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Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage

Review: Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage

11:41 AM on 11.01.2010 // Jim Sterling
  @JimSterling

Before writing this review, I promised myself that I would not write "ATATATATATATA" or make any reference to things being "already dead." Unfortunately, such a noble ambition is next to impossible. In fact, before I even made this promise, I knew the plan was already dead.

ATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATA!

WATA!

Before writing this review, I promised myself that I would not write "ATATATATATATA" or make any reference to things being "already dead." Unfortunately, such a noble ambition is next to impossible. In fact, before I even made this promise, I knew the plan was already dead. 

ATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAT AATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATA  TATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATA TATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAA TATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAATATATATATATATATATATATATATATAT ATATATAATATATATATATATATATA!

WATA!

Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage (PS3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Released: November 2, 2010
MSRP: $59.99

If you've never heard of Fist of the North Star, then you may very well need to have your pop culture license revoked. One of the most influential Manga franchises of all time, the story of a post-apocalyptic Bruce Lee lookalike who constantly rips off his shirt and makes the heads of bandits explode is one that's destined to go down in history. At the very least, it presents a chilling vision of the future in which purple hair dye and fabulous pink fabric have taken over the world.

Ken's Rage marries the one-versus-all gameplay of Omega Force's Dynasty Warriors to the ludicrous world in which North Star is set. The basic premise is simple -- as one of the post-apocalyptic warriors of 20XX, you run around a huge map full of mohawked thugs and punch them until their heads shatter. You can't say fairer than that.

The most striking thing about Ken's Rage is just how faithful it is to the source material. Many of the cutscenes seem to have been ripped straight from the franchise's anime series, and each character has been treated with a respect and care that should please long-time fans.

The game is split into two different modes. "Legend" mode more or less re-tells the entire North Star saga, with protagonist Kenshiro pounding his way through a series of vile bad guys in order to face his brother Raoh. Familiar enemies such as Shin, Jagi and Thouzer make appearances, all with fights that echo their Manga incarnations. Other main characters like Rei and Mamiya get their own Legend Modes too, all sticking to the established canon. 

Meanwhile, "Dream Mode" veers off into fictionalized stories that shine more of a spotlight into the lesser characters. Every playable character has its own Dream campaign, and some of them (Jagi's, especially) can be quite entertaining indeed. 

Both modes play slightly differently, too. Legend Mode is a lot more linear and has a slower pace. Omega Force also tries to make the gameplay more varied with a token offering of platforming and light puzzle sections, none of which particularly work. The game's engine just isn't equipped for platforming, and these sections only serve to break up the slaughter. Dream stages have a much more familiar Dynasty Warriors feeling to them -- big maps with opposing armies and bases that can be captured to improve allied strength. The number of enemies and relentless slaughter found in Dream Mode can be a lot of fun, if you've a strong stomach for endless brawling action. 

The fundamental gameplay will be familiar to anybody who has played a Warriors game, though Ken's Rage seems "heavier" than those titles. Each punch feels like it carries real weight to it, although the slower character animation can make it much harder to keep on target and aim attacks properly. Many is the time I've missed an attack but have been unable to correct it within that combo stream. Jump attacks are especially hard to deal with, since they usually break an enemy block but the opponent will re-block before you can turn yourself around.

Using the simple-but-satisfying charge combo system that is found in many Omega Force games, the driving theme of Ken's Rage is feeling like a badass without having to input ludicrously lengthy button combinations, and for the most part, it works. Every character has a selection of classic attacks, including Signature Moves that can be unleashed by building up a power meter. These Signature Moves provide great callbacks to the Manga and are as devastating as they ought to be. Say what you will about the game's admittedly potentially repetitive nature, it never gets old pulling off the Hundred Crack Fist until everybody around you blows up in a shower of blood. 

In many ways, the game evokes feelings of old school, classic beat 'em ups like Streets of Rage and Golden Axe. The combat definitely sticks to a formula, but it's also quite therapeutic to just kick back and decimate waves of enemies, and the variety of characters with their weird attacks is more than enough to keep one going. The game's general presentation and size also evokes feelings of Dynasty Warriors 3, long regarded by Koei fans as the best in the series. It's a most pleasant feeling to have. 

What is less pleasant, however, is how unapologetically cheap the game's boss fights are. Most major enemies in the game are far too frustrating to fight, due to their ability to shrug off all your attacks, recharge health, break your combos whenever they please, and block even while halfway through taking damage. The bosses could have shed at least half of their inflated advantages and would still have provided a stiff challenge. When you're being juggled by an enemy for so long that you actually put the controller down and watch yourself get raped, however, things just aren't very fun.

Boss battles aside, Ken's Rage is a great laugh. It is definitely one of Koei's tougher games, and one of the more rewarding. There's a terrific character progression system that seems inspired by Final Fantasy X's popular Sphere Grid, and there are all manner of new moves, passive skills, and stat upgrades on offer. With increasingly absurd special attacks to find, it actually becomes fun to grind and get the skill points required to unlock them. 

Ken's Rage also marks one of the few games in which Omega Force has bothered to put in effort with the graphics. It's a pretty good looking game, with bright visuals and wonderful animated attacks. The "throw" moves in which characters grab enemies and do all manner of humiliating things to them are especially enjoyable (yes, Shin is able to poke his finger into people!). The game's unremarkable rock soundtrack isn't one of Omega Force's best, and the voice acting often leaves much to be desired, but the heavy metal version of "Ai wo Torimodose!!" is rather fabulous.

Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage has its frustrating moments, and requires a player with a love of button mashing, but it is ultimately a heap of simple and gory fun that pays a lot of respect of the franchise upon which it is based. Although it could have done with more playable characters (where's my Juda!?), there is a huge amount of content, with story modes for each of the game's eight warriors taking several hours apiece to beat. 

Disagree? Tough. The review is already read.



THE VERDICT

8.5

Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage - Reviewed by Jim Sterling
Charming - Not perfect, but it's easy to ignore the rough spots when faced with so many engaging design decisions and entertaining moments. A memorable game that's hard not to like and recommend to others.

See more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.

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