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‘Sengoku BASARA’: History in the Details

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In 2005, the Japanese video game company, Capcom, released a game called Sengoku BASARA. This game series is one of the most popular games in Japan today, still going strong ten plus years later. While it is considered to be a fantasy hack’n’slash game, there are some historical elements hidden away within the game, for it is based off of the people and the events of the Sengoku Jidai.

Sengoku BASARA takes place during the Sengoku Jidai, and some of the eras major names and battles are included within the game. Each adaptation of the game deals with with each of the Three Unifiers: Sengoku BASARA focuses on the reign of Oda Nobunaga, Sengoku BASARA 2 focuses on the reign of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Sengoku BASARA 3 focuses on Tokugawa Ieyasu and The Battle of Sekigahara, but the newest release, Sengoku BASARA 4, goes back a little and brings in the Ashikaga shogunate. The storyline of the games do not follow history completely, however, there is historical information hidden within the details of the game, but one has to know the history of the events and the people of the Sengoku Jidai to find them. Some are pretty obvious, while others are very subtle. This article will bring up a few examples to illustrate this point.

The Poster Boys

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Every video game has their iconic character, or the poster boy. These typically are the main characters for the game. When it comes to Sengoku BASARA there are two of them: Date Masamune (shown above in blue) and Sanada Yukimura (shown above in red). This is a surprising choice to have two daimyo as the poster boys for a game about the Sengoku Jidai, rather than the Three Unifiers. These two are actually rivals within the game, which is also a strange pairing since historically they only met in battle once. Despite the unusual rivalry, Capcom makes it work, and this is mostly due to their contrasting personalities. Masamune, while a cocky man, tends to be very cool headed about things compared to Yukimura, who is very energetic and impulsive. Their view on fighting battles are completely different as well. Masamune sees battles as parties, while Yukimura holds the views of a traditional samurai when it comes to war. These characters have there own hidden history within their character development.

Starting with Date Masamune, the first thing that players will notice is that he speaks some English. While this is a reflection of the only foreign language that is taught in Japanese schools, it is also a reflection of the foreign influences that took place in during the Sengoku Jidai. As the player plays more of the game, they will realize that there are other characters who speak some English. They are Ōtomo Sōrin and Xavier, the game’s personification of St. Francis Xavier who preached Christianity in Japan and helped spread its influence. Masamune was open to foreigners and even allowed for foreigners into his city of Sendai. This acceptance of foreigners historically might be another reason for Masamune’s broken English throughout the game. Masamune also wields six katanas, known as the Dragon Claws. This is in reference to his nickname of “Dokuganryū”, or “One-Eyed Dragon”. Even the color of his outfit is similar to historical records, which record his army fighting in blue or green colored armor.

Sanada Yukimura’s historical details are a little different. First, Yukimura never served Takeda Shingen. While the Sanada clan did serve that Takeda clan, Yukimura actually served his son, Katsuyori, until the defeat at Nagashino in 1575. It was after the defeat after at Nagashino that the Sanada clan became their own force to be reckoned with, becoming an independent daimyo. He also served Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but does not in Sengoku BASARA. He does side with Ishida Mitsunari when it comes to the Battle of Sekigahara, however, it varies from the historical reasons. The coins are historically accurate, and were actually on his helmet and is the Sanada clan mon (crest). The coins represented as the payment to cross the bridge into hell once they died.

East vs. West

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The next two characters that have risen in popularity since Sengoku BASARA 3 are Tokugawa Ieyasu (on left) and Ishida Mitsunari (on right). In fact, they become poster boys for this game since they are the two most influential figures of the Battle of Sekigahara. These two men are night and day, literally. Ieyasu is represented by the sun, while Mitsunari is represented by the moon. They meet at Sekigahara for the final battle, which is symbolized by a total solar eclipse. Their representations in the game actually reflect how they are viewed by historians today.

