Friday, 7 December 2012

Retrospective Review: Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage (PS3)

It's rare that I go back to review older games since they have already been reviewed by every major gaming site and blog going, but here I make an exception.  Fist of the North star is considered the most manly manga ever made and jokes abound about Chuck Norris being scared of Kenshiro and for good reason.  Kenshiro can punch you so fast that your head explodes.

Koei Tecmo are no stranger to licensed versions of their popular musou or warriors titles.  I have been playing Dynasty warriors since the PS2 launched here, in fact it was my first PS2 game and I freakin' loved it.  I would be the first to point out where the franchise could improve in many many ways, but only because I want them to improve an already immensely fun game series.

Oddly enough I find the anime musou games such as dynasty warriors Gundam and One Piece are far better games, even though they use the same mechanics.  I guess it's because the characters are already done and the missions are easy to make since they can pick and choose from the shows storylines.  This is the case with Fist of the north star.

For those not in the know when it comes to the 1980's manga sensation, Fist of the North Star is set in a post apocalyptic earth where roving gangs of killers prey on the weak villages of the scorched earth for food and other supplies.  One man wanders this earth in search of a lost love and for revenge against the man who took her away from him years prior.  From this basic starting point comes a tale of extremely manly men beating the every loving crap out of each other with mystical martial arts techniques, namely Hokuto Shinken and Nanto Seiken.

The game follows the main plot of the manga/anime very well with enough background information to help give players context for each mission and expand on the characters motivations somewhat.  It's still bare bones but enough to give you a semblance of the plot.  There are a mere five characters stories to experience in the story mode of the game, but each one has unique pathways through the maps so things aren't just a simple retread of the same paths each time for every character.  It's also pretty cool that the game runs with a timeline tracker so you can play the missions for each character based on when they first appeared in the show.

The other main mode called dream mode is a what if story in which each character is visited by a mysterious fortune teller who shows them what may happen if they choose to do things differently at set points in the near future.  The mode ties in well with the canon plot an example being Jagi getting to see what would happen if he didn't fight Kenshiro on the rooftop of his hideout and what would happen if Shin didn't face Kenshiro in southern cross.  Dream mode is also the only mode in which you can play characters such as Shin, Thouzer, Heart, Outlaw and Jagi, but there are enough levels to earn skill points for each and the story is still pretty good.

In total there are 8 playable characters which for a musou game these days is pretty small and I agree that this is one of the games biggest flaws, but at least every character is unique and fun to play with their own skills and unlockable special attacks.  The number climbs to 10 if you purchase the DLC for Heart and Outlaw.  Every character has their own Meridian chart which you spend skill points on to upgrade your character and I wish they would add this to the main musou games out there because it is a great system for powering up your characters. 

Combat is relatively slow for a musou game also, but it's very deliberate.  Every attack has to be precise against bosses or you will get your ass handed to you big time.  Apparently it's the 30 frames per second of the game which makes it a little sluggish, but it isn't so slow as to make the game a chore to play.  The controls are exactly the same as dynasty warriors.  Mixing up normal attacks with heavy attacks produce new moves while musou attacks do massive damage and can kill multiple enemies in a single gory strike.  You can grab enemies in this game though to pummel them repeatedly, use them as battering rams or throw into walls for extra damage.

Musous are the highlight of combat in my opinion.  Using Kenshiro's hundred crack fist for the time is fucking epic to put it mildly and the moves only get better from there.  Every character has at least four moves, but others can have upto eight to choose from, each with their own tactical uses depending on the number of enemies or area hit.

Boss battles are a different beast entirely with some requiring you to avoid traps in the arena or for you to utilise the environment to avoid attacks.  These can be frustrating if you go into them without first levelling up a little.  I cannot stress this enough, go back through earlier levels to earn more skills points because later levels get hard fast, and bosses will crush you very quickly if you aren't careful.

The graphics are decent enough for a musou title in that the environment looks like ass, but the characters are all very detailed and have tonnes of animation.  Some of the kill animations can be a little stiff admittedly but the martial arts moves are pretty cool looking and fit the look of the anime perfectly.

The audio is pretty good for a musou game, which is a surprise considering their usual lack of attention in this department.  The English voice cast do a good job with the cast and don't ruin it with anything particularly grating or hammy.  The soundtrack is a great mix of the anime soundtrack with original J-metal tunes to accompany the combat.  It all works so well.

Basically this is one epic game that is still one of my all time favourites.  The sequel is out next year in February and is a definite day one purchase for me since it has more than double the characters and an even bigger story mode than this game.

SCORE: 9.0/10


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