A Good Effort, But…
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage wasn’t exactly a well-received game. On one level, it was just another Dynasty Warrior-style beat ‘em up, but on another level it was a slow, clunky, unresponsive mess that tarnished the Fist of the North Star name. Yet somehow, despite the game’s horrendous critical reception, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage was greenlit for a sequel.
In Koei’s defense, they actually did address many of the issues that Ken’s Rage 1 had, but they decided to focus primarily on part 2 of Fist of the North Star’s plot. For the non-otaku reading this, let me explain why this is a bad thing. There is a general rule of thumb in anime: The longer a series goes, the crappier it becomes. Fist of the North Star is one of the older animes that pretty much defined this rule, jumping the shark after Kenshiro, the main character, fights with his brother Raoh. So it seems a bit misguided if Koei’s attempt to improve upon the story of Ken’s Rage 1 was to expand it into areas of the Fist of the North Star plot that fan’s don’t like.
In fact, that’s the best way to describe Ken’s Rage—it’s an enthusiastic attempt that just feels somewhat misguided. Every attempt to fix an element that went wrong in Ken’s Rage 1 brings up new issues in Ken’s Rage 2. These strange design quirks don’t necessarily make Ken’s Rage 2 worse than Ken’s Rage 1; they just make the game flawed in entirely different ways.
For example, one of the criticisms of Ken’s Rage 1 was that the plot was told through stiff and uninteresting in-game cutscenes. Ken’s Rage 2 attempts to fix this by replacing most of these cutscenes with manga-style still images. To the game’s merit, this does more accurately capture the original feel of Fist of the North Star, even though the images themselves aren’t actually done in the original Fist of the North Star art style.
But another common complaint about Ken’s Rage 1 was that the game didn’t focus enough on the story. It sort of just ushered you forward from one samey level to another, with the plot feeling like a bit of an afterthought. So Ken’s Rage 2 offers up a redone story mode with a renewed focus on the plot. This means stages will frequently cut away from the action to show you important dramatic cutscenes. It makes an honest attempt to interweave the plot and the action at a constant rate, so much so that if you play the game for about an hour, twenty to thirty minutes of that will be the cutscenes alone.
Both of these stylistic changes are fine by themselves, but together they make the story a chore to get through. The action is frequently broken up by incredibly long dramatic scenes composed of still images. If the story was told through in-engine cutscenes, the renewed focus on the plot would create an interesting cinematic experience that didn’t slow down gameplay. If the focus on the plot was toned down to keep cutscenes sparse, the manga-style illustrations would give the game a cool motion comic feel. But taken together, these two well-meaning design choices destructively interfere with each other, creating a story mode that drags at a snail’s pace.
This feeling of misguided attempts gone wrong saturates Ken’s Rage 2. Every single good idea somehow backfires, which doesn’t make you angry so much as disappointed.
The jump button has been totally removed from Ken’s Rage 2, which means that all of the platforming segments from Ken’s Rage 1 were removed as well. This is awesome, but it also means that levels in Ken’s Rage 2 are smaller on the whole, with fewer side areas and branching paths to explore. Environment design was one of the few selling points of Ken’s Rage 1, but now every level just feels like a linear Dynasty Warriors copy.
Speaking of Dynasty Warriors, the combat in Ken’s Rage 2 has been tightened up to be more like a traditional Dynasty Warriors title. Action moves quicker, buttons respond more accurately, timing for combos is far easier, and the game feels better to play in general. Unfortunately, this also makes the game feel brain dead. You can get through the entire game simply by mashing buttons. Though the developers have added the ability to quick dodge attacks, you rarely ever need to use it. So while the game is now far more accessible and better designed, it’s also more one-dimensional. There’s no real finesse to combat at all, which is a crime in a Fist of the North Star game. This is the anime that made “speedly” a household term. Combat should be way flashier than this.
This one-dimensional feel has seeped into the character design as well. Though Ken’s Rage 1 was nigh unplayable, its characters were certainly unique. Each one played differently, with a unique set of moves, right down to Raoh’s ability to summon his horse. Ken’s Rage 2 characters, on the other hand, are far more cookie cutter. You have fast characters, strong characters, and middle-of-the-road characters, but mostly all they do is attack. Any unique personality that the characters had in the gameplay mechanics has been removed for the sake of, well, better working gameplay mechanics. It’s a good tradeoff, but it’s still disappointing.
The mode selection is your fairly standard Dynasty Warriors fare. You can play through the Story mode or through “Dream” modes, little “what if” stories for the entire cast of characters. There are online modes for both competitive and cooperative play, but at time of writing there weren’t even enough people on the servers to test these capabilities out. Likely, this will change as the game gets more popular, but don’t expect to find huge amounts of online competition on day one.
Ken’s Rage 2 isn’t one of those games that you love to hate. It’s not one of those games where the developers were so off the mark you summon up this hilarious burst of antipathy and rip it to shreds. No, it’s a game that has all the markings of a development team that really tried to improve on its predecessor. In some ways they succeeded, addressing the flaws from Ken’s Rage 1, but in other ways they still fell short.
Fist of the North Star fans will probably like this game just because there hasn’t been a whole lot of love for the franchise in the gaming world recently, and Dynasty Warriors fans may like the game just as a short beat em’ up fix. However, the general gaming populace likely won’t fall in love with Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2. It might be worth a rent, but you aren’t missing much by not adding this to your collection. In the end, Ken’s Rage 2 is a game that I wanted to like far more than I actually did.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.2 Graphics
The game looks okay, but it’s nowhere near as graphically adept as other titles, even titles in the Dynasty Warriors series. 3.0 Control
The controls were tightened up and improved, but combat just lacks depth and that “speedly” action that Fist of the North Star fans crave. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The game’s audio work is wholly unremarkable. It’s not bad; it’s just not memorable in any way. 2.0 Play Value
Ken’s Rage 2 is an amazing effort, but it’s still not quite as good as other Dynasty Warriors-style titles. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|