Tokugawa Ieyasu is a cheerful man who wishes to bring total peace to Japan after Toyotomi Hideyoshi dies. This is where the creators of the game play with history, for in the game, Ieyasu kills Hideyoshi because he has gone mad with power, and Ieyasu does not support his rule anymore. While this is not historically accurate, it is accurate in another sense. After Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu began to take over the Toyotomi rule by himself, ignoring the wishes of the deceased kampaku who wanted his most trusted officers to work together to rule the country until his son became of age. This is where Mitsunari comes into the picture.
Ishida Mitsunari feels betrayed by Ieyasu because he killed his lord. Again, going back to actual history, this is not too far off base, but it is different. Mitsunari was loyal to Hideyoshi and the Toyotomi clan as a whole, something that is reflected in the game. However, he feels that Ieyasu has betrayed the clan because of his actions, thus paving the way to Sekigahara. There is a major difference between the historical and fictional relationship that Ieyasu and Mitsunari had. Historically, there was bad blood between the two of them going back to the Korean Campaigns, which were only made worse after the death of Hideyoshi. In the game, the two seem to be friends, and Ieyasu even mentions this in the dialogue during the Battle of Sekigahara. No matter how hard Ieyasu tried to rectify the situation between him and Mitsunari, he will not listen and only wants to kill him for his wrongdoing.

The Main Bosses

In most games, you have your heroes and then you have your villains. If one needed to pin down who the villains are in the Sengoku BASARA series, look no further than Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Nobunaga makes sense, considering the large number of innocent lives he took during his lifetime, but Hideyoshi is an unusual choice as a villain, but once we look at the game, it is easy to see way he is portrayed this way.

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Oda Nobunaga, shown above, strikes a frightening figure in Sengoku BASARA.The creators really focused on the “Demon King” nickname when creating Nobunaga. It has been hinted that he is not really human at all and that he his an actual demon. When it comes to his appearance, it is pretty historically accurate. Unlike those in the rest of the game, Nobunaga’s armor is more Western in appearance, something that was true for the real Nobunaga. His hairstyle is more Western as well, which was also historically accurate. The sawed-off shotgun in his hand reflects how he embraced Western technologies, more specifically, the arquebus. In the game, he is still killed by Akechi Mitsuhide, but is resurrected by a monk who looks very similar to Mitsuhide. This reflects a couple of points from history. The first is that the Oda clan did not entirely disappear after Nobunaga’s death, and they tried to reestablish the clan. This resurrection in the game might symbolize that point in history. As for the monk, that plays with the idea that Mitsuhide did not perish at Yamazaki like most sources say. Legend has it that he was able to escape the battle and live out the remainder of his life as a monk under the name of Tenkai.

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Toyotomi Hideyoshi, shown above, does not arrive to the video game series until the second installment, which makes since considering that he is the second of the Three Unifiers. It is unusual to see Hideyoshi thrown into the role of a villain, yet Capcom has made him that way. Looking at history and then the game, it is easy to see how Hideyoshi has been portrayed in this fashion. First, there is his appearance. His wife, Nene, stated that he looked like a monkey, and this can be seen in his face slightly. He is a giant compared to other characters in the game, Honda Tadakatsu being the only exception. This might have to do with the size of Hideyoshi’s ambitions. He wanted to expand outside of Japan, looking to take on the whole world, to create an empire. His enormous size reflects how big his dreams for conquest really were. Hideyoshi is a man who values strength above all else, which again, mirrors his historical counterpart. He allied himself with the strongest that Japan had to offer while destroying those who were weak. Hideyoshi wanted a land under warrior rule, and he almost had it.

The Catalyst: The Villain of the Warring States

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In every game, and every historical event, there is a moment that sets into motion everything else that is set to come. For the Sengoku Jidai, this is actually hard to pinpoint, but most historians agree that it is the Ōnin War. Despite this, Sengoku BASARA points the catalyst to being Matsunaga Hisahide (shown center), known in the game as “The Villain of the Warring States”. Looking at Matsunaga from a historical standpoint, it seems unclear as to why he is given this title in the fictional game. Yet, again, the reason lies within the finer details.

