STAFF REVIEW of Fist of the North Star: Kens Rage (Xbox 360)

Monday, November 15, 2010.
by Ken Laffrenier

Fist of the North Star: Kens Rage     Box art Okay, so stop me if you?ve heard this one?The entire world has grown to a point that nuclear annihilation is a foregone conclusion. Following said annihilation; the human race is not eradicated but merely recast as marauders and scavengers, surviving off the weaknesses of others. As the world continues to crumble, self-serving gangs rise up to lead through fear and decimation. Then out of the desert, begging for water walks our savior. The savior has long been herald as the one to bring order to the chaos, light to the dark, peace to the unjust. But peace comes at a price, and many are not predisposed to hearing the error of their ways. So, when words alone will not atone, then the fortitude of the savior will eliminate all who will not be awakened to justice in this new world.

The concept is not a new one, but the myriad of offerings we?ve had over the years is vast. From movies to music, books to video games, the post apocalyptic hero is a common figure across all genres, for better or worse (cough, Waterworld, ahem).

Now, what if I told you your next experience in this type of realm could be rounded out with a hero that can produce a flurry of punches unrivaled in many video games; that you would be surrounded by 20, 30, 50 bad guys and easily come out on top; that you would repeatedly accost the same bunch of overmatched enemies (even though you witnessed their bodily explosion resulting in a bloody mess)? And what if, after all is said and done you still would have no understanding of the overall story? If this all seems like something you might be interested in then you are either A) a fan of the Dynasty Warrior mythos or B) completely lacking in the ability to differentiate an engaging video game and the mindless button masher that is Fist of the North Star: Ken?s Rage.

From Japanese game publisher Koei and developed by Omega Force, Fist of the North Star: Ken?s Rage (FNS:KR) is presented as a stylized, brawler spin-off of the Dynasty Warriors franchise. Fans of the series will be pleased to hear that Koei and Omega Force have joined forces, once again, to expand upon the unique series of games. Throughout the game it is abundantly clear that the developers understand the source material but, just as being too close to an issue can cloud the solution, such is the case of FNS:KR?the developers never take that time to draw in new followers, relying instead on the following of its fan base.

Visually the game is faithful to its Manga/Anime roots and the designers clearly have a gaming background. Much of the brushstroke coloring can be a little disorienting considering most of the set pieces are designed with an ancient city aesthetic but this is a minor point really. The graphics of the character interactions are the star of the game. All of the visuals as they relate to fighting are fantastic. Whether it be unleashing a volley of powerful strikes, letting loose one of the powered strikes or performing any of the signature moves, you can tell that a great deal of time went into making these scenes stand out.

Unfortunately, that is where the wow factor ends. This isn?t to say that it?s a bad game, on a scale of time wasters this title stood its ground but without being a fan of the series the game is forgettable.

The sound harkens back to many of the genre?s roots, English speaking voiceovers done on parts that clearly make more sense in the language it was designed for; endless guitar riffs that are meant to heighten the anticipation but instead become noise; even the initially satisfying kakakakakakakakakakakakaka of Kushiro?s attack is quickly reduced to nails on chalkboard. The first few minutes into this game I was actually enjoying some of the sounds?; they?re certainly something new for me and being out of place seemed almost kitschy. However, the repetition quickly drew me out of any initial enjoyment.

Building on the repetition aspect, let?s review the controls and gameplay. The gameplay is very straight forward as you advance into a relatively small area, defeat the droves of baddies be thrown at you and this will open up another small area?. Then you repeat until finally, and seemingly out of nowhere, you come upon the boss battle. The boss battle is a welcome relief as, by now you realize, you?ve been taking out the same 6-8 AI characters over and over. The saving grace is that you don?t care enough to look at them while you beat them to a pulp. The boss battles at least have you taking on a proper match up. While not particularly challenging you will have to seek out the Achilles heel of the characters and playing out some of the games more refined combat visuals are showcased during these boss battles.

For me the controls were the biggest disappointment I experienced. I am not a button masher and while I did grow to enjoy the unique combat visuals there were way too many control issues to make it a worthy trade off. The frustration began with the combos themselves, way too often I would start a combo only to miss the enemy for the satisfying end move or I would be sidelined by a different enemy while my character performed yet another ?finishing move?(see: lame pose). Some enemies I could hit once and they would grotesquely expand before exploding in a wash of blood but when I meet up with them again (limited character models) they would take a number of hits before striking back in the middle of a combo. When you take out a bad guy you would collect karma/skill points?these points can be used to level up different moves and unlock specific strikes?.but it just meant more button mashing and more frustration.

The game does feature different modes of play and will allow you to experience some of these modes with new characters but overall, even after more than 5 hours of play, I had no desire to see the game through to the end, there?s only so many times I?m willing to watch a leather clad, Mohawk styling, motorbike riding, bat wielding punk get reduced to a puddle of mush?(1802 times actually, then I?m calling it a day).

To the fans of the series I wish you well and appreciate your support of this niche market, but without a more refined story I?m still not convinced that the Dynasty Warrior franchise is ever destined for mainstream markets.

Overall: 5.4 / 10
Gameplay: 5.2 / 10
Visuals: 5.9 / 10
Sound: 5.2 / 10


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