To the gamers here:
I've recently discovered this absolute classic and after only about a month's play it has earned itself a spot in my exclusive 'Greatest Games of All Time (Excluding Chess)' list. In fact it has qualified as 'Best Brawler' and, in the process, knocked Guardian Heroes from its position.
Ask Joe Average about Brawling games and he'll talk about the genre founding-father (Capcom's Final Fight, or perhaps Double Dragon) and what is considered the best game of the genre, Streets of Rage 2. And ask him about SNK and, if he says anything at all, he'll mention pure Fighters like Fatal Fury or King of Fighters.
But this is wrong because Sengoku 3 is, to my mind, the pinnacle of the Brawler genre and one of the finest SNK games to date. Firstly, the graphics are the best seen in a 2D Brawler, and by a long shot. After playing Sengoku 3, going back to Streets of Rage 2 is just painful on the eyes. The animations are of the standard reached by SNK's finest pure fighter (Garou: Mark of the Wolves) and of course have that unmistakable Neo Geo look.
The sound effects and music are also top-tier but look; these are mere formalities. My main reason for posting this is to get this severely underrated game some props for its gameplay which is, quite frankly, off the freakin' hook. There are several layers of difficulty. At first I wasnt sure if the game was unfairly hard or not (it's an arcade Neo Geo title, and they got to earn they pennies some way or another).
Imagine my surprise upon discovering that the Samurai Captains get an invincible wake-up move after being knocked down. As enemies go in Sengoku 3 they are only on the second tier of mean-ness (ahead of the standard grunts). To put this in perspective, in Streets of Rage 2 virtually no opponents outside of bosses had an invincible wake-up! But then again Streets of Rage 2, for all its greatness, was way too easy for the first three quarters. But so what if you can't stand over an opponent, waiting for them to stand up into a punch? In Sengoku 3 you have to learn what sort of range the wake-up attack has and either stand inside or outside of it if you want to follow up an attack. You have to actually respect your opponents.
In fact, if you think about it, this fits well with the theme of the game. In Streets of Rage 2 you fought as a street vigilante, beating up junkies and other assorted street scum. In Sengoku 3 the action is of the style of ancient feudal Japan. Think 'honour'. In fact there are no pick-up-able weapons in Sengoku 3. No broken bottles or rocks or anything else, and this was as bold a move for SNK as Treasure's decision not to include any powerups in vertical-shooter Radiant Silvergun (also in my all-time top 10). It is this "increased quality through simplicity" approach that I so admire in the very best Japanese designers.(see notes for clarification)
But back to the game. Once you become comfortable with a particular character you'll want to start experimenting with the moves. Y'know the drill: log in to Gamefaqs, search the movelist, try them out, maybe even read a guide. Then you start getting in-game practice with them. Ok, this is all fine, but then you realising that dashing HITS. And then you realise that dashing JUGGLES.
If you understood those words then good but please bear with me while I explain for the un-initiated. Dashing, in brawling games, is when you quickly tap the controller in one direction twice (or, in the case of emulation, press the key for forward/back twice). Some brawlers actually lack this move altogether, including Streets of Rage 2, but that is clearly not a case of increased quality through simplicity: for me the dash is a vital part of brawler gameplay. But in Sengoku 3 if you dash straight INTO an opponent it harms them. This alone is, as far as I'm aware, unique in brawlers. But even better than this, in S3 it also juggles, which means it pops them up into the air (hey, real-life physics suck for fighting).
The fact that I call this a "juggle" is because you can then follow up that attack, juggling the enemy/s in the air. This is virtually unheard of in brawler games. The juggle system in Sengoku 3 is where you'll discover the next layer of gameplay: constructing combos.
You have a meter in S3 that powers up after you land a hit on an enemy, but it quickly diminishes. If you land another hit before it completely empties you'll score a combo (2 hits) and the meter will max up a bit more. You then repeat the process until either the bar runs out (and your combo finishes) or you max it out. If you manage to max it out (6 or 7 quick hits should do it) it will start flashing and running down much more slowly. You now have a lot more time to land hits to combo and top up the meter.
And the way you weave these combos is what high-level Sengoku 3 is all about. Lets say you are facing two opponents, one to your left and one to your right. You quickly dash right and combo 6 hits on that enemy. You dash back to the left and, before the meter empties, combo the other guy with 8 hits. You've now performed a 14 hit S3 'combo' (I guess it's a pseudo combo really... a better name would be hit-chain). And you don't even have to use enemies for combos. Lets say you knock a guy down with no-one else close enough to you to continue the combo upon. But there's a park bench in the corner. If you run over to the bench you can continue the combo against the inanimate item of scenery until it is destroyed (usually revealing an item of some kind). So the potential for combinations, when you think about the different varieties of enemy combinations and scenery combinations you get through the levels, is huge.
Right now I'm playing at a pretty decent standard. In one credit I can get to Level 4's mid-level Phoenix bird boss, and my maximum combo I scored just now: a 106 on the very first roof-top area of the Japan stage.
So... any Sengoku 3 fans here? I'm probably gonna find a gaming forum to post this at and see if this has some kind of a cult fanbase because WOW is all I can say.
Oh, one negative point, for no game is truly perfect. I have slight issue with the portrayl of female characters in this game. Don't get me wrong: I'm all in favour of "hot anime babes" as much as the next man. But there's something about the way their, uh... bodies move in this game that isnt right. I have two objections to it:
1) the feminist "it humiliates women and is therefore not good"
2) the merely asthetic "it just doesnt look right! Not realistic, not sexy, nor stylish"
Also, the female ninja's scream their annoying high-pitch scream waay too much. During fights with groups of them it just sounds to start as irritating as baby Mario in Yoshi's Island ("for the love of God MAKE IT STOP!").
And that is literally the only complaint I have about this classic. Oh, and my favourite character is Falcon. He's a riff on the slightly unorthodox ninja theme, like the guy with the dog in Samurai Shodown (can't think of his name now). I picked him initially because his rising dragon slash he performs at the end of combos moves him forward, away from enemy attacks from the rear. I've tried the girl ninja character but find her first slash too slow to combo in juggles effectively (yes, it has a bit more range, but you can negate range problems through careful movement and jumping).
*****MINOR PLOT SPOILER FOLLOWS******
One other thing I like about this game: when I saw the bosses of the Italy and Japan stages I thought that they were so extensively animated they rivalled the main characters. Nice surprise to have them become selectable for the fourth stage onwards!
note: you do get *items* you can attack with (bombs, plates, throwing knives) but I'm calling these items because you can't attack in a hand-to-hand fashion with them, as in other brawlers.
Last edited by Lebowsk1 on Fri 28 Jul, 2006; edited 7 times in total