Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 Review (PS3/Wii U/360): “Strictly For Fans Only”

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Wallpaper

In 1983, a Japanese manga called “Fist of the North Star” (also known as “Hokuto no Ken”) was created. The series took off and became a huge hit in Japan, which then received an English localization a few years later. Since then, the series has received a TV series, film and video games to reach out to other audiences. In 2010, the popular manga series got its first game for the current gen consoles known as “Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage”. While it wasn’t exactly a big success, fans of the series found it to still be an enjoyable experience. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is now out for the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U, published by Tecmo Koei and developed by Koei/Omega Force. However, is this a sequel that improves upon its predecessor or is this game already dead?

This review is based on the Wii U version of the game.

Story: 4/5

Let’s get this out of the way: The extent of my knowledge to “Fist of the North Star” was that it was a popular anime series that started in the 80s. However, upon receiving this review copy, I researched a bit more on the series to get a better understanding on the universe of this much beloved Manga. As I got into the storyline, I started to also watch the anime and compare how the story is told there compared to here in the game…and can say they’ve done a very good job.

Fist of the North Star has a pretty intricate storyline, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world in the year 199X. The story revolves around Kenshiro, a warrior who’s the successor to the assassination arts style “Hokuto Shinken”. Venturing through the barren wastelands, Kenshiro stumbles upon groups that seem to be terrorizing civilians in villages. As a civil warrior, Kenshiro does anything he can to help those in need, whether it be a friend or stranger. As the story progresses, you begin to learn more about Kenshiro’s past and what his motivation is exactly.

The story relies entirely on the manga series, replicating the scenes as authentic as possible. It’s told quite well, using cinematic cutscenes and comic-style panels. The characters are pretty engaging and you’ll feel for the fate of many of them. Honestly, the story is the best thing to be found in Ken’s Rage 2.

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Gameplay: 3/5

Like I stated in the story section, I didn’t really follow the series before this game. I knew of it, I just never got around to actually watching the anime. With this being said, I also never played the first Ken’s Rage aside from its demo. For this sequel, the developers decided to tweak a bit of the gameplay style of Ken’s Rage. This time around, the game feels a bit more like a Dynasty Warriors/Warriors Orochi type of hack-and-slash, or in this case, beat-em-up. There are two main modes to tackle: Legend Mode and Dream Mode. Legend Mode will let you experience the entire manga of Fist of the North Star throughout the game’s 36 episodes. Dream Mode lets players explore the storyline of various characters from the series. However, each mode does play a bit differently.

Legend Mode will let players assume control of the main protagonist, Kenshiro. The format of Legend Mode will have you fighting waves of enemies scattered throughout the environments. Combat is handled with light and strong attacks, formulating combos that will pulverize enemies into a bloody pulp. As you give your enemies the beat down, you will build up your Aura Meter. When filled up, you can unleash an Aura attack that will unleash a devastating move to clear out a group of enemies or severely damage stronger opponents. As you move through the level, there will be moments where the game will transition to a cutscene to help flesh out the story a bit more and tie in the reason why you’re going to the next location. There are also moments where the game will try to change up the pacing a bit by having you play as other characters involved in Kenshiro’s quest. Depending on the scenario, you can even choose which character you’d like to play as for the mission. Platforming has been completely removed from Ken’s Rage, replaced now with a dash button. You’ll rely on this during boss battles in particular as it’ll help you dodge and counter their attacks. Boss battles provide to be more entertaining as they are much more challenging than the foes you’ll normally face. You’ll usually end off a boss by initiating a quick-time event. QTEs will occasionally pop-up mid-fight that will let you counter the boss’s attack and dish out some major damage. Watching Kenshiro finish off bosses is pretty sweet, especially with the quips he’ll say when finishing off his opponent. Legend Mode starts off a bit slow at first, but as you keep playing, you’ll find yourself getting more into it. While the combat may get monotonous at times, I still found myself coming back to keeping playing through this mode.

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Dream Mode changes up the game a bit. Instead of simply fighting enemies to advance the storyline, you’ll approach this with a bit more “Dynasty Warriors” style. You’ll have bases that you need to capture before you can face off against the level’s boss. I found myself enjoying this mode a bit more than Legend Mode, mainly because I felt more at home with the “Warriors” gameplay premise. Also, this mode allows for two-player co-op, both local and online. While the online servers were barren, local co-op was quite enjoyable, especially on the Wii U version thanks to GamePad/TV split-screen. There are a ton of quests and missions you can experience in Dream Mode, which feels like a separate game in itself that will take many hours to complete.

