Alternatively titled “Sengoku Basara 3: All the Reject Characters”
The Sengoku Basara games have been coming out since around 2005, and have since then been the source of inspiration for an anime, a movie, and even a stage play/musical among many other things. In short, it’s a pretty big deal. You can pick up some of the games under the name “Devil Kings” here in the west, with the only game bearing the original namesake title being Sengoku Basara 3: Samurai Heroes. Utage is like the fun, add-on to this game – hence the name utage (meaning “party”). Sadly, it seems Capcom has no plans to localize Utage or any future Sengoku Basara games in the west since they simply don’t sell enough copies to turn a real profit. Not being one to let that deter me, I ordered a Japanese copy of the game. Yes, I am a crazy Basara fan, and you have stumbled upon a review about one of my favourite franchises. If you are going to put anything on right now, make sure it is your guns.
Nope, still not dead yet.
Utage uses the same formula as in the previous game, but with some new modes, characters and features. If you boil it down to the essentials, Sengoku Basara is a hack and slash game about unleashing flashy moves that look insanely cool. Overcooled, if you will (ha. ha.). There is a good variety of moves and combos to keep each battle fresh, and it does take moderate skill to combine them in a meaningful way to maximize your competence in battle. There is no “press X to win” sort of repetition, although the game itself is very simplistic. Most maps are conquered just by capturing all of the enemy camps (by defeating the head of the camp, who is conveniently stationary) and beating the boss. Sometimes opening passages, escaping from overpowered bosses, and traps are involved – but that’s just dressing up the main aspect of capturing camps so you have more than just one thing to think about. There are also a lot of maps (over 30), and Utage has some new ones, so newcomers to the series will have their hands full of things to achieve. It’s far from being a creative, border-breaking game…but it’s incredibly addictive.
You can read about all the added modes and differences from Samurai Heroes here if you’re a fan of the previous game, as I’ll only be covering them briefly because Utage has quite a lot of new features. It not only boasts some new story modes for the side characters, but a local multiplayer mode, new items, a new weapon upgrade system, mission mode and unification mode. Unification mode usually takes around 7 maps to complete, with the object of the game being to take over all the territory in Japan. There are also missions now, such as beating a certain number of enemies in an arena or perfectly blocking a boss’s attack several times before the battle ends. This is how you unlock allies, which is a HUGE improvement from SH where you had to wander through a MASSIVE amount of possible routes and maps in hopes of obtaining all the allies to assist you in battle. The best addition though is multiplayer mode, hands-down. Can you believe this game was only available in co-op up until now? As a whole, the entire gameplay system has improved quite a bit in most areas.
The only mode to feature a real story aside from the in-game dialogue present in every stage is the aptly named “Story Mode.” My friends hate the Basara cutscenes because they don’t make any sense and are cheesy. Well, these are worse in that they make even less sense and are even more outrageous. In other words: I loved them. I spent an afternoon looking for a legendary hotpot, and then starting singing a duet with Motonari Mori in the evening. These are mostly joke characters or two-bit sidekicks that never see the light of day, so they have some WHACKY stories. While I found the stories fun to follow…this game has a severe lack of story mode options. Compare it to Sengoku Basara 3 for a moment: each character had 2 or more routes to play with completely different outcomes. Utage only has one route per character, and that route is half as long. It’s a bit of a rip off. Furthermore, they have characters that didn’t get a story in the previous game that still aren’t getting a story in this one. Matsu, Kasuga, Toshiie, Kenshin and Shingen all don’t have a Story mode. They must have started to get lazy around this point…
Moving onto some more nitty gritty technical aspects, I’m going to have to rant about the graphics for a bit. The opening animation is gorgeous, but the game itself looks like it was made for the PS2. The polygons are so sharp they could cut a diamond and textures are just slapped onto surfaces in the laziest manner thinkable. It’s just a huge mess. The main characters usually look fine, but the enemy troops and environments are eye-cancer inducing. Sengoku Basara at least has a decent soundtrack to keep it afloat. T.M. Revolution provides the opening theme, as always, and the individuals character themes and level songs are great. Not all of them are memorable, but there a few great ones that have even earned themselves a spot on my iPod. Tsuruhime’s them, Ieyasu’s theme, and the music that plays in Oichi’s stage are my personal favourites. Kasuga’s pole-dancing music is nice as well, I guess (just had to casually mention that somewhere). As for voice acting, it’s great. You can’t go wrong with the likes of Nakai Kazuya, Hoshi Souichiro, Noto Mamiko, Fukuyama Jun and Tomokazu Seki. It’s an excellent cast, and they all bring out that flamboyant flavour that Sengoku Basara is so famous for.
Ah, yes. The forgotten deadly technique of finger-snapping.
I really enjoyed my time playing this, and there’s always something new to unlock. The level cap is now at a staggering 200 and beating each mode with every character takes a lot of time. There is a lot to go through, although once again, it’s all essentially the same thing. You fight, and you must win. I got great mileage with Samurai Heroes, but playing Utage right afterwards didn’t feel different enough to keep me as hooked. So by now, after 100+ hours of SH, of course I’m a little worn from these mechanics. The upgrades aren’t enough for someone who played the previous game so thoroughly. It would need a brand new set of maps and character moves to keep me obsessed, and Utage recycled a lot of maps and kept the same movesets. That being said, if I had bought this before Samurai Heroes, I would have played this just as much. But this is a sequel, and I have to take that into account. I can’t magically erase the time I spent playing SH.
OVERALL (TL;DR VERSION)
Sengoku Basara takes an extremely simple concept, and just runs with it. It embellishes it in every possible way it can to keep things fresh and interesting, although inevitably, there will come a time when you know every character inside out and all the maps have been conquered too many times to count. It’s a fun game that takes the over-the-top spirit the franchise is famous for and multiplies it by 5. Utage is Basara at its silliest. If you’re fond of hack n slash gameplay, this is something I’d suggest at least trying. It’s especially fun to play with friends (I’ve told this story before, but my friends came over 2 days in a row and we played 12 hours each day), especially now that there isn’t just co-op. Sengoku Basara fans will especially enjoy the experience.
THE FINAL VERDICT
-Tons of new modes that improve upon the previous game
-Hack n slash gameplay is rarely repetitive
-A buttload of characters and maps
-The graphics are pretty derp
-Very few storylines to follow
-Doesn’t feel different enough from the previous game