty Warriors brand of endless chasing and chopping has long since worn out its welcome. Or so I thought.

Two recent games have rekindled my love for pure hack-and-slash in the most pleasantly surprising way: Capcom’s Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes for PS3 and Wii (I’m playing it on PS3) and Koei’s Samurai Warriors 3 for Wii (published by Nintendo in North America). I was bracing myself for a boring slog of button mashing before diving in, especially after recently playing Namco Bandai’s horrid Clash of the Titans game, which does hack-and-slash on a much smaller scale than either of these titles and is one of the most boring, lifeless games I’ve played in a while. But after spending the past week playing the pair, I’ve been sucked back into the genre I had been growing increasingly weary of.

Both games are built around the same core philosophy established by Koei’s Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash juggernaut. You play as your choice of many available samurai heroes – each with a distinct stylistic flair and unique weapon and ability set — and fight through huge battlefields overflowing with hundreds of warring soldiers. You run forward, clear out the horde of generic enemy fodder placed before you, and then move on to the next horde and occasionally take on a leader mini-boss before confronting a final boss samurai to close out the battle. If you haven’t racked up a body count of at least 500 kills by the end of each mission, you aren’t playing the game the way it is meant to be played.

Both games also share many other core similarities, positive and negative. They both take place during the “Warring States” period of 16th century Japan, for instance, and they both consist of short, silly storylines for each of their characters that are fun to breeze through a sitting or two at a time (the average is around 2-3 hours apiece) by yourself or with a friend in co-op. They also feature very light RPG elements in the form of linear character growth and equipment management. On the negative front, neither game bothers to address genre bugaboos, such as masses of enemies magically spawning in out of thin air and the lack of checkpoints or in-game manual saves (you die at any point in a mission, you have to start over from the very beginning).

With these familiar core values, each game goes off on its own tangent and accomplishes the same goal – to entertain the player – in its own distinct manner.

Sengoku Basara stands out because of its over-the-top style and the thick, gloppy layer of B-movie cheese that gives Capcom games that “special something” that only Capcom games seem to have.

Like the first game, which was released stateside for the PS2 as Devil Kings years ago, Samurai Heroes apes the Dynasty Warriors format and infuses it with the spunk and attitude of the Devil May Cry series (the creator of Devil May Cry 4 actually helmed the project, so there is a direct link). The combat engine is so much faster and more fluid than any of Koei’s Warriors games, the visuals pop with more vibrant colors (particularly in HD on the PS3), and the action delivers a greater sense of arcadey fun with slow-mo special attacks, exploding camp leaders that detonate like mini-nukes when killed and blow hundreds of nearby enemies to Kingdom Come, collectible coins (known as Zennys) that spew forth from enemies like fountains of gold as you build up a high death toll, and the ability to pile up 1,000+ combo streaks with ease. The environments are also slightly smaller in scale and flow with a greater diversity of objectives and obstacles more akin to an action/adventure game.

Samurai Warriors 3, on the other hand, is slower paced and puts more of a tactical spin on its button mashing, as you are given a battle plan before each chapter and must complete a specific sequence of objectives to lead your army to victory, all while aiding fellow AI leaders (if certain ones die, you fail the mission) and taking out optional mini-boss characters to earn tactical bonuses that can help turn the tide in your favor. And although there are exotic special attacks and some crazy weapons, the characters, combat and environments at least attempt to maintain a sliver of reality and historical context.

Even on the easiest difficulty, Samurai Warriors 3 also puts up more of a challenge and forces you to be more aware of your surroundings, so it isn’t entirely mindless. Whereas in Sengoku Basara I generally felt like I could run ahead at my own pace and sort of lone wolf through missions without paying any mind to what was going on elsewhere in the battles. Both styles have their positives and negatives, but both are great fun depending on your hack-and-slash preference. I happen to prefer the Sengoku Basara style myself, but that also has something to do with the fact that I have played so many Warriors games over the years, and in comparison the lesser-known Capcom franchise has a fresher appeal and, quite simply, plays, looks and sounds like a game built to modern standards. Samurai Warriors 3 isn’t the most attractive game ever made, that’s for damn sure.

However, in terms of value, Samurai Warriors 3 has the clear edge. Sengoku Basara is $10 cheaper at only $40, but it’s also much lighter in content. Its 16 playable characters, story mode and free battles pale in comparison to what Samurai Warriors 3 has to offer, which includes more than double the amount of playable characters, a custom samurai creator for use in a Historical mode that allows you to play out real historical battles, online play for two-players in a new mode called Murasame Castle based on an old Shigeru Miyamoto brainchild released in Japan on the Famicom Disk System over 20 years ago, and some other smaller touches like English and Japanese voice-overs. All that comes in addition to similar story and free battle modes. So you definitely get more bang for your buck with Samurai Warriors 3.

Now to the question you surely want answered most: should you buy either game, and if so, which one? Well…that depends on how much cash you have to burn. In general I consider hack-and-slash games like this quintessential rental romps or bargain bin pick-ups since they can be easy to burn out on. But every once in a while it’s healthy to turn to a stress reliever game you can pick up and play without emotional investment, and that’s what both of these games are good for – Sengoku Basara more so than Samurai Warriors 3, in my opinion.

Games of this ilk will never be mistaken for award-winning masterpieces or beacons of innovation – or even great games for that matter – and rightly so. This style of game design certainly hasn’t evolved much (if at all) in the decade since Dynasty Warriors 2’s debut, and at this point there isn’t a whole lot of creative inspiration that goes into each new iteration. They are the same thing over and over and over and over and over again – yet when designed and balanced properly, they can be highly entertaining and extremely satisfying.

Above all else, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes and Samurai Warriors 3 have reminded me that simple, one-dimensional hack-and-slash games have their place in this industry and need to exist — and I am so glad that they do.

Now, bring on Fist of the North Star – I’m ready for more!

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes Gallery:


Samurai Warriors 3 Gallery:
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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!