Although relatively unknown in the West, Capcomís hack-and-slash Sengoku Basara series is very popular in Japan, featuring notable figures from Japanese history with an exaggerated anime style.
The first game in the series was released stateside as Devil Kings on the PlayStation 2. Capcom now plans to bring a second game to the West with the most recent entry in the series, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes for the PS3 and Wii.
Gamasutra had a chance to sit down with producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who worked on Resident Evil 4 and Devil May Cry 4, to discuss the gameís wild premise and visual style, and its relevance in the Western marketplace.
Let's start out by talking about the historical setting, with real people from Japanese history. Do fans consider this weird, or do they feel like this it is normal even though the game world is very exaggerated?
Hiroyuki Kobayashi: Originally it was manga fans who we targeted for the series, not necessarily fans for the Basara series, but weíve been developing fans that are fans of the manga or anime. They have no problem with having real people in the game as characters. They're pretty good at understanding that there should be a disconnect there.
Yeah. And manga and anime fans may be more used to that kind of scenario already.
HK: Yeah. They see the title of the game, and they understand, "Okay, this is just a game." But as they become fans of the game, then they actually start to study more of Japanese history and learn the real side of what actually happened.
One thing that I appreciate about this game is that it doesnít try to stay within the boundaries of reality. Why did you decide to go for this fantastical setting?
HK: When we first wanted to make the original game, we decided to make it in the Sengoku period, and we wanted to have these characters, but we want to make them stand out like Street Fighter characters. We went for something where you see the character right away and know exactly who he is; you know what his personality is. Whereas with realistic characters, you don't get that right away.
There's a very strong sense of vibrant color in the game. How did you decide to use certain colors and schemes from a development perspective?
HK: When we started the series, we went for colors that the actual real characters had if they had any. For example, the Takeda clanís main color was red, so we were able to start with that. And as the series built up and we got more and more characters, we tried to pick colors that no other character has had so they would have their own unique personality.
How does the vibrant color affect what you can do with the backgrounds?
HK: Like I mentioned, we used vibrant colors for the characters, so making the background was more like, "What can we do to make those characters stand out?" Of course we used a lot of different colors, so it makes the characters stand out. If you play the game, you'll notice the ground isn't nearly as bright or vibrant as the characters.
Do you think it would be interesting to do something like this with other historical periods, with characters like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington in exaggerated, crazy situations? I think that would actually get people excited.
HK: This fit really well with Japan because of Japanese history, but doing it with different countries' histories probably won't be accepted the way this was. Sengoku, the actual period, is a special period in Japanese history. There's a lot more interest in it than there would be in other periods of Japanese history; it's a very special time period.
How do you feel hack-and-slash games are doing now? The genre is very crowded with Koeiís numerous Dynasty Warriors titles and a few other franchises. Do you feel like there's still some sustainability to this genre?
HK: It's a very popular genre in Japan, and I feel like it will just keep growing strong in Japan. It's what Japanese gamers really like to play. In America or in the West, I donít think it will go away, but it probably won't reach the popularity that it has in Japan.
Who is your target demographic, gender-wise? Are you trying to attract mostly males, or do you want more of an even split?
HK: Yes, of course anime, manga, and action game fans were the main targets for the series, but a lot of females in Japan buy and play these games too. In North America and the West, itís probably the males that like action games, and they would be the biggest fans of the series in those territories.
What made you decide that this was the time to release Basara as it is in the West versus making any changes to it? Was there any specific reason that it seemed like the game could be just translated to English and released as-is?
HK: This is actually the third game in Japan, so we've been able to really ramp up the action part of the game. We really felt like this really is a game we can release now for action game fans in the West. The action gameplay is very similar to Devil May Cry. It's close enough where people who like Devil May Cry should like this game too. It was the right game at the right time.
Yeah, Itís just that Japanese culture was really popular in the early to mid 2000s, and right then it would've been a great time to release something that's based in Japan. Did you ever have that feeling?
HK: Even without some kind of anime boom right now, it's about the action in the game. It's an action game, not an anime series, so the action will sell people on the game. When people play it, they will see that it's fun, and that's not going to go away anytime soon. There's no action boom; action games are here to stay.
What are the most important tenets of an action game, responsiveness to timing and combos? What are the main things that make an action game successful?
HK: Itís important to have responsive controls, and a unique feature that other games don't have. For example, everybody in our game has unique special moves--no other game has those. The uniqueness becomes a main draw for the game.