Ken’s Rage 2 features an upgrading system, but is not intuitive or fun to fiddle with at all. You’ll collect scrolls that have three slots on them. A specific ability will be placed in a certain spot on the scroll. The further in the game you get, the more abilities that will be placed on a single scroll. However, when you’re equipping these, you have five lines you can choose to place a scroll in. You need to try and match scrolls with ability icons to really have them increase your effects dramatically. There are five parameters: Life, Damage, Aura, Defense and Technique. Sometimes the scrolls may also have a special perk that allows you to link combos faster together or increase your attack speed when successfully countering. You can also permanently level up the character’s parameter by collecting blue experience orbs from enemies during combat.

Fist of the North Star Ken's Rage 2 Gameplay 2

There are some issues that plague the game though. I already mentioned the “scroll” system feels a bit too complex and simply not fun to deal with. While the Legend Mode contains an engrossing story, the way it’s incorporated into the levels bogs down the gameplay. I mentioned earlier that cutscenes will initiate mid-mission, but it actually ruins the flow of combat. You’ll go from fighting hundreds of enemies within 1-2 minutes, to then watching a 7-10 minute cutscene. Then you’ll finally jump back in, fight enemies for about less than five minutes and watch another somewhat lengthy cutscene. This can drag on missions to take upwards to 30 minutes to complete, sometimes longer. It’s almost like driving at 100 mph, then unexpectedly slamming the brakes and pulling the e-brake immediately to come to a complete stop…then repeat. Also in Legend Mode, missions may have Caryatids that you can activate. When activated, you can access your scrolls, as well as do an “interim save”. While an interim save is nice to have for those lengthier missions, the odd thing is the place for some of these Caryatids. Sometimes, you’ll enter an area littered with enemies that contains a Caryatid but the game forbids you from saving when you’re “in battle”. So you would think, “ok, I can save right after I take these enemies out”, to only then watch a lengthy cutscene immediately after and end up in a totally different area with no Caryatid. While you can still access your scrolls, it’s bizarre to see the option to save and meanwhile, you actually can’t. Meanwhile, in Dream Mode, you can do an interim save at anytime by simply pausing the game and accessing it from there…and that mode doesn’t necessarily “need” it as those are faster missions. Another issue lies within the camera, you’ll find yourself adjusting the camera pretty often to face in the direction of the action. While this isn’t too detracting, the moments where it’s becomes the worst is during boss battles. The lock-on boss camera never follows the action fast enough, so if you kick the enemy all the way across the area, it’ll take some time to pan the camera in the right direction.

Issues aside, Ken’s Rage 2 is still an enjoyable game. Playing as different characters changes things up with different move sets pertaining to their styles. For example, if you play as Mamiya, she’ll be able to utilize an automatic crossbow instead of grabbing an enemy like Kenshiro would do. Also, it’s always fun to experiment with Aura attacks for each character as numerous become unlocked as you progress through the game. There’s an indicator near the Aura attack of your choice that shows the radius and direction the attack goes so that you know if the best used for large groups of enemies or strong, yet smaller groups of enemies. Overall, the amount of time you’ll get out of the game is staggering. The Legend Mode alone will take 15-20 hours, and the Dream Mode adds even more to that.

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Graphics: 2/5

Fist of the North Star’s visuals are quite subpar for today’s standards, but are passable. Character models are nicely detailed, with some decent animations. Enemies explode into pulps of blood as you beat the crap out of them, and you’ll also see their bodies deform prior to that (just like you’d see in the anime). The deformed animation looks a bit weak, and at times jarring. Environmental texture work is pretty solid, but still comes off as bland. While the game may be a bit drab to see in action, it is replicating the style of the manga series. However, the framerate seems to be really inconsistent. The less enemies on screen, the smoother the game will run, at times reaching 60 fps. However, once waves of enemies come in, the game’s framerate can dip well below 30 fps…at times even 20 fps. It’s a bit inexcusable for a game that’s not exactly showcasing anything overly impressive. The game doesn’t look awful, but it’s certainly not an attractive game either.

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Sound: 3/5

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2’s audio direction is serviceable, but nothing more than that. The voice acting is solely done in Japanese, but is very effective. Sound effects are appropriate and gets the job done, making the game sound like it’s straight out of the anime. The soundtrack consists of metal rock tunes that appropriately convey the setting, if a bit generic. Some tracks are catchy, others not so much. While there are good amount of tracks in the game, they do tend to repeat a lot. The overall audio is good, just not great.

