Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage
Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage for Xbox 360 and PS3 is riddled with insanely violent battles with huge amounts of blood
- Decently faithful to the source material, lengthy missions in Legend Mode are complimented by plenty of gallery extras and additional characters, new storylines in Dream Mode are a nice touch
- Bland level design, dumber-than-a-stump enemies, awkward combat animations, core gameplay is underwhelming
Fist of the North Star has always been an entertaining franchise, thanks to exciting kung-fu antics, heavy-handed dialogue, and ridiculous amounts of pressurised bloodshed. Somehow, Ken's Rage does what the original manga and various anime adaptations never could, taking an easy formula for success and downgrading Kenshiro's tale into another middling Dynasty Warriors clone.
Fist of the North Star has never bored me before. Even though most episodes of the manga and anime series are pretty formulaic, there's always been some perverse entertainment factor in watching Kenshiro scream "ATATATATATATATATATA" as he makes human gravy out of countless biker gangs. However, Ken's Rage, the most recent Dynasty Warriors spin-off from Omega Force and Koei, shows that the video game adaptations still can't get it right. Sure, it's a faithful "Cliffs Notes" version of the Fist of the North Star saga, but by the time you grind through dozens of confusing, bland maps and hundreds of non-threatening enemies, you'll feel as dead as Kenshiro's victims.
For those who aren't familiar with the series, Fist of the North Star is essentially a post-apocalyptic kung-fu epic revolving around Kenshiro, successor student of the martial art known as Hokuto Shinken. As the heralded "Savior of the Century's End," Kenshiro protects the innocent from evil emperors and ruthless biker gangs that rule by fear and slaughter. Throughout the series, Kenshiro challenges his brothers for the right to be recognized as the true heir to their martial art, often resulting in insanely violent battles with huge amounts of blood.
For what it's worth, series fans will certainly appreciate what Ken's Rage does right. From start to finish, the game's Legend Mode is a stylish rendition of Fist of the North Star's most important arcs, detailing Kenshiro's journey to reunite with his kidnapped fiance Yuria, and later on, his quest to become the rightful heir of Hokuto Shinken. All the important characters are represented exactly as they appear in the source material, with Japanese and English audio tracks bolstering tons of dialogue throughout the game.
Dream Mode, on the other hand, takes the series focus off of Kenshiro, detailing events that happen in new scenarios involving characters like resident wasteland warrior princess Mamiya and Kenshiro's early rival, Shin. In particular, this mode is most like Dynasty Warriors, as characters will clash with armies of identical goons for control of a specific war zone. In the context of Fist of the North Star, this gameplay style makes about as much sense as it did when Omega Force and Koei adapted the Mobile Suit Gundam series' battles in similar fashion.
However, that same gameplay style works against Ken's Rage in so many ways that it drains the fun factor -- and Legend Mode especially suffers as a result. Large groups of enemies patiently wait to be kicked in the face, cookie-cutter level design will cause you to frequently lose direction, and the camera usually pans way too close for you to see anything. If the boss battles at the end of each tedious level were something to look forward to, I'd complain a lot less, but even those fights aren't much fun due to spotty control and poor combat design.
Anyone who's watched Fist of the North Star can tell you that the main characters are absolute wrecking machines. Kenshiro, Rei, Shin, and the rest of the super-powered martial artists chain attacks together in fluid style, ripping through enemies like hot knives through butter. With Ken's Rage, it makes no sense that you have to beat on the same low-level goons for minutes at a time to kill them, particularly when the main characters are supposed to be able to defeat most enemies with one blow. Sure, the signature moves are appropriately flashy, but regular attacks are comprised of jarring start/stop motions that often leave you facing the wrong way requiring you to constantly readjust for enemies standing just a few inches too far to the left or right. It's times like this that I wish the Dynasty Warriors series would innovate with something modern, like targeting, or smarter enemies. Heck, even the boss battles are the same as they've always been, with huge characters that can ignore your attacks, regenerate health, and frequently slap you mid-combo, trapping you in lengthy animation cycles for unfair amounts of damage.
What's frustrating is that Ken's Rage can be entertaining if you manage to trudge through most of the game, unlocking new special moves and buffing up the various characters. Each warrior can collect Karma Points pretty easily on a single playthrough of Legend Mode or Dream mode, and when you've got a fully beefed-up Kenshiro, you can go back and rip through levels like a shark. That's the only time that Ken's Rage really feels like Fist of the North Star, and it's a shame that the game takes so long to reach its peak. But, getting to that point assumes that you even like Fist of the North Star enough to keep your interest up though the laundry list of problems and overall tedious game design.
As a Fist of the North Star game, Ken's Rage is disappointingly generic in its execution. While the some hardcore fans of the series should enjoy the Challenge Mode full of bosses and strict adherence to canon events, it still doesn't hide the fact that this game is just another anime series that's essentially just been copy-pasted over the Dynasty Warriors engine.
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