PS2 REVIEW: KUON

The Japanese think they're really on to something with their survival horror games that have been well received recently. So it's only fitting that there's going to be the odd miss among the hits. Kuon is one of those misses. It doesn't miss the target by a lot but enough to knock it firmly down into the "rental" category.

Kuon is not a very deep game. It's repetitive, short and suffers from some control issues which gives the enemy an unfair advantage despite your best efforts. On the plus side, it's creepy, bloody and fast paced. The fact that you can play through the game in one day (albeit a very long day) and the lack of replay value forces me to recommend renting this one. Hey, this game has been around since last year. If you haven't heard of it by now you have to ask yourself why.

Girls, girls, girls. What's the fixation with Japanese girls and haunted mansions? As Japanese tradition would dictate, in this horror game you get to play as a girl. Make that two. Utsuki and Sakuya are the two main playable characters. Both are compelled to investigate the mysterious disappearances of the residents of Fujiwara manor. Utsuki is accompanied by her ill sister, while Sakuya brings in a group of priests, going for that religious angle. Set in the past, there are no modern conveniences such as electricity or flashlights. Both girls make their way through the mansion with low illuminating lanterns which do little to reveal the horrors that lurk among the shadows.

Magic and weapons are your only defense against a creature known as the Gaki. They are a flesh-devouring species that look like tortured and deformed humans. You will find magic cards throughout the mansion which will give you access to various spells. Magic is best used for ranged combat. You can fire projectiles such as fireballs or summon spirits to fight for you.

Weapons such as swords make perfect ranged weapons. You can essentially "hot key" your magic attacks and weapons to the face buttons for easy access. Unfortunately there are some delays between commands and execution. Using magic takes longer than it should. You can only lock-on to the enemy when you're facing a certain angle and even then commands are delay by fraction of a second. You'll find that the weapons have a more immediate feel to them although you will also take unnecessary hits since the characters are very slow to turn around.

Aside from the ghouls you'll also have to look out for tempests which are negative energy vortexes that will rob you of your health, stamina and sanity. These areas are like traps and may cause you to run when confronted with horrific images. The screen will become blurry as you begin to lose energy. Possessing the ability to meditate, you can heal yourself and regain your composure when subjected to such situations.

Once you complete one character's story you have to play through the same chapter as the other character. You will encounter a few new NPCs and some different paths and clues but for the most part you will encounter the same enemies at the same places at the same times using the similar spells and weapons. This makes for a very redundant game. Only after you complete the two girls' story can you move on to the third chapter which is somewhat different.

The blood does flow and there are plenty of chills and thrills to experience. Despite a haunting nursery rhyme that serves as the theme the game is void of music which adds to the tension and highlights the sound effects of footsteps and ungodly noises in the distance. Voiceacting is performed in both English and Japanese, with the English actually good enough to listen to.

I'm not blown away by the graphics but they are consistent. Consistently shrouded in darkness I should mention. The mansion, the costumes and the mannerisms of all portrayed manage to whisk you away to another time. The monsters aren't horrifying but they beg to be sliced and diced.

Kuon isn't going to make anyone's list for Game of the Year. Even if the controls were perfected the gameplay would need at least another five to eight hours of fresh content - and some features to extend the replay value would be a welcome addition.

Preview by Chris

I can't believe Halloween is almost here. I know there are a lot of people that love this time of year…the weather, the fun houses and haunted houses. I never really understood why some people keep calling them fun houses. Fun Houses have mirrors and a glass door maze and fun things or really dumb things. Haunted houses are made to scare the hell out of you. It may be fun but during the walk through some of those places it can be pretty intense. Of course Vaughn likes Halloween. It's the only time of the year he can wear his Mario or Spider-Man outfits and walk around the neighborhood without needing to explain why a grown man would even own those outfits. (Editor - You'd be fired if I could find anyway to disprove your horrible allegations - Vaughn) Of course there is the candy factor but let's face it, people like this time of year because they can be scared. Fear and the feeling of being scared jacks up your adrenaline. It's a rush just like someone who is into extreme sports except it's a little easier and less dangerous. For fans of these sorts of games Kuon looks like it's going to be the one to beat in the scare department.

Kuon is based on a Japanese story and it will offer fans of horror games a view unlike most that fit into this genre. Gamers won't be able to hide from some of the scary or intense situations by hiding behind the camera angle of the game. Most survival/horror games have featured the angle that tricks players into thinking they are in the game. In Kuon players will be in the game. No camera tricks and if you enjoy being scared, it sounds like this is the one for you. The basic story is about the same as you would expect. A father is missing and the two sisters go out to find him. One of the sisters becomes possessed by demons that are in a dark and eerie village. While the basic plot sounds like a lot of the other games that have been released, this one throws players right into the battles. A wide range of weapons and spells can be used although at first you need to find them. The only downside of this game so far is the way you collect the spells. You will find them in certain places in the form of cards. It is not known if the game will make you play the card or if after finding the card, it is ready to use. From the looks of the early screen shots and the info I found it appears to be the second of the two.

The game has some intense areas and the term blood bath has been used to describe some of the intense action. The game is also going to use the Japanese scenery and location to play on your fears. People have a pre-conceived notion of what the Japanese life-style and ancient weapons and history are about. This works against the North American gamer and is done on purpose. The game seems to have some great graphics which will probably be used to set gamers up. Another feature is the fact that it starts out using those cheesy ways of scary you. Early reports from those who had a chance to play a few of the first levels all said the game relies on these sorts of scare tactics. From the screen shots it sure looks like more than loud sound effects to scare gamers. Kuon may just be the perfect game for Halloween.

Features:

• A dark 3D adventure that comes to life in stunning detail with atmospheric lighting, shadows, and special effects!

• Battle Demons in Real-Time combat using magic, summons, and traditional Heian weaponry!

• Uncut & Uncensored- See the Directors Original Vision of Horror!

• You are prey to some of the most visually stunning and imaginative monsters ever seen!

Press:

An experience like no other - this timeless, Japanese horror story creeps into your soul. The tune of Japanese Taiko Drums and the Dark Hymns of children are heard throughout the night. Residents wander like ghosts, and hungry demons creep in the darkness. The Heian-kyo Period of Ancient Japan where mysticism and magic will require you to reach deep within your soul to uncover the mysteries of the undead. A dark 3D adventure that comes to life in stunning detail with atmospheric lighting, shadows, and special effects! Battle Demons in Real-Time combat using magic, summons, and traditional Hein-kyo weaponry! Uncut & Uncensored- See the Directors Original Vision of Horror! You are prey to some of the most visually stunning and imaginative monsters ever seen!

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System: PS2
Dev: From Software
Pub: Agetec
Released: Dec 2004
Players: 1
Review by Dan
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
2.5
GRAPHICS
3.5
CONTROL
2.0
MUSIC/FX
3.5
VALUE
1.0