Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review: Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 (PS3)

So once again the worlds most manly game has returned with a sequel that not only continues to kick ass, but also adds even more badass fighters of the post apocalyptic world to play as.

The story is still that of the classic 1983 manga, with Kenshiro wandering the nuclear ravaged wastes of the world protecting the innocent and brutally slaughtering the wicked.  Unlike Ken's rage which glossed over several events and characters to trim the story down, we have a lot more content here.  You will fight Golan, Devil Rebirth and take part in several filler chapters to further add more exposition for the characters.

The biggest addition though is the Celestial Emperor and Shura storylines which take place after the downfall of Raoh.  Here you get to see the story reach it's conclusion and also add more playable characters.  If you are familiar with the manga then you will feel a mix of fanboy nostalgia and nerd rage as it doesn't accurately follow the tale to the letter, but it does a pretty good job considering this is a Koei game.

Gameplay wise the most obvious change from the original title is that of the speed.  Characters now attack and move a lot quicker in comparison to the Ken's Rage which could feel very sluggish at times.  It certainly makes the action seem more intense and closer to the anime's depiction of combat.  Every character from the original game has been given a new move set to make better use of the combat changes.

Every character has a unique move mapped to R1 which can be a temporary buff or special attack.  Other characters such as Juza can add R1 into all of his attacks, extending his combo's beyond his standard.   I have to admit that the attention paid to each character is a nice touch as it shows that Koei went into the subject material to find these little abilities to use.

A new character progression system has replaced the original games Meridian chart system and frankly it's a mixed bag.  During play you will collect scrolls which used to be a form of experience in Ken's Rage, but now they act as equippable items which grant stat increases based on their level.  Some scrolls also grant bonus skills such as momentum or recovery.  Each scroll can have a maximum of 3 attributes attached and this is where the "fun" begins.  Each character has 5 equippable slots for scrolls from top to bottom.  As you equip scrolls you begin to link their corresponding stats with the intention of creating a chain.  Chaining stats from top to bottom grants skills as you link 2,3,4 and finally 5.  The intention of this system is to create a "ultimate nexus" which consists of a 2 scroll, 3 scroll, 4 scroll and 5 scroll combination.  Creating this ultimate nexus unlocks a special skill unique to each character.

There are a few problems with this scroll system though.  Firstly you can only ever have 21 scrolls in your inventory at any one time.  If you acquire more you can send these to the Caryatid which can also hold 21 scrolls.  Why 21 is the maximum I have no idea as it means you are constantly throwing away scrolls as you play, because when the Caryatid is full you must throw away older scrolls anyway.  Eventually you end up throwing away perfectly good scrolls for new ones you pick up.

The other problem is that the list doesn't show which scrolls are new, so when it comes to throwing away scrolls, you cannot see which ones you have just collected.  The new system is pretty gimmicky compared to the meridian chart, which at least had a sense of progression as you unlocked stat boosts with experience.  The system isn't all bad though.  Even without scrolls your characters can still power up by simply punching enemies.  As you kill enemies you gain experience for 5 different attributes.

Killing enemies while your health is green for instance will grant you defence experience points.  When you max out the bar your defence permanently increases and you gain a short term buff.  Increasing aura unlocks new aura reserve slots which allow you to perform more powerful signature attacks while life and attack are pretty self explanatory.  Technique allows you to block attacks quicker and dodge more often, which is necessary in all boss battles in legend mode at least.

Probably the biggest failing in the games combat are the boss encounters which devolve in dodge spamming to avoid enemy musou attacks and special moves.  It completely negates any challenge there may have been with each character as they are completely powerless to hit you provided you dodge repeatedly.  It's still possible to lose, but only if you fail to attack at all.  Some boss battles and cutscenes also require you to input a few quick time events, but these are few and far between and are used to recreate certain events from the manga and anime.  The rest of the games combat though is immensely fun though, just don't expect that fateful conflict with Raoh to be a particularly memorable one.

