Electronic Arts


Kessen Review

By: John Doe

Kessen? Get real. If you thought that TimeSplitters was based on a true story, you're probably under a doctor's care right now. But if you long for the realism brought to you by shows like Survivor and Real Life, then watch out for those hidden cameras in the toilet and may paranoia always be with you. If you do like some realism added to your gaming challenges then Kessen will offer you a history lesson as well as a fascinating battle spectacular.


The people and places are real. The event is documented history. Only the language has been change to protect the uni-lingual. Kessen is a real-time war strategy game that takes place in Japan in the early 1600s. It recreates the battle of Sekigahara in which General Tokugawa engages the army of Ishida Mitsunari for control of the country and title of Shogun. But before you turn your unsophisticated nose up at this one you should know that this game is not your typical war game simulation or Koei as it is called in some circles. Koei, for many years now, has basically been Dungeons and Dragons for history war nerds. These games were originally played on boards and could last for years utilizing countless reference books and volumes of notes. But Koei (the company) knows its audience today suffers from attention deficit disorder and the battle has to be quick, fun and action-packed with less emphasis placed on cranial matter.

I myself have never played a true war simulation for two reasons: I don't have the time and I can't imagine ever having the time. I guess I'm just too fast food. But Kessen is perfect for those of us who wish to experience a small sample of the genre without having to sacrifice a social life. Many have called war sims the greatest games ever played - even better than chess (though I have my doubts about Go Fish).

One still needs to possess a basic war strategy and concept of troop management to make an attempt at playing Kessen. You will have to access your troops strengths and weaknesses as well as your opponents. You will have to know when to attack, when to defend and when to retreat. You will also learn to use the terrain and weather to your advantage. These are all war strategy skills which you can read up on in advance (at the library or on the net) or learn as you go. Fortunately for players such as myself the political and logistic elements have been glossed over to facilitate a steady flow of stimulation. The game is played in real time with the main focus on combat.

You can easily keep track of your array of scattered armies with the aid of the head-up display which instantly scans the entire battlefield. A color-coded icon quickly identifies generals who are under you command, giving you the option to move them, have them attack, defend or retreat. You will have to learn how to send many small armies into action for the sake of the big picture. As a novice you will probably just want to send all your troops into battle at once. After you do this the first time you will learn the meanings of restraint, patience and planning. Yes, you will have to use you brain somewhat, but that's what makes it fun - at least for those of us who haven't had it rotted away by relying on cheat codes to get us to the end of each and every game.

I was not disappointed in the least by the graphics. For a game of this nature the graphics have to be close to perfection or the illusion is compromised. The warriors look fantastic, complete with detailed costumes and realistic facial expressions. Seeing what seemed like 100 troops onscreen is overwhelming and breathtaking and it's not a pixilated mess either. It would be hard to envision a more realistic looking battlefield, especially one which is a recreation of a famous historical area. The sounds of clashing swords and the rumble of horses which kick up clouds of dust in their wake are beautiful examples of aural cadences which when combines with the visuals and the gameplay elements, creates a classic occidental symphony.

There is something about this game that feels so much more than a game. It's as if it has a soul. Kessen is proof that video games have grown up. Go out of your way to give this game a good try, you may just like it and good for you if do because there is an entire Koei world out there waiting for you to discover it.






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