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Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Tecmo Koei America Corp.
Developer: Koei Co., Ltd.
Style(s): Third-Person 3D Action
Players take the hard-hitting role of a righteous warrior in a ruined world in Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage. The game is based on Buronson and Tetsuo Hara's manga series, in which the hero Kenishiro uses his expertise in a rare form of martial arts to protect the weak and innocent, during the collapse of civilization after a nuclear cataclysm. Players engage in superhuman hand-to-hand combat against scores of enemy soldiers, completing mission objectives across large, open battlefields.
While the focus of play is on fluid, combo-based melee against multiple foes, as in developer Omega Force's earlier series, the futuristic setting and established fictional characters distinguish Fist of the North Star from the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors games. Heroes and villains engage in martial arts battles, instead of wielding medieval weapons, but the results are no less bloody. As in the comics, Kenishiro's mystical style of pressure point-based fighting can cause gruesome wounds and gory deaths. The game offers three main modes of play: "Legend," which follows the original story of the manga series, "Dream," with an original plotline that allows players to take the roles of each of the four Hokuto brothers, and "Challenge," which pits players against endless streams of enemies. ~ T.J. Deci, All Game Guide
Package Contents: 48-page Instruction Manual
The full-color documentation is well organized but lacks character profiles and move lists. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
The bleak setting understandably means dull and drab environments, so don't expect much color or diversity between levels. Animation could be better, and the enemies all look exactly the same. The cinematics are first rate, however. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
In 1995's movie parody of television's The Brady Bunch, one of the running jokes is how architect Mike Brady designs the exact same house -- the family's house -- for each new project. The same joke could be made with Koei (now Tecmo Koei) since releasing Dynasty Warriors 2 in 2000. It seems every new game from the studio is a variant on Dynasty Warriors 2, with slight changes here and there to fit a particular license. Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage follows the blueprint almost perfectly.
Based on the popular manga series about martial arts masters in a violent, post-apocalyptic world, Fist of the North Star is actually a good fit for the Dynasty Warriors format, since it involves a superhuman character battling huge forces of enemies. Playing as the solemn Kenshiro, whose shoulders are at least three times the width of his waist, you will continuously engage groups of 30+ gang members from various factions. The Zeed is exclusively comprised of bikers, for instance, while the Fang Clan's members wear animal skins and feature large iron claws over the hands.
In the story mode, referred to as "legend," you'll guide Kenshiro through 14 chapters that generally follow the same structure: run across a series of small, interconnected areas while fighting groups of thugs that emerge at various intervals. Defeating one group typically unlocks a gate leading to the next area, and then it's rinse and repeat until you reach a boss character. There's not much exploration, as the desolate environments are devoid of anything interesting aside from containers to smash for food or stat-boosting pickups.
Each chapter offers seven "missions" to undertake, but they aren't much more than saving some people from a gang attack, smashing a barrier, or defeating a commander. Occasionally you'll have to climb on or destroy a specific structure, but most of the time you're on the ground dealing with the enemies. Ultimately, the hundreds of foes you'll encounter are little more than speed bumps on the road to the star attraction: the dramatic boss battles against some truly colorful characters.
More large-scale brawls can be found in the dream mode, which is a carbon copy of Dynasty Warriors' "musou" mode: your selected character will fight alongside an army as he or she tries to conquer enemy territory (before time expires) in a series of battles. There's also the equivalent of a boss rush mode that unlocks once you've completed the legend mode. The biggest difference between Ken's Rage and the Dynasty Warriors series is that instead of swinging weapons, you are primarily swinging fists, with the occasional steel girder used to clear blocked areas in the bleak environments.
The combo system is otherwise identical: simple two-to-four-button taps to execute attacks in the air and on the ground. You can also block, parry, throw, and activate special moves using spirit earned by taking and dishing out blows. True to the manga, Kenshiro is a master of Hakuto Shinken, a form of martial arts designed to attack an opponent's vitality points. Kenshiro's signature attacks, such as pummeling foes with a hundred fast-flying fists, are included and result in enemies puffing up like pimple and then exploding in a bloody mess.
Most of the problems with Ken's Rage can be traced to a dated engine. Clan members all look exactly the same, the camera can be obstinate, there are no interior locales, and the world often feels like a confining maze. Animation is merely adequate, and the level of interaction within the environment is inconsistent. Kenshiro can punch through a brick wall or knock down lamp post, for example, but a simple chain link fence can only be dented (in exactly the same spot every time). And while two-player cooperative action is supported, it's limited to local only.
Yet even though the game is formulaic, it still manages to draw you in for three key reasons. First is the addictive role-playing aspect that involves spending points on a skill tree to access new moves, attributes, and techniques. Second is the ability to unlock multiple characters across the two main play modes, each offering vastly different play styles. Third is the diverse boss encounters, which require you to vary your strategy and moves instead of relying on the same standard combos.
Fist of the North Star is far from an original beat-'em-up, but if you haven't yet tired of the Dynasty Warriors series, there's plenty of knuckle-crunching action and character development to savor, especially for fans of the oft-overlooked manga. Factor in the replay value associated with its multiple modes and playable fighters, and Ken's Rage is sure to resolve your inner bloodlust if not your sense of déjà vu. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
The dream and legend modes can be played using different characters, which greatly extends the replay value for those who enjoy the combat. There are also multiple difficulty levels. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
The voice acting is melodramatic and the dialogue is often corny, but that's part of the game's charm. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
The game is somewhat repetitive due to its design, but each character plays differently and there are plenty of moves to keep things interesting. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
the game requires Joystick/Gamepad.