STAFF REVIEW of Kengo: Legend of the 9 (Xbox 360)

Saturday, November 3, 2007.
by Davilis

Kengo: Legend of the 9 Box art Kengo:Legend of the 9 is a very detailed samurai sword-fighting game brought to us by Genki and published by Majesco Entertainment. The game rests solely upon the lives of 9 legendary samurai warriors who lived during the 16th and 17th centuries in feudal Japan. While there is a decent attempt at historical accuracy here, it does little to bring any real excitement to an extremely weak plotline. The samurai include two of the most recognizable names in present knowledge, being those of famed swordmasters Miyamoto Musashi and Yagyu Jubei; in addition to seven other renowned playable samurai to be unlocked through the course of the game.

The player must initially choose from three available samurai to begin one of three game modes: Main mode, Mission mode or Combat mode. The game largely concerns itself with one?s progress through main mode, as it leads you on an extremely linear experience to level after level of hoards of underlings and the expected level boss battles. Here lies the first of several fatal flaws in the almost non-existent game plot (or lack of more accurately). During the course of your nearly mind-numbing executions of seemingly endless minions, heaven help you if you should manage to be killed before reaching the level boss; as you?ll have to ?rinse & repeat? the entire level to get to the boss-no checkpoints or save game opportunities whatsoever! Sorry guys?this sort of forced repetition is the stuff of frustration and ultimately will suck the will to live of even the most persistent gamer.

Combat mode seems only helpful in practicing the boss battles one on one, without the waves of guards/minions to kill beforehand. Mission mode is actually quite difficult, and may offer one of the few redeeming qualities of Kengo. The player must successfully complete 10 independent, largely time-based, missions to achieve the highest possible mission medals. Gold and silver medals are only available to gamers connected to Xbox Live, while non-Live participants may be awarded Bronze or Rust medals? What the hell eh? In speaking of those missions, despite their imaginatively contrived names like ?Assassins in the Forest?, or ?The End of the Shinsen-gumi?, they are just more of the same dreary game feats set to a rigid time limit. Granted, the successful completion of any of those missions will require a good deal of perseverance and familiarity with the easy-to-use but hard to master fighting system.

The game controls used are basic enough, but mask a highly customizable fighting system. The A button executes your ever life-saving blocking maneuver; X is a grapple/sword locking attack, B lets loose quick horizontal swords slashes (medium attack power), and Y delivers the much slower, but extremely powerful vertical assaults and finishing moves. It should be noted that while the virtually endless spilling of enemy blood gets really monotonous, there are some very cool ?environmental kills? or special kills that may be executed depending on your fighting locale and objects which are present. For instance, in one such boss battle finishing on a dock, I managed to skewer my opponent (who was completely out of stamina) to a pier post! These occasional treats award the player with a grisly close-up of the enemy?s dispatch.

Successful level completion in main mode awards the player with spirit spheres and upgrade points to increase your samurai?s health, stamina, attack power, or defensive capabilities. Upgrade points must be fully utilized at the time, with no provision for rolling over unused points?a real rip off through the course of the game, as those unused points can be as high as 500-900 leftover, where typical upgrades cost in the neighborhood of 1000-1500 points. Close attention to how you increase your samurai abilities here will pay off tremendously in later levels, as what seemed nearly impossible battles in the initial levels become nearly effortless after a few upgrades. Every samurai has three distinct fighting stances to choose from and consequently upgrade. The individual stances each house some 20-30 techniques that may be purchased, making for a multitude of upgrade choices for players that enjoy the micro-managed details of a game. Unfortunately, even this level of customizing is not enough to save an otherwise dry button masher like Kengo:Legend of the 9.

The Xbox Live component in Kengo: Legend of the 9 could probably have even been left out, as it is a huge let-down. As previously mentioned, the way you upgrade your samurai?s abilities will have a definitive impact on later gameplay, and nowhere is this more true than the pathetic Live mode. Upon deciding to compete against the Live community with your spiffy upgraded samurai, you?ll immediately wonder ?What the heck?? when you don?t seem to be able to control your samurai in the Live enabled match you just entered? That?s because you can?t control your samurai!!! Completely AI driven, you have to kick back and watch your samurai fight of their own accord against a similarly ranked Xbox Live Nationwide Leaderboard assigned character from just about anywhere on the planet. Your samurai will, supposedly, behave much the way you played them in main mode. Thusly, if you were more the all-out assault kind of player who paid little mind to blocking, if ever, prepare yourself for likely being handed your carved up !&%$@#* on a regular Live basis! Oh the humanity?

The game looks pleasing enough, with a good deal of detail devoted to the eye-catching scenery. Moonlit courtyards, leaf-blown forest clearings and massive castle and temple grounds form some interesting levels. While decidedly NOT pushing the next-gen graphic capabilities, Kengo looks better than older raster style games, but won?t likely take anyone?s breath away. The character movement, or more specifically their colourful wardrobes? movement, looks decent; albeit silk kimonos really should be flapping in the breeze a great deal more than slight movement upon attack or defense. Again, the character textures are fairly well done, at least in the case of the playable samurai and bosses. It almost seemed like the developers ran out of time, money or both in creating the minions, as they appear sort of flat; that is, until you leave them flat!

The game music is a mix of appropriately gauged soothing sound during minion battles, and more upbeat, fast transitions leading to the level boss encounters. Sound effects are fairly well done, with the required swordplay sounding as clashing swords should sound. Associated menu selection sound effects get rather tired, rather quickly, but overall sound is reasonably well done. The game vocals are done entirely in Japanese, which is cool?for 30 seconds or so? The English subtitles are done in an entirely small font, making them tough to read, even at higher resolution, if you bother to follow the very loosely contrived plot in the first place.

Kengo:Legend of the 9 would be okay for a rental, if other fight titles were already gone, but I wouldn?t be running to reserve it. A great deal of smoke with little flame, this game has the potential to be significantly better if perhaps more time was spent on developing some sort of plot?any plot really, rather than the endless wanderings and inevitable rival battles thrown at us. If this one doesn?t make it to your Xmas wish list, it?s okay?really?go groom your dog for more action than you?re apt to get from here.

Overall: 4.0 / 10
Gameplay: 4.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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