Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sengoku Blade (Playstation 2)

Checkpoints OFF
7 Difficulty levels
7 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed / selectable at start
- - - - - - -
Developed by Psikyo in 1996
Published by Taito in 2004

It feels really odd to admit this, but I was missing Psikyo. I still remember when I thought this would be an impossible idea. I've been playing the most diverse kinds of shmups, so I guess my missing their games tells a lot about how unique they are, in every possible sense of the word. As much as I was reluctant to comply, Psikyo does play a big part in shmup history. Very few companies developed titles with such a characteristic challenge, one that practically defines the bulk of their releases: a combination of in-your-face fast bullet patterns and undeniably cruel rank.

Getting back to Psikyo can be a little of a shock, but in this case it wasn't an all new adventure. Sengoku Blade, the second chapter in the Sengoku Ace series (it's known after all as Sengoku Ace Episode II), is also available on the Sega Saturn, and that one was already looped almost two years ago. On the Playstation 2, it appears in the Japanese combo disc that puts it together with first chapter Sengoku Ace or in a stand-alone European release renamed as Tengai. This is the name of one of the characters - the protagonist, maybe?

My appreciation and respect for Sengoku Blade increased this time around. The sprite work is great, the art design leaves nothing to be desired and the difficulty is quintessential Psikyo, whatever that means - everybody needs to try it out to know how it feels. I did learn how to cope with the rank in the 5th stage, which is something that gave me a hard time when I played the Saturn version. Or maybe I'm just a more experienced player than I was before.

Sorry, babe, you can't beat Koyori as my fave Sengoku Blade chick

My aim when replaying Sengoku Blade on the PS2 was to best my Saturn high score. Initially, I tried not to use big-boobed Koyori/Miko, which I think suits me best, but I failed miserably. Shoumaru, the young ninja, has a weak shot and takes too long to deploy his charge attack. Tengai the monk and Hagane the robot have no reach on their charge shots. And the only good thing about Junis is her charge shot.

I mention charge shots a lot because I believe that playing Sengoku Blade seriously requires mastering the character's charge attack, beyond what you need to grasp with the good old method of regular shot + bombing. Doing well also relies heavily in memorization and detailed knowledge of enemy movement and bullet patterns (more than the usual share), especially when you beat the first set of three randomly selected stages and start the last four. Going through my old strategies with Koyori wasn't as easy as I had envisioned, but I did get to use a brand new gameplay technique, for me at least: while with all other characters the charge shot must be deployed one at a time, with Koyori you can spam the screen with it. This means that whenever the game lets you breathe, such as before boss fights or showdowns with stronger enemies, fire away as many of those slow bubble creatures as you want. It's a helpful way to easily get rid of a good deal of threats.

I still struggle a lot with the medal collecting, since the urge to time them all for maximum points (2.000 when taken in full size) often leads to hazardous conditions and horrible death. Trying to score higher also led me to the temptation of milking popcorn enemies while fighting bosses and large enemies, but I found out this must be done with caution. If they time out and flee/explode you get no score from them.

Opening and attract mode for the European release, Tengai
(courtesy of YouTube user narox)

All facts considered, it's a shame Psikyo never ventured again into a full-fledged horizontal shooter in the same vein of Sengoku Blade (Sol Divide doesn't count). The company decided to concentrate its efforts into vertical fare such as the Strikers 1945 series. Much later a new episode in the Sengoku Ace series would arise for the PSP, but the result was nothing like it should've been since the real Psikyo was pretty much dead and buried by then.

If you ever managed to get there, then you know that Sengoku Blade's second loop is brutal. I tried to survive as much as I could but still wasn't able to proceed to stage 2-2. For the first loop, this time I chose the upper path in the last couple of stages, as opposed to the lower choice I made a couple of years before. And here's my new high score (difficulty 5 - NORMAL):


  1. I love Psikyo. Gunbird 2 was possibly the first 'eye opener' shmup for me other than Gunhed, that made me realise how much I loved the genre. Strikers 1945 being one of my fave series too. Can I ask if you have a Jap PS2 or use a modded one or region disc or something?

  2. Congrats for your new highscore! I think it's extremely hard for us mortals to reach stage 2-2 in any Psikyo game. ;)
    Except Zero Gunner 2 maybe which at least I found managable and motivating. In general I don't like loops, for Psikyo it's just fun to watch superplayers dodging all those ridiculous patterns.

    I tried Sengoku Blade once for a few credits, seemed to like it, but it really is a usual Psikyo beast with the rank and the memorization based gameplay. Additionally I had the problem that I also liked the Koyori's attacks best (if you can tell so after roughly trying all the characters), but desperately need panic bombs, especially in Psikyo shooters. :D

  3. @ AmidstStorm Gunbird 2 is amazing, I love the colors! As for my PS2, it's a fat US/NTSC model, modded with a Matrix Infinity chip. It runs all of my games regardless of region, but I avoid playing Japanese PS1 on it (for that I have a modded PS1). I had some slim PS2 models in the past, but they were all rubbish and even scratched some of my discs...

    @ Battletoad For all I know you're a Zero Gunner 2 master, bro. :)
    Speaking of 2nd loops, I remember I reached 2-3 in Sengoku Ace. It was the 1st Psikyo shooter, and its 2nd loop isn't so over-the-top as in their subsequent games.

  4. Edward, why do you avoid playing PS1 games in it? Is it possible to play them anyway? I'm still thinking about which PS2 console to get. I'd like a modded PAL console, so I could play Japanese shmups as well as some PAL games. But eventually I might grab some Japanese PS1 games as well... Right now I just have a PAL slim model borrowed from a friend, but "scratched discs" doesn't sound good.

  5. Well, there are some Japanese PS1 games that have issues when played on a PS2, even one of the same region (Toaplan Shooting Battle, Gradius Gaiden). Besides that, I had my share of bad experiences when trying to run Jap PS1 discs on my previous PS2 consoles, to the point of being utterly terrified by ever doing it again. Psychological reasons, I guess......

    But it all depends, there are people who never had any problems with modded slim PS2s. Whatever you do, just make sure the chip is genuine and the modding is made my a trustworthy technician.

  6. Nice review and congratulations to beat this game. For me, is the best title from Sengoku series.

  7. Hello Edward, I have just a short question concerning this game. For me the random stage order doesn't work. In the options screen I can select a fixed order or set it to random. Even if I select the latter option, the stage order is always the same (forest, building, air) so that I never get to see the water stage. Did you have random stage order when you played it on the PS2 and if you did, do you have an idea why it doesn't work for me?

  8. That's weird, 'toad.
    Water stage is the one with the big fish in the end, right? I remember having no problems with stage randomizing. I'll fire it up again and check it for you tonight, OK?

  9. Yep, I mean the stage with the fish boss. Thanks in advance! I will also try out a few things. I've never set it to a fixed order, perhaps that way I can find out what the problem is.

  10. Hey man, I just tested the game, with no previous save whatsoever (no memory card inserted). I left everything in defaults, just went to the options to verify it was in "random".
    Played the game three times and got the water stage as a 3rd stage in my second credit. It does seem to be the stage that appears less, but it's there nonetheless. Maybe you just got a streak of bad luck?

  11. Well that's weird... I've also just tried it without memory card and random stages work perfectly. I've loaded my saved data and it still works. At least it's ok now even though I have no idea what caused the problem. It just can't be bad luck since I got the same stage order in like 5 runs in a row. I just know that the first run after you selected Sengoku Blade from the menu is always the same. Never mind, thanks for the help. ;)