Even die-hard fans should avoid this one.
For the longest time, my idea of an enjoyable Fist of the North Star game; was unarmed fighting in the Fallout series. Who doesn’t love the idea of running around a wasteland, and making people explode with their fists? When Omega Force took over the franchise, I expected great things. After all, they’re known for Dynasty Warriors, a series that I can’t get enough of. Great heroes cutting their own path through the chaos, is a constant theme, throughout both Dynasty Warriors and Fist of the North Star. Unfortunately, the first game was a disappointment. It was slow, cumbersome, and characters took far too long to become entertaining to play as. After spending a long time with the sequel, I can say that a few of these problems have been fixed. However, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is a “one step forward, several steps back” affair.
This game is divided into two modes of play. In Legend Mode, players follow the story of Kenshiro. As somebody who has seen almost the entirety of the original Fist of The North Star series, I have to applaud the effort put into this mode’s cut-scenes. They’re very well-acted, and most of my favorite scenes from the show turned out well. A handful of villains and story-lines were cut, but they’re entirely filler. This is as exhaustive an account of Kenshiro’s saga, as one could imagine. Occasionally players will take control of other characters such as Rei, Mamiya, Amiba, and even Bat and Ein. Yes, the Legend Mode also covers Fist of the North Star 2.
The most unfortunate aspect of Legend Mode; is that it rarely strays from the formula. In an episode of the anime, you can expect to see Kenshiro defeating dozens of bandits with ease, before facing off with the villain. This happens far too often in the game; with many chapters consisting of defeating X number of foes. This isn’t like Dynasty Warriors, where there are other objectives to complete. This certainly isn’t comparable to Sengoku Basara, with its stylish and rewarding style of fighting. Kenshiro appears, destroys everyone in less than a minute, and then moves onto the next checkpoint.
Kenshiro’s many adversaries have varying abilities and unique characteristics. These aspects aren’t noticeable in the game however. In fact, the boss-battles are actually a step back from the previous Ken’s Rage. Part of this is due to the new dodge-system. Instead of a jump, Kenshiro will evade attacks. The timing window for this move is so large, that it can be easily abused, making boss-fights a joke. The bosses themselves also perform fewer moves, and don’t offer enough unique traits to make them memorable. A number of fights also have QTEs, which are very easy to perform, and do large amounts of damage. Altogether, the only reason to play Legend Mode is to see the story and unlock characters.
Dream Mode, is where all of the unlocked characters can be used. While some characters – such as those who follow the art of Nanto-Seiken – have intersecting plots, everyone has their own ending path. Battles in this mode, take place in a manner similar to the average Dynasty Warriors game. There is a map with numerous outposts, and the player must capture five of them, to reach the boss and complete the battle. Unlike the other games, the only possible objective aside from not dying; is to protect a particular character. There’s no real dynamic to the mission, as it consists entirely of getting to an enemy outpost, and performing the task necessary to get the best possible ranking. A couple enemy generals show up to trouble the player, but that’s the extent of how interesting a battle will get.
This style of mission-design; would have been acceptable if it was as deep as titles such as DW: Empires, or even DW: Gundam 3. At least in those games, the enemy moved to capture bases as well, and could create very difficult situations if they gained the advantage. In Ken’s Rage 2, nobody wants to put up a fight. It’s just a matter of doing everything as quickly as possible, for that high rank. Ultimately, the only thing standing in the player’s way; is that they will need to grind out the level-ups. The bosses have a ton of hit-points.
In the previous Ken’s Rage, attaining strength and new moves was done through a meridian chart. This was cut from the sequel, with the intention that players shouldn’t have to learn everything all over again. Instead, players can find scrolls on the battlefield, or after completing chapters. These scrolls give bonuses to the player’s stats, and they can be linked for serious boosts. The one aspect I like about this system; is that excess scrolls can be given to newer characters, to hurry along their development. Otherwise, the scroll-system is a poor replacement. There simply aren’t enough ways, to further customize characters, or even build them up to a level beyond where they were before. Compare this to Warriors Orochi 3, where late-game weapons can have incredible abilities, for obliterating generals on the hardest difficulties. This game offers a few abilities, but they’re tied to scrolls, which makes for a very arbitrary and random system.
Ultimately, the most crushing aspect of the game, is that it feels unfinished. The content is there, the story is told well, but this game is lacking elements that make it whole. For one, nothing changes whether the player is just starting, or when they’re forty hours in. Each playable character has a number of techniques and signature moves, but only two or three of them ever see repeated use. The mission structure is so banal, and the enemy variety is so limited, that I have to believe the game was rushed. The new characters are great, but they’re hamstrung due to the poorly-done scroll system. Graphically, the game looks worse than the original. The frame-rate is all over the place, and everyone looks less-detailed. The level-design is also even worse. I thought the first Ken’s Rage had some lousy ideas, but at least they tried to do something different. It’s like no effort was put into this game, beyond checking all of the “more content” boxes. Also, I’m nit-picking here but this is just embarrassing: sometimes during Legend Mode, Kenshiro has to protect kids from bandits. The kids just stand there, with this goofy pose and a smile on their face, while bandits wail away on them. It must have been too much trouble, to program the children running away, or even have a terrified look on their face.
For its 30th anniversary, Fist of the North Star deserves far better. This series is notable for being a massive influence on videogames (particularly beatemups and fighters). Yet, where are all the good games? The first Ken’s Rage was promising, but not any fun. This game squashes all of that promise, and destroys almost all hope for the franchise. While a number of criticisms can be applied to the Dynasty Warriors franchise; such as their lack of depth. I can’t think of many truly awful games. Ken’s Rage 2 is on a very short and not-at-all prestigious list.