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Overall Score: 12/20 = 6.0 out of 10

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is a game for a very specific audience and certainly not for everyone. While it’s faster paced than the first installment, the question of spending $60 on this game is something that’s hard to recommend to the average gamer. For fans of the series, anime, or “Warriors” games, then you may find a pretty enjoyable game here. If none of those apply to you, it’s impossible for me to recommend the game. It’s nothing great, but it’s a solid title that I found myself enjoying more than I expected. While the game carries a full retail value price tag for a digital only title, the game’s content and length can back it up. It’s not a very good game, but it’s certainly a guilty pleasure of a title that you’ll enjoy despite its issues.

PROs:

+ Faithfully recreates the series’ story

+ Dream Mode is fun, especially in co-op

+ Character models are nicely detailed

+ Some catchy tunes

CONs:

– Visuals are a bit bland; Framerate dips

– Scroll/Upgrade system is not intuitive

– Legend Mode’s mid-mission cutscene bog down action

– Strictly for fans of the series

– More of an update than a sequel to the original…and it’s retailing for $60

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Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper Review (Wii U): “Hyper Hack-and-Slash Action”

WARRIORS OROCHI 3 Hyper Wallpaper

Koei’s “Warriors” franchise has been around for quite some time and has spawned into various series. The latest one, Warriors Orochi 3, released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 back in March 2012. With the Wii U’s launch back in November, Tecmo Koei and developer Omega Force have decided to bring an enhanced version of the title to Nintendo’s new console, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper. However, exactly how much of an enhancement is it to the PS3/360 edition, is it worth double-dipping and is this a proper introduction to the Warriors series for those who never tried them?

Story: 4/5

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper begins at the end of humanity, where three generals on Earth remain standing against the Hydra that destroyed civilization. As you progress through an inevitable losing battle, they find themselves fleeing the battlefield and being introduced to Kaguya, a mysterious woman from the Mystic Realm. She tells the heroes that she has the ability to have them travel back in time before the Hydra invaded. With this, they can try and form alliances amongst allies and foes alike to put a stop towards humanity’s end. The story spans across four chapters, with the plot unfolding via dialogue and cinematic cutscenes. Throughout the plot, the heroes will join forces with not only characters from “Dynasty Warriors” and “Samurai Warriors”, but from other Tecmo Koei franchises such as Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive, Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War, and Warriors: Legends of Troy. The collaborations of these franchises adds a fresh element to the story and if you’re a fan of any of these series, you’ll get immersed into the story a bit more. During battles, you’ll see the generals all conversing with each other, fleshing out more of their characterization. Surprisingly, the story is pretty well told, with a few twists and turns around the corner that will keep you hooked to see where it all goes. It may be a bit hard to immerse into early on, but once you start getting through a few of the missions, you’ll dig the amount of story that’s here. While it’s nothing groundbreaking, it’s far from average.

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Gameplay: 4/5

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a hack-and-slash, and one that emphasizes it by having you take on over 1000 enemies in each battle. You’ll participate in battles that will change the course of history across huge battlefields. The objective will resort to taking down the head generals of the opposing force, while also avoiding the stipulation of failure should a specific general on your team die or the opposing force flee. As you venture on the battlefield, you’ll have to pay attention to your map to see where your primary objective is and who requires your assistance at once. At first, it may be overwhelming with the amount of red dots, both small and large, littered on you mini-map. However, you aren’t required to take out every single one. The large red dots signify a general that should be taken out. Sometimes your path may be closed and defeating the general near the door will let you advance further. Although, you need to pay attention to the ones that have a yellow blip surrounding their red dot, as those are the key enemies to go after immediately. You’ll form a team of three characters to take control as during missions…and the cast of characters you’ll be able to choose from is enormous. Initially you’ll only have a very limited amount to choose from, but as you complete missions, you’ll get more characters to join your cause. As mentioned in the story section, the characters will range from not only the “Dynasty Warriors” and “Samurai Warriors” franchises, but many other Tecmo Koei franchises. In all, there are over 120 characters to unlock. Having an enormous amount of characters can normally sound like they’d consist of simple cut-and-paste characters with different coats of paint over them. However, the developers have made every single character play entirely unique with their own set of moves. In particular, when you play as characters from other Tecmo Koei franchises, such as “Ninja Gaiden” for example, the amount of detail put into replicating the characters moves are an immensely satisfying love letter to those fans.

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For a game of its type, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper has a surprising amount of depth. Aside from the abundant amount of characters, you’ll be able to level up characters, equip better weapons