Date with a warlord
Thursday, August 05, 2021 1:43 PM

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Aug. 5, 2010 (The Yomiuri Shimbun) -- Gallantly riding his steed, the famed warlord skillfully wields six swords as he spouts his now famous English sound bites, such as "Are you ready, guys?" It's no other than Date Masamune...of a sort.

The legendary leader of the Date clan is one of the Sengoku (Warring States) Period (1493-1573) warlords that populate the hack-and-slash video game series Sengoku Basara, the latest installment of which--Sengoku Basara 3--was released on July 29.

One doesn't have to be familiar with the archipelago's history to know the name: Date was the real-life leader of the Date clan of the Tohoku region who earned the nickname Dokuganryu (the one-eyed dragon).

Yet Date is not unique among the characters of Capcom's Sengoku Basara series. Students of the Warring States Period may be stunned to see the outrageous manner in which their favorite historical personalities have been interpreted for the game. Sanada Yukimura, famed for his acts of courage during the Siege of Osaka (1614-15) against Tokugawa Ieyasu, wears a red rider's jacket over his bare chest as his overly long headband flaps in the wind; Oda Nobunaga is depicted as the bad guy who fights his enemies with a sword and shotgun.

Unlike other historical adventure games, the characters and backdrops in this video game series are a hodge-podge of the past and present.

"People playing Basara for the first time may be taken aback by the characters' appearances," says the series' producer, Hiroyuki Kobayashi.

The Basara series has been a driving force behind the social phenomenon known as rekijo--literally "history girls"--female history buffs who are enchanted with historical dramas and visit such places as castles, shrines and graves associated with their history book heroes.

Since its release, Sengoku Basara 3, meanwhile, has held a spot in the Top 3 PlayStation3 games on Amazon.co.jp. Featuring new characters, the game (also available on Wii) centers on the Battle of Sekigahara and splits the characters into East--headed by Tokugawa Ieyasu--and West--led by Ishida Mitsunari.

Part of this series' success, according to Kobayashi, stems from the Japanese love of history, as made evident by the popularity of NHK's period dramas. "That's what gave me the idea of setting an action game--the genre in which we excel at Capcom--in that period," he says.

Basara stood in sharp contrast to the company's other games, many of which are known for being challenging, the producer says. "When we were developing it, I kept asking my staff if it wasn't too easy. But Basara director Makoto Yamamoto and I always said we wanted to create a game in which the players can advance smoothly and not have to face too many hurdles. That was our concept for Basara."

In the beginning, Kobayashi described the game as a Devil May Cry--which he also produced--set in Japan. "I really wanted to make Basara an action game anyone could enjoy."

The design for each of the characters is distinct; most can be recognized just from their silhouettes. Significant liberty was taken with Honda Tadakatsu, a retainer for Tokugawa Ieyasu who is said to have fought 57 battles without suffering even a scratch. Inspired by this legend, the game's makers transformed him into a flying giant robot with guns mounted on his back.

But Kobayashi says it is not only the mecha makeover that has made his games a hit, it is the human drama and master-servant relationships.

Says Kobayashi, "Basara fans really love the feeling of being nearly invincible, as well as the individuality of each of the characters." ===

In a word

The game designers have done their jobs well, but it is the veteran voice actors who brought the characters to life. In fact, they were deeply involved in the characterization during the sound recording. "One of the early ideas was to have Date Masamune speak in English, but if Mr. [Kazuya] Nakai had sounded funny when he did it, we would've scratched the idea," Kobayashi says. But now, fans of the game have come to expect Date to speak in the anachronistic language.

The same can be said about the characterization of the bold, dashing Sanada Yukimura, voiced by Soichiro Hoshi. "Hoshi's delivery of his lines was more spirited than we had expected, so we decided to change the character to fit the voice," Kobayashi recalls.

Five years since the release of the first Basara video game, and the franchise is only becoming more popular: Its animated adaptation is entering its second season, and a February event featuring the games' voice actors quickly sold out, with 5,000 people packing the National Convention Hall in Yokohama. When the games' stars treated the mostly female crowd to their trademark lines, the resulting screams seemed to shake the building.

Some municipalities are taking advantage of the historical fad by using likenesses of their local warlords on promotional material. In Miyagi Prefecture, for example, Date was used to promote last October's gubernatorial election. Kochi Prefecture is hoping another popular character from the game--its own warlord Chosokabe Motochika--will draw rekijo to the area. The first installment of the second season of the animated series (5 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday, TBS, MBS), meanwhile, saw ratings of 5.3 percent in the Kanto area and 7.4 percent in the Kansai area.

The game is scheduled to be released in English as Sengoku Basara Samurai Heroes in North America and Europe in October.

 

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