Matsunaga Hisahide does not become a playable character until Sengoku BASARA 3: Utage, and his popularity matches the likes of Date Masamune and Sanada Yukimura. It is revealed in this game that he is the cause for the entirety of the Sengoku Jidai. According to the game, Matsunaga met Hideyoshi in battle once and defeated him. This led Hideyoshi’s obsession with strength and he would eventually murder his wife, Nene, for love is seen as weakness to him. Hideyoshi’s actions cause Ieyasu to betray Hideyoshi, killing him, and thus leading Mitsunari to swear upon revenge, ultimately leading to the Battle of Sekigahara. Matsunaga even has to do with the resurrection of Nobunaga. Matsunaga wiped Mitsuhide’s memory, turning him into the monk known as Tenkai, so that he could bring Nobunaga back from the dead. The only reason why Matsunaga wants to kill the resurrected Demon King, is because Nobunaga destroyed his precious tea kettle. Looking at Sengoku BASARA 4, he is the cause of Nobunaga’s rise to power, by killing the shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshiteru. Claiming that Matsunaga Hisahide is the catalyst for the Sengoku Jidai is not a far fetched idea. For starters, historically, he did lead a coup against Ashikaga Yoshiteru, which resulted in the shōgun’s death. This gave Nobunaga the excuse he needed to take the capital, all in the name of the shōgun. After Nobunaga’s death, Hideyoshi took over and thus, caused problems between him and Ieyasu because of Hideyoshi’s power grab. To top it all off, after Hideyoshi’s death, Ieyasu took over, resulting in Mitsunari calling him a traitor and leading to the Battle of Sekigahara.

In the Anime Only

Sengoku BASARA is not just a video game. An animated television series was released in 2010 and while it was based off of the game, some new aspects were added. These new aspects are tiny details that were not in the game, but were included in the anime.

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One point of interest is Date Masamune’s tricked out saddle. There are metal pipings at the horse’s sides and the reigns are handlebars, almost making it look like a motorcycle. While the creators made the Date clan resemble that of a biker gang, there is some possible truth to the crazy horse gear. There are accounts that actually state that Date Masamune had metal piping on his horse.

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The first season of Sengoku BASARA focuses on the events of the first game, which takes place during the reign of Oda Nobunaga. In some of the scenes, he is seen with a skull to which he drinks sake out of. In season two, Matsunaga Hisahide remarks that he will do the same to Nobunaga’s skull when he finds it in the rubble of Azuchi Castle. Interestingly, this is not just played up to show Nobunaga’s bloodlust. According to one account, to celebrate the new year in 1577, Nobunaga’s guests drank sake from skull caps which were lacquered in gold. Another account states that he had Azai Nagamasa’s skull lacquered for drinking, along with the Nagamasa’s father and the leader of the Asakura after defeating them at Odani Castle in 1573.

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Tokuagwa Ieyasu is an unusual character for the series because he is the only character who truly changes over time. In Sengoku BASARA and Sengoku BASARA 2, Ieyasu was not the young man shown earlier in this article, but rather a child (shown above with Honda Tadakatsu). It is in the third installment that he grows up. In the anime, things are different. While he is a child in the first season, he is killed before the end, but suddenly reappears, all grown up by the end of season two without any explanation as to why and how. History might give the answer. Many samurai had many different names. The most common where childhood names, which where kept until they became of age at fifteen. While it is most common to see the given name changed, sometimes the family name changed too. Tokugawa Ieyasu is a perfect example of this. Before he became the Unifier of Japan, he was Matsudaira Takechiyo. He had that name as a child and even when he was fighting against Oda Nobunaga at Okehazama in 1560. He later changed it to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu’s apparent death and unexplained revival could be linked to this name change: the fall of the Matsudaira and the rise of the Tokugawa. While he is the same person, his “death” is actually indicating the end his childhood and the end of the Matsudaira clan, in name only. When we see him again (shown below with Honda Tadakatsu), he is grown up, more mature than before and whose ideas of unification are different from when he was a child.

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Beyond the Game

Sengoku BASARA is one of Japan’s most popular video games, but it is no longer just in video games. There are books and mangas dedicated to the storyline of the game. A live action television show exists along with the anime. Schools are allowed to put on plays about the game and even musicals exist. A Sengoku BASARA festival takes place in Japan every year. The characters are toys, put on food containers, and even vacuum cleaners. The poster shown is an election advertisement with Chōsokabe Motochika reminding the people of Shikōku to go out and vote in an upcoming election (shown below).

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Sengoku BASARA has been doing well as a franchise for over ten years. While it has not done well with Western audiences, it is the huge popularity in Japan that keeps it going. With each game that comes out, players are introduced to new characters and new storylines. Yet, hidden behind the flashy colors and fantasy elements lies a hint of truth to the characters and their stories. The history of the Sengoku Jidai has not been forgotten in Sengoku BASARA. It has just been hidden within the finer details to help create their fictional realm.