I want to set the proper stage for this review in order to avoid any confusion. I love Dynasty Warriors in all of its forms. I think Tecmo Koei knows how to tap directly into my pleasure / reward centers, causing me to pour dozens of hours into their games. Now that all of this has been said I hope you understand that it causes me some amount of pain to say that Fist of the North Star Ken’s Rage 2 is so disappointing that I wonder if I should re-play past Tecmo Koei games. Perhaps my Stockholm Syndrome has ended and this is a brave new world where I agree with the masses that yes, these games are kinda bad.
Ken is a master of Hokuto Shinken, a martial art that attacks opponents’ vital points often causing them to explode. In fact, in the post-apocalyptic world of Fist of the North Star, Ken is the sole heir to this deadly art, which leads to strife in many of the new towns he visits. Early in the game you are told that this fighting style brings chaos wherever it goes. With the world being ravaged by what appears to have been a nuclear war Ken plays the wandering do-gooder aiming to bring some peace and joy to the harsh landscape. Since he is the master of Hokuto Shinken Ken has the “might” to make injustices “right” in a society where the strong rule the weak.
Ken’s Rage 2 uses this premise to lead you through a re-telling of the now 30-year-old story of Fist of the North Star. Levels are organized into chunks of “kill x number of bad guys” presented with all the imagination of a congressman’s tie collection. Combat is a familiar beat ‘em up format a la Dynasty Warriors but everything feels slow and unconnected. A mixture of light attacks that can be followed up by heavy attacks in the form of combos gives Ken’s Rage 2 both its combat system and its supposed diversity. The problem is that the combat never felt like it flowed correctly. Instead of pressing X,X,X,X,X,X you can press X,X,Y,Y for stronger results that actually have an impact on how your controlled character progresses. More on that later.
When I see combos like the ones mentioned above a part of my brain kicks into high gear. Apologists for mindless beat ‘em ups, which I would consider myself, argue that the depth comes from figuring out how to link your attacks into the most devastating chains possible. You could mash X and beat a level but that defeats the purpose and sabotages any fun you could have with the game. For Ken’s Rage 2 the strategy quickly dries up and at the worst moments appears to be non-existent. Practically every encounter is the same, so even if there was depth to be had there is no reason to explore it. To make matters worse I found Ken himself, who you will be playing for the majority of the time, to be one of the more un-interesting characters.
If you are a fan of the fiction of Fist of the North Star, or for some strange reason excited by the gameplay of Ken’s Rage 2, then the amount of content in this package will be very attractive. Each character, of which there are over 20, can be leveled up in unique ways depending on how you play. If you decide to only use the second playable character Rei’s standard attack you will grow your stats in a different way than you would if you used his heavy attacks to defeat foes. The system feels a little silly since so much of the data is behind the scenes and if you wanted to build a character in a specific way the already-boring gameplay would devolve into a maddening stew of mashing X. But, yes there are lots of things and stuffs to do in this game including alternate campaigns and costumes.
The story is actually presented in an interesting way. The interstitial dialogue bits are shown in a faux manga style page with the camera jumping from cell to cell (read: reverse comic book). Playing Ken’s Rage 2 leads to an appreciation for the source material and I even found myself wishing I could skip every combat encounter just to soak in the story. If only there was a movie or book that told Ken’s story…
For the fans of Fist of the North Star there are actually extra story vignettes presented in the non-canon Dream Mode. You choose a side character, typically a villain like one of Ken’s brothers, to run through a set of “what if” missions. The gameplay for these missions originally appears lifted from the Warriors franchise where the player captures a series of bases on a large open map. The problem is that it appears very little effort was put into tweaking the changes in gameplay from the main story mode. Enemies will still stand back and not attack while you are trying to capture their base. This means that instead of showing off your impressive kenpo moves to a large group of enemies you have to fight the peons one at a time, which is terrible.
I desperately wanted to like Fist of the North Star Ken’s Rage 2. I tried to find little gems to focus on during my attempts to master its systems and uncover all the story bits. After a host of issues I was only playing so I could write this review. While the overall story tried to pull me in, essentially every other facet of the game was actively pushing me away. I think I will check out the anime at some point, which is the only positive thing to come out of my time with Ken’s Rage 2.
This review is based on a retail copy of Fist of the North Star Ken’s Rage 2 for the Xbox 360 provided by Tecmo Koei. It is also available on the PS3.