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It’s the midst of autumn, a spooky, eerie time of year that’s perfectly personified in the most badass of all yearly celebrations: Halloween. The dead rise from their grave, makeshift monsters are stitched together and electrocuted into being, man turns into beast, and Dracula is resurrected for the 982nd time. Okay, not really; you’re more likely to be watching a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror marathon, listening to the thumps of eggshells against your window all night, but what’s important is that the spirit of Halloween lies strong in all of us. It’s a wonderful day, and a perfect excuse to gorge yourself on sweets and chocolate.

And this year, what better way to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve than with the Devil King himself: Oda Nobunaga? I present to you Devil Kings, a hidden gem amidst the PS2’s oceanic library.

The Devil King Rises

Devil Kings is a very simple game. Your aim is to unify Sengoku era Japan by seizing territories from various rulers. How do you do this? Easy, by running around and smacking hundreds of soldiers to death with whatever instrument of destruction you take into battle. Sound familiar? Well, Devil Kings is actually the original game in Capcom’s cult Sengoku Basara series, which in turn takes more than a few liberties from Tecmo Koei’s Dynasty and Samurai Warriors franchises. If you’re a fan of those games, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Devil Kings…or will you?

The thing is, Devil Kings also has the privilege of being created by the same teams behind Resident Evil and Devil May Cry, and the influence of the latter certainly shows here. While the controls are largely identical to that of a Warriors game, Devil Kings still manages to have a unique feel that separates it from its inspirations.

Yukimuraaa!!!

If you’re a Samurai Warriors aficionado, or even if you’ve played the more recent Sengoku Basara game, the character select screen in Devil Kings will immediately throw you off guard. The characters are given very generic names that match their personality. For example, Shingen Takeda is known as Red Minotaur, and Masamune Date is called Azure Dragon. Tadakatsu Honda also appears in his badass Gundam-esque form, but in Devil Kings he’s known as Iron OX. Think of him as Sengoku Basara’s very own Lu Bu. He is not to be pursued.

Run.

Run.

Once you’ve picked you’re oddly named character you’re thrust into Conquest, the game’s main mode. Depending on who you choose, you will start in a different part of the country, and thus the missions available to you will differ based on the lands that surround you. Your goal is very simple: complete missions until you’ve dominated Japan. Your chosen character has three forms of attack: a standard combo, a charge combo, and a special Fury attack. It’s easy to mash your standard combo until everything around you stops moving, but if you really want to rack up your combo meter, it’s best to start with your charge attacks. These will add a special reticle over enemy soldiers and change their health bar to a yellow colour. In this state, enemies take more damage and it has the added effect of skyrocketing your combo into triple digits if there are plenty of them around. This is the only way to build up your Fury meter, too, so it’s the optimal way of dispatching baddies.

This is Frost. His flamboyant nature hides the fact he's one of the game's best characters.

This is Frost. His flamboyant nature hides the fact he’s one of the game’s best characters.

A Warrior’s Bounty

During missions you can also find treasure boxes that give you rewards when you finish the stage. These come in the form of new weapons, items and additional EXP to level up your character. Character stats are permanent, even between Conquest runs, so taking one character and making them as powerful as they can possibly be is wonderfully satisfying. At certain levels, your character can also unlock additional moves to flesh out their playstyle, so it’s worth doing with every character just to see what kind of crazy combos you can end up stringing together. It’s not quite on the level of Devil May Cry, but the added depth here is much appreciated. Naturally, higher difficulty levels reward higher level gear, so you’re always encouraged to push your favourite warriors through their paces.

Higher difficulty levels reward higher level gear, so you’re encouraged to push your favourite warriors through their paces.

Fightin’ with Style

For a Playstation 2 game, Devil Kings is a simply gorgeous looking game. The characters are all very nicely detailed, the environments varied and popping with colour and charm. The game also takes several creative risks at the expense of historical accuracy. The Orwik Army, for instance, are largely Ancient Egyptian inspired, complete with soldiers depicting various Egyptian deities such as Ra. And as you’d expect, the Devil King himself wields tons of sorcerous powers, and even commands an army of super-powered, faceless troops.

In the audio department, Devil Kings shines sadly less so. The music is okay, but there’s nothing here that strikes the adrenalin chord as well as Dynasty Warriors does. And as you’d expect from a PS2 era Capcom title, the voice acting is…well, it’s something pretty special. Let’s just leave it at that.

For those of you looking for a delightful hidden gem from a company that were, at the time, on top of their game, look no further than Devil Kings. The combat is arguably more satisfying than any PS2 Dynasty Warriors title, and the game itself is filled to the brim with charm and unrelenting addictiveness. I leave you with the game’s character select theme, which is strikingly reminiscent of Tekken 3’s selection theme. Enjoy!

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