Hello everybody and welcome to yet another session of Sengoku Compare. Of course, when you speak of the Sengoku Period, you just can’t leave out the three major unifiers, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. And for that, our focus today would be the first one, Oda Nobunaga. Boy, do I have a lot to say about this man. For many, in addition of a ruthlessly successful warlord, Nobunaga is a popular figure… to get demonized into some sort of devil figure. What used to be his joke of comparing himself with the Devil King of the Sixth Heaven (大六天魔王, Dairokuten Maou) tends to get used literally so they get this ‘devil villain’. Because war is so ugly and devilish and if he’s good at it and kind of revel in it with his long track of success… well you get the idea.
But I digress. Let’s just dig right into the so-called Devil King himself as how Koei and Capcom portray him and compare how it goes with him.
Brief History Bio
Oda Nobunaga was born in the Province of Owari where his reckless and rambunctious antics made him derided as the ‘Fool of Owari’. Including a tantrum at his father’s death. A lot of people lost faith in Nobunaga as the next ruler of Owari and plotted to have him assassinated… but Nobunaga flipped that around, showed that he’s actually an excellent ruler and eventually made himself known by beating the crap out of the more massive Imagawa army in the Battle of Okehazama. Afterwards, he began to lay down several successful sieges and conquest through his territory, gathered himself a lot of talented retainers, and even marched to Kyoto, seizing control of the Shogunate and indirectly controlling him, as he continued to conquer other places around him while crushing any anti-alliances against him. With brutal force if necessary, and not even hiding behind the religion will save those schmucks that cross him. The only thing that finally stopped him was the betrayal of his subordinate Akechi Mitsuhide, causing him to commit seppuku in Honnoji, but his conquest for unification is continued and completed by his other best retainer, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
“If the cuckoo doesn’t sing… Kill it.”
There was actually a time when Koei embraced the ‘Cackling Evil Demon King Nobunaga’, and that’s the first Samurai Warriors game. Which kind of set up the groundwork of Nobunaga’s portrayal there. Let’s see, facially he looked similar to Cao Cao from Dynasty Warriors, giving him the ‘villain’ feel like Cao Cao back in those days. Not only that, they gave him dark armor, and a laser blade… Koei, are you making Oda Nobunaga or Darth Vader here? Well, okay, he didn’t have the breathy voice, but it’s there. Not to mention, the first game was the first to have heavy focus on Nobunaga, including his most infamous event of the burning of Mt. Hiei and the Ikko Ikki sect, portrayed with the Ise Nagashima battle. So basically Nobunaga really was portrayed as a cackling evil overlord back in those days. Sure, he did say that he’d do anything to bring stability to the land, but those evil stuffs… really stands out, you know?
I’m not sure what runs on Koei’s mind, but future games tend to shy away from Nobunaga’s brutal conquest and focuses on other things, like mostly Sekigahara or the struggles of the Sanada clan. So Nobunaga gets less screen time to show his brutality. But even then, his ruthless persona remains. It’s just that he’s actually less of a cackling villain, but a charismatic but ruthless anti-hero or sorts. It’s in-line with Koei’s growing philosophy of ‘Keep things balanced and more down to earth’, and that’s the best they can do to the ‘Demon King’ without ruining his ruthless presence that has been in the mindset of many Japanese fans about Nobunaga. Or it can be said that Koei chickened out in making him pure evil, but then, they have a philosophy to follow. And that’s why we never get Ise Nagashima stages again.