Ken's Rage 2 is broken down into two separate modes of play.  Legend mode which follows Kenshiro's story and Dream mode which features character back story events and a few unique scenarios.  Legend mode now has a total focus on Ken's story as he travels the wasteland looking for people to punch into a fine pulp.  Gone are the multiple character stories to play, but you do get the chance to choose who to play as in a few rare instances.  Some levels also see you controlling characters such as Fudo and Juza as they fight Raoh to better cover the main narrative.  These levels are the most fun since you get to play around with new movesets and signature attacks.

The story is told through a mix of comic style panels using the in game engine as characters stand in fixed poses rolling off their lines of dialogue.  It's OK, but full cutscenes may have worked better here, as the odd expressions and still images sometimes become tedious to sit through, and you will be sitting through a lot of these.  Boss battles can drag for up to 20 minutes as every life bar you chip away from a boss will instigate another round of dialogue from the combatants.  This isn't so bad in the early and mid game segments, but the endless ramblings of characters such as Juda and Raoh can become incredibly boring.  Fortunately you can skip these events, but you will miss a lot of expositional material by doing so.  Really it's what mind set you are in really, but legend mode isn't one you play when you have only a few minutes spare.

Dream mode is similar to Ken's rage with every character given a unique set of missions and several scenario events to playthrough.  This mode has every character set at level 1 so you need to utilise any scrolls you submitted to the Caryatid.   Story is delivered in the same manner as legend mode, so expect hundreds of comic panels for all 20 characters with at least 3 more coming as DLC in the near future.  Dream mode levels see you capturing bases and performing mini tasks such as killing enemies as quickly as possible or finishing off officers with signature moves to increase your saviour ranking.  The higher the ranking the better the scroll drop as the end of the level.

Dream mode also contains the games multiplayer and co-op modes.  Co-op is pretty self explanatory and can be played with a friend on the couch or online, while the so called competitive mode is a joke.  What should have been battles between players for the most manly fighter of the post apocalyptic world becomes a farce as you run around trying to be the first to destroy barrels, kill 50 enemies or defeat officers.  You all share the same map, but cannot hit each other!  Why have a team based competitive mode and not have players beating the crap out of each other?  A missed opportunity here and the biggest failing of the entire game.

Graphically Ken's rage 2 won't win any awards.  The engine being used is showing it's age these days as the environments are incredibly bland and sparse.  Grass is a flat texture similar to old PS2 dynasty warriors titles while more in depth effects are few and far between.  Characters still look great though, accurately recreated from the subject material, although up close some of their clothing becomes somewhat pixelated and muddy.  It's not visually stunning title, but it isn't hideous either, just don't expect the power of the PS3/Xbox 360 to utilised to their full effect here.

The game has a decent if not repetitive soundtrack of sad piano tunes, metal guitar riffs and 80's electronica.  I wish they had recorded English dialogue for this game as the Japanese voices really undersold the cheese for me.  It's rare that I enjoy the English dub over the generally more superior Japanese original, but I thought the original games cast did a pretty good job and it is a shame they couldn't come back for this one.  Still the dialogue is delivered with all the severity and seriousness you come to expect from Japanese voiceovers these days.  The subtitles sometimes suffer from poor translation work, but it's nothing to cry over really.  The rest of the games sounds are lifted directly from the first game, which presumably are from the anime or heavily inspired by it, so they work pretty well.

Overall Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 is a pretty fun if not slightly flawed warriors game.  It goes to great lengths to please fans of the manga series while also addressing fan complaints about it's predecessor.  It does fall short in a few places but overall it's charm as a anime brawler win you over.

SCORE: 7.0/10


pulpman88 said...

Ok, i beat the prequel up alredy.When I saw te trailer of te second one Looking the same identical game I said "no way Im rebuyng this".When I saw a reviewer giving it a 2/10 O said:" hell this game's pure poo" .then I happened to read behind the game cover there's a competitive battle!!!,wich was the biggest wickness of this game since once u upgrade the character at his max u can simply walk around getting stubbed and yawning."well call me an idiot but if I can finally kick the s@it outta my friends i'm buyng this no matter what" I said.Well dude,I 'm glad I decided to wait a bit before the purchase.Were it bot for this article I would had burnt 30 pounds!!!! so my final score is " fuck this game!!"

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