As promised, here's our official review of Koei Tecmo's recently released third-person brawler, Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage. I have to admit that I honestly couldn't wait for the game to hit the states so I picked up the Japanese "Treasure Box" release when I was in Japan for Tokyo Game Show earlier this year. It cost me quite a bit, but at the time it was worth every penny for the awesome talking alarm clock alone.
Of course, little did I know, Koei Tecmo would be giving the game a gory face-lift for its North American debut. With added gore and additional content that was later released as DLC, our slightly updated port is the most complete release to date, and while there is still an exclusive character being handed out to select retailers as a pre-order incentive, we'll do our best to give you the most complete review possible.
[Update 12/13: Both Heart and the Outlaw playable characters are available for roughly $6.99 each]
Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage (Xbox 360, PS3 [Reviewed])
To be fair, I should disclose that I've reviewed the PS3 version of this game. From what I had been told at various trade shows, it was the lead console for development of this title. In addition, I witnessed dramatically shorter load times than on its Xbox 360 counterpart. That having been said, on with the review.
Upon starting the game, we're treated to an awesome CG opening which I believe we've previously posted for your viewing pleasure. It does a pretty decent job of illustrating just how over the top the game can be, without really giving you any idea of just how violent the game really is -- not necessarily a bad thing. After that, you're present with a menu that offers several game modes, a tutorial, gallery, and options.
The first mode, called "Legend Mode," follows the basic plot of the manga, and anime and should probably have just been called "Story Mode," but honestly that just doesn't sound as cool. In it, you start by playing as Kenshiro who escapes his cell to in a quest to find his lover and take revenge against those who would threaten the innocent -- hordes of brutal steam-punk rejects who want nothing more than to rape and pillage. Fun times, right?
The gameplay can be surprisingly stiff at first. You're given a very limited move set and without the option to pick a different character right off the bat, you're stuck with what you have -- at least for a short while. It's honestly not so bad as playing through each stage, defeating enemies, completing missions within each stage, and picking up skill points allows you to unlock new moves, increasing Ken's arsenal of deadly arts. You also unlock new characters as you progress through the story, most of which come with their own unique and diverse move-sets as well as their own closely related story.
For example, Rei is a very fast and nimble fighter who can tear through enemies in a flash while Mamiya has a wide array of projectile attacks that can deal damage at a distance -- not to mention her interesting throws which can leave enemies writhing from a swift kick to the groin. Her character design offers up a bit of fan service as well seeing as she can crawl through tight spaces -- needless to say, the third-person perspective helps.
As I mentioned before, the game is incredibly violent. Killing enemies often results in copious amounts of blood which, might I add, has only increased since the game's release in Japan. In addition, using certain moves will result in enemies literally exploding in front of you. Of course, the gore can be turned off via the options menu, but where's the fun in that? Besides, if you're a fan of the series, I imagine turning that off would be the last thing you'd want.
As far as the rest of the visuals go, the character models are fantastic. I'd actually consider them a step up from the usual Dynasty Warriors-fare we're used to from previous Koei games. The environment is dull and drab, but that's pretty much to be expected from a post-apocalyptic setting. Fallout and Borderlands were both the same way, and that didn't really people from enjoying them. The game can actually be really difficult if you turn up the difficulty a bit, and the levels seem to be laid out in an interesting fashion that sort of encourages exploration, though making the wrong move can have you replaying the level just to try and unlock all the secrets.
There's also a "Dream Mode." It's a bit more open, and lets you play devil's advocate in the sense that you're no longer really following Ken's side of the story. In this mode, you can also have a second player join in locally like in previous Dynasty Warriors titles, so there's that. I really wish they had made it a horizontal split screen, but I imagine that'd probably tax the hell out of the processor so we're forced to settle for a vertical split. It's still not so bad, though.
Now all that said, there are a few things that really bothered me while I played. The music could be a bit repetitive at times -- the Japanese "Treasure Box" release came with a soundtrack that actually reminds me of that fact every time I listen to it. The motorcycle gameplay is also kind of lame. I had expected that to be a bit more fun, but the controls are pretty stiff and the level design honestly doesn't lend itself to riding them very much.
To be honest though, that's about it as far as major peeves go. I do wish the plot would be explained a bit more for those of us who aren't already familiar with the story itself, but its narrated enough to clue you in as to what's going on. If anything, it might encourage you to actually watch the show or read the manga. In the end, I'd recommend the game to anyone who enjoys a good third-person beat-em-up. If you like the genre but haven't touched it recently due to bad experiences with recent Dynasty Warriors titles, you might want to set that aside and give Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised.Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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