Future games also show a good chunk on why they call Nobunaga ‘The Fool of Owari’. Shall we say… he’s eccentric. He likes to speak in theatrical manner while showing that he’s actually trying to stabilize Japan, whoever gets to rule it, and sometimes the things he say might be hiding his true intentions. And some things like… ‘cross-dressing’? Really, Nobunaga? I admit, while it still doesn’t take away that he’s a ruthless ass… he’s actually a pretty colorful, ruthless ass. I guess it is a pretty pragmatic presentation of Nobunaga…
On the other hand, Capcom says “To Hell with subtlety, if it’s evil Nobunaga they want, it’s SUPER EVIL NOBUNAGA they’ll get!” And then, they made something that gives Skeletor a run for his money and call him ‘Oda Nobunaga’. Sure, it’s not a dark armor, but it’s still giving the vibes of evil, with that tattered cape, and menacing head piece. Then give him a shotgun and a serrated sword combo, then make his special skills being literally demonic in nature, like he’s just a demon. Then make his personality and theme basically as blatantly evil possible, hell bent in conquering everything he sees, and his followers being all shades of evil, who he sees as nothing but pawns for his own conquest plans anyway, then give him the voice of Wakamoto Norio, you know, that Japanese voice actor whose forte is playing awesome and booming villains… and you got Nobunaga in the Sengoku Basara version.
What the eff is this thing you call ‘subtlety’ again? Nope, no such thing. Nobunaga is portrayed as NOTHING but an ‘Ultimate Evil’ thing. Not even the Onimusha version, already an ‘Ultimate Evil’ style character, holds a candle on this one, and that’s also a game by Capcom! There’s a story that Nobunaga tends to drink from the skulls of his fallen foes as a way to respect them, but in here, it’s more or less as his own trophy. Heck, his stages are littered with human skulls, and especially his throne room is chock full of it, including his throne itself! Yes, yes, he’s evil, Capcom, WE GET IT.
Thankfully, however, it’s still in-line with the game’s tone, where everyone strives to be as over-the-top as possible. As much as we get hammered down with how Nobunaga is EVIL, this is just an over the top way to portray his nastier reputation, and I gotta admit… Capcom really gives about what it takes to portray a super evil person and gave it to Nobunaga. Every of those ‘Obviously Evil’ stuffs given to him doesn’t deter his quality, it in fact enhances it, because Nobunaga is damn effective in what he does here, being an evil, murderous, conquering bastard. It’s actually one of the less ‘ridiculous’ modifications on the historical figures compared to some other things… I’d take this one more in the realm of plausibility when compared to Hondam…
This is actually a pretty hard one. On one hand, I do appreciate the more down-to-earth pragmatic portrayal of Nobunaga as KOEI has done. It’s just that while he’s still ruthless, he’s also a pretty in-depth character with lots of colors. His relations with the other characters that are close to him, such as Akechi Mitsuhide, Mori Ranmaru, Matsunaga Hisahide, Nouhime, all of them shows different sides of Nobunaga without taking away that this guy is one ruthless mofo you don’t want to cross. It makes him more human, especially when compared to the Capcom version, where you might as well substitute him with an actual cackling demon and nothing of value was lost. So in terms of character depth, Koei Nobunaga clearly has a lead here.
But on the other hand, there’s just something about Basara Nobunaga that clicks on me the right way as well. Yes, he’s a megalomaniacal demon warlord that just hits on every ‘Evil Overlord’ cliches available… but it just wonderfully works. Presentation definitely plays a big part in this, Capcom wants to play the ‘Demon King Nobunaga’ trope as straight as possible, and I say they have pretty much outdone themselves now, when compared to the Onimusha version. If Koei’s Nobunaga is a ruthless mofo you don’t wanna cross… then Capcom’s Nobunaga is even more than that. He just delivers the threat even better, and considering the over the top nature of Basara, this really fits well.
So it’s either potential or the presentation. Who wins?
In the end… IT’S A TIE. Koei prevails when portraying Nobunaga as a deeper character than just being an one-note cackling evil overlord. But Capcom prevails on the presenting sheer threat and ruthlessness of Nobunaga. Both of them have their own qualities to me and I’d say that enforces my belief that BOTH Nobunagas, Musou and Basara, end up in a tie, with no clear victor.
Samurai Warriors – 2
Sengoku Basara – 1
Yes, yes, no change in the score. Well, since we’re on the Three Unifiers theme, obviously the next one is going to be Toyotomi Hideyoshi. So tune in next time for the unifying monkey!