Sadame – or to give it its full title, Ishi-Sengoku-Den SADAME – doesn’t have the most unique of settings, but it is at least under-utilised. Set in a fictional version of the Sengoku Jidai period of Japan, the player must fight through hordes of demons to stop Nobunaga Oda from conquering Japan. The only real deviation from history is that Nobunaga is a monster, as are other famous figures from the Warring States period.
Sure we’ve certainly seen demonic presences in Japan in the Onimusha series, but Sadame goes one step further by including Oni and other monsters that litter each area with sprites. Levels culminate in a boss battle against a big monster that is linked to important figures in the Sengoku Jidai, such as Shingen Takeda in the form of a big tiger. They’re certainly intimidating and well designed, but the gameplay doesn’t do the design justice.
You get to choose one of four character classes at the beginning of the game and for my initial playthrough I went with the Rogue, who attacks from afar with a bow and chops things that get close with her Naginata and spells. Other classes include the Ninja, Samurai, and Monk; all of which feel unique in more than just their skill set. The Samurai for example has a certain number of hits he can take before losing health, at the cost of a reduced overall HP.
Think of Sadame as a cross between adventure games from the Super Nintendo, such as Secret of Mana, and Samurai Warriors. It’s a bit of a weird comparison, but essentially the game boils down to the same gameplay loop that doesn’t feel fleshed out. Each screen expects you to kill some bad guys on, with more spawning in regularly until the game feels you’ve seen enough of that particular screen and doles out the loot.
While it may sound alright on paper, it’s actually a frustrating mixture of being mind-numbingly boring and shock at when enemies suddenly decide that they’ve had enough of being walked all over, deciding to wipe out the player’s character full HP in a single flurry of attacks. This level of infuriating shenanigans intensifies in the last stage, thanks to enemies and a boss that can hit you multiple times with ease and deal tons of damage. I restrained myself from throwing my 3DS with rage on a couple of occasions.
What makes this difficulty spike all the more frustrating is that the game before this level was an absolute cakewalk, and it’s compounded by unskippable story sections rearing their ugly head. It’s not even that great a story, with inoffensive characters that simply did nothing to make me care about their plight.
I also wasn’t expecting for the AI controlled partner characters to have the same rudimentary and braindead AI as the enemies. They’ll simply swipe at enemies like madmen, acting as cannon fodder rather than real partners.
There are more difficult modes that are unlocked after completing the game, which is around 3-4 hours long, but all this really does is add a few new skin colours to existing foes and increase the severity of how hard monsters hit. It’s as artificial as it gets, with items looted getting better as you progress.
After each stage, you have a few options open to you to upgrade your character. Items equipped can be allocated gems in slots that are the correct shape, granting permanent bonuses to that item. You can also spend skill points to level up a certain stat in the oddly shaped tech tree, allocate spells/skills and Karma Skills obtained from defeating bosses, and there’s a little bit of shopping to do with merchants you have saved. Items can thankfully be accumulated between save slots, which is a handy feature.
Sadame is ultimately a budget game with a simple premise and, for what it’s worth, it gets the job done with a decent amount of replay value from its unlockable difficulty levels and different classes. However, it is also a boring slog of a game that only springs into life with a sharp jolt when it feels like it. Its SNES-like art style is greatly appealing, but the core gameplay loop is far too shallow to really recommend it as an alternative to other recent 3DS offerings.