Pretty much Guilty Gear (see entry 108) in a samurai setting: it's got the high res (for PS2) 2D graphics, slender character design, three attack buttons, double jumps, juggles, small recovery times, huge FX, lots of special moves and super moves, instant death moves, and all the other stuff that made developer Arc System Works' (now part of Capcom) GG series such a manic type of fighting game. Sengoku Basara X kicks it up an extra notch by having an assistant character you can call in for extra juggle hits on the opponent. With double the number of characters zipping around, it gets pretty crazy.
GG is pretty decent, so it seemed like SBX would be a winner. Unfortunately, of the small cast of a dozen fighters, I find that I only enjoy playing about three of them: the two main characters, highly reminiscent of GG's Ky Kiske and Sol Badguy, and one their assistants, who can be used as a playable character in his own right. These three have a good number of very effective attack moves that string together nicely.
The other characters, however are an unintuitive, gimmicky, or just dull lot; they're highly varied, but not really in a good way. Two or three drop bombs or mines all over the screen, which is irritating rather than fun. Another relies on cash gained by hitting the opponent for his moves, which is interesting in theory, but a pain in practice, and his moves aren't that great anyway. There's a guy with a huge sword that seems like he should be awesome to play, but only a few of his more difficult moves actually utilize the sword's reach. Too many of these characters have moves that seem almost completely ineffective.
The backgrounds are detailed and bursting with animation. They're a bit washed out, but that would help the characters in the foreground stand out--only they're washed out too! Possibly its due to the eight palette swaps each character has, somehow, but you'd think even that could be managed with crisp colors. I think it comes down to an artistic choice, and its an odd one.
Story could have helped add color to the characters by way of personality, but there is none; each character has a brief little animation they do when a fight starts, a taunt, and a win quote or two in Japanese, and that seems to be it, unless there's something after you beat the boss, which I didn't bother to do.
The game has a decent set of options, including the ability to add or disable anti-aliasing (usually I would turn it off, but this game is swimming in twinkling pixels if you do--maybe something to do with how they scale the screen), remap the buttons under two setups player, and the ability to view move lists from the pause menu. Oddly, after you pick a character in the character selection screen, you're presented with a pop-up menu with two choices in Japanese: one red and one blue. Just from the color these look like the typical power/speed option offered by many fighting games from SNK, for instance, but it's actually a choice between the two button mapping setups, and it defaults to the "easy" mode one that has single-button settings for supers, etc; having to switch this over each time you pick a character is a pain, and should have been an option you set once in the option menu.
I'd better cover specifics of some of the mechanics added on to the usual Arc System Works model before I forget them. In addition to the three attack buttons, a fourth button will call in your assistant for their attack. In theory you want to hold off on this as long as possible, because their "Level," and thereby their attack ability, I assume, increases as time passes in the fight, but stops increasing once you call them in. After you call them, there's a brief delay, with a little icon graphic showing them riding up to join the fight. Once they arrive, they jump into the background, which is neat, and can be used for combo attacks once ever oh five seconds or so. Some characters have two assistants, and one has none (or more specifically, he can call in an army of generic soldiers).
Pushing the three attack buttons at once does a charge attack, which may be unblockable, I'm not really sure. After a few rounds a certain meter of yours may get charged up sufficiently so that it starts glowing, at which point you can hit all three attack buttons to activate a mode in which you can use your single-hit kill super move. The penalty for using it is that you lose the aid of your assistant for the rest of the match, I think.
Although many of the special moves are not so great, most of the super moves are pretty nifty. Each character has two, and the single-hit kill move, and they almost always share the same simple controller moves for execution (usually qcfx2-heavy, qcbx2-heavy, and qcb-hcf-all, respectively). Also, f-d-df and the middle attack button does an anti-air for just about every character, so that's nice and easy to remember. The controls, really, are pretty nice; it's the characters that are the let down.
Although it's a sort of medieval samurai setting, the music doesn't take a classical approach, and is pretty forgettable; in fact, all I remember about it is thinking to myself that it sounds like generic anime music.
Properly speaking, the game's title is "Sengoku Basara X," where the "X" is sometimes pronounced "Cross" (and I think "Cross" was used in the name of the arcade version, maybe). On the PS2 version's spine, it has "X (Cross)," just to cover all the bases, I suppose.
I should mention that there's a bit of load time between stages. They cover up a lot of it with panning artwork, but they didn't quite get that right here, because there are usually a few additional seconds of load where you're just staring at a black screen.
In addition to Arcade and Training modes, the game has a "Challenge" mode that reminds me of what I vaguely remember of a similar extra mode in the DC port of Guilty Gear X; you fight a string of opponents, just like in arcade mode, but the "battle level" is constantly going up, presumably based on how well you fight. Health and possibly other powerups are thrown onto the floor for you to pick up from time to time. It still feels a lot like Arcade mode, but you can't continue, and your health meter carries over from round to round, like a "Survival" mode in many other home fighting games. I'm not sure if it's endless or not; I tend to think it isn't, because the level seemed to max at 100, and I was killed by the guy I think is the boss character (Oda Nobunaga), but I don't really know.
Download added: 01_char_sel.jpg (134280 bytes) "Not many characters but still a busy screen, like the rest of the game."
Sengoku Basara X for Japanese PS2 is a licensed fighting game made by Arc System works for a Capcom war brawl franchise, Sengoku Basara--which I know nothing about. As a stand-alone fighting game, it feels muddled, and in particular I have no urge to keep fighting the characters who spam mortars, spearmen, and flying hoops at me. : P And the hi-res 2D PS2 graphics are scrambled by the game only playing in 480i, although my switching on the anti-aliasing option @ 1'09"35 swapped some of the jaggies for blurring. : P
The action is too messy for my liking, but I do kind of like three or four of the characters, I think, and if I could play them against each other away from all the assistants and whatnot going on, we'd have the beginnings of a pretty solid fighting game.