Those who are familiar with Fist of the North Star or Hokuto no Ken – to use the Japanese name – will know that its 30th anniversary is just around the corner. In appreciation of this, TecmoKoei has released Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2. This sequel hopes to improve upon the previous installment in many ways, from the story structure to gameplay. But does this entry provide a great Fist of the North Star experience for fans of the series, or is it “already dead”?
If you played Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage, the story only followed the manga until the final battle between Kenshiro and Raoh. In Ken’s Rage 2, the story finally follows every arc from the original manga – including the Celestial Emperor and Land of Asura story arc. While it does follow reasonably close to each episode, the storyline has been shortened to give players a brief insight into what’s happening in that chapter. If you’ve read the manga or watched the TV series, you’ll know exactly what’s going-on. However, if you’ve never really followed the series in any form before, it’ll all be a little hard to follow.
The story is really there to cater towards the series’ fans and gameplay works in pretty much the same way as Koei’s other titles, like Dynasty Warriors. But this is only in certain aspects – such as the waves of enemies and the combination of move sets to utilise. Ken’s Rage 2 also has two modes of play: Legend and Dream.
In Legend mode, you play the story of Hokuto no Ken from beginning to end. During the course of Legend mode, you go through linear gauntlets of enemies, objectives, and at certain chapters face a boss. As you continue playing through Legend mode to enjoy the story and unlock more characters, it all begins to feel tired. This is due to the repetitive formula to gameplay that Legend mode puts you through. Unlike Ken’s Rage, which had some interesting ideas and scenarios, Ken’s Rage 2 just repeats itself ad nausea – just like a broken record, no variety what’s so ever. Even the boss encounters are uninteresting, requiring little more than smashing out the same combos and signature moves over and over.
Dream mode, however, takes the Fist of the North Star story in a different direction and places you in Dynasty Warriors style battles. You’ll select one of the 22 playable characters from the manga and then learn about their backstories, all while completing various challenges. This means you’ll be moving from base to base capturing enemies and defeating commanders to complete the challenges asked of you, all in the means to uncover who you really are. It even has an online mode to play with friends in a co-op or team match, sadly though there was no online at time of going to review.
Things get interesting through your individual character customisation options. Throughout the course of your playthrough you’ll gather experience and items known as scrolls. These scrolls boost statistical aspects such as health, aura, strength etc. Unlike the behemoth Dynasty Warriors series where all stats level up in tandem, Ken’s Rage 2 has each area level up independently requiring you to manage how you tackle enemies to increase desired levels. Or at least that’s the plan. In reality you’ll beat up any enemy that gets in your way in a suitably bloody fashion, only to find that you’ve gained a level for said stat.
As for scrolls, these mystical papery objects are gained at random through finding them in chests or gaining bonuses at the end of complete chapters, even playing online grants you some scrolls to utilise. These scrolls increase certain stats and dole out extra abilities to use – such as knocking down enemies while running etc. What’s interesting about scroll usage is that you can only equip five at a time, and only hold 16 in total. Placing scrolls with similar stat boosts next to one another creates a powerful ‘Nexus’ effect – thus boosting their effect even more – it’s all about clever scroll placement to make the most out of your character.
While Ken’s Rage 2 is incredibly entertaining, there’s one area where Tecmo Koei have completely dropped the ball: visuals. There’s no other way of saying this, Ken’s Rage 2 is downright atrocious for an end of generation title. While it’s supposed to be set in a post apocalyptic world, everything is muddy and textures seem blurred. Shadows and characters are jagged around the edges and it’s just identical corridors and enemies meshed together over and over again. Even the soundtrack suffers from this rehash of Ken’s Rage. While it is decent enough, it’s all things we’ve heard before – it just feels like Tecmo Koei was sleeping on the job here. Disappointing.
Compared to Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage, Ken’s Rage 2 feels like a downgrade. Yes it’s story has a better structure for those who are familiar with the series, gameplay may be a nice blend of Dynasty Warriors and third-person brawler but it’s all a little trite. The innovation of Ken’s Rage feels lost, repetition is the star of the show and uninteresting moments pack themselves tight between the sections of genuine import. For a celebration of a 30th anniversary, all Ken’s Rage 2 manages to do is exemplify how a series is showing its age – even if it’s only the second video game in the series.
Audio/Visual – 1/5: From the ugly graphics to the rehashed materials, Ken’s Rage 2 doesn’t offer much of a quality title.
Gameplay – 3/5: Plays like Dynasty Warriors, but with less variety.
Innovation – 2/5: Takes elements from other Koei games, but offers nothing new or fresh in exchange.
Value – 4/5: If you can get past its foibles, there is a great deal of content to be found here.
Final Score: 2.5/5
– Chris reviewed Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 on PlayStation 3, his editor Vaughn tested the title on Xbox 360 -