Review: Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage (PS3)

Title: Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: November 2nd, 2010
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Developer: Omega Force
Original MSRP: $59.99

Gameplay:
Fist of the North Star has a rather involved storyline, but the overly simplified version is that it’s about hugely muscled martial artists running around a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic world. Oh, and they know secret techniques that make people’s bodies explode. Since the Dynasty Warriors formula is essentially a 3D beat’em up with lots of button-mashing, this should be a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, not quite.

Legend Mode is the only one unlocked from the start besides the tutorial. You’ll take control of main character Kenshiro and follow his storyline from the original manga. Along the way, Rei, Mamiya, Toki and Raoh’s stories will be unlocked to play through. Levels typically consist of traveling across smaller segments of a larger map, beating up hordes of foes, sub-bosses and bosses. Omega Force seems to have taken great care to follow the original Fist of the North Star storyline and replicate the character’s moves, which is sure to please fans, but this does seem to get in the way of the gameplay. The pace feels very slow and plodding, whether it’s the walking speed, the seemingly delayed way the characters moves come out or being interrupted to view dialogue between characters. Like most Dynasty Warriors games, you’re stuck in a combo animation once you execute it either finishing it or getting hit by an enemy. Given how lengthy some of them are and the sheer number of enemies surrounding you, it can get a little tedious. Especially when fighting boss characters who can easily knock or grab you out of your combo and wreck you with their own. As annoying as some of the boss fights can be, they’re made worse by requiring a Quick Time Event to finish the battle. Once you’ve beat them down to near nothing, you’ll trigger a cinematic where you have to hit the correct buttons in order to dispatch them as happened in the source material. Failing the QTE fills their life back up a bit and you have to wear them down again.

While it can be frustrating and a little monotonous at times, there is still something to be said for the simplicity of a beat’em up and the satisfaction of pounding down a legion of foes. It also helps that the character’s signature special attacks from the series are pretty cool looking. A plethora of new moves and abilities can be unlocked by earning skill points in battle and spending them on each character’s “Meridian Chart” skill tree.

Aside from the Legend Mode, you’ll unlock the Dream Mode which plays out more like a classic Dynasty Warriors game. You lead a small band against the enemy army for control of a large map, capturing bases and completing various objectives. This mode lets you control both good and bad characters from the Fist of the North Star universe in a brand new “What If?” scenario. This is also the game’s sole multiplayer mode, allowing you and a friend to play split-screen. Just be sure you have a character unlocked for them to use. Finishing Ken’s Legend Mode also unlocks Challenge Mode which is similar to a survival or boss rush mode and has leaderboard support.

Visuals:
Main character and boss models look fantastic and very much like the source material come to life. Their clothing even becomes damaged and torn as you get beat down. The rest looks rather mediocre. Landscapes tend to consist of ruined cities or rocky barren wasteland with limited interactivity that your character sometimes clips through. Sure, it’s post-apocalyptic, but some variation would be nice. The cookie-cutter enemies that make up the bulk of your foes look decent enough, but could have used more variation in their models because you’ll be seeing the same ones A LOT.

Sadly, Fist of the North Star’s well-known ultra violence is captured rather poorly. Instead of bodies exploding in detailed fountains of blood ‘n guts, it looks more like the enemy character models turn red and glitch out before exploding in a cloud of blood and disappearing. Given the attention to detail with much of the game, this seems like an unfortunate oversight.

Audio:
Music is mainly generic rock which is somewhat fitting, but entirely forgettable. The original theme song from the anime is sorely missed, but the game is billed as following the manga which may explain it. The voice acting is rather good with the majority of the game being fully voice-acted, even the Dream Mode storylines.

Conclusion:
If you’re a fan of Fist of the North Star and Dynasty Warriors, there is definitely fun to be had here. Plenty to unlock, a pretty faithful adaptation and an interesting “What If?” mode. Just be sure to bring along a high tolerance for repetitive button mashing.

Score:
6.0

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Written by Mark Senger

Glenn’s second co-host on the podcast , Mark graced the airwaves from late 2007 to early 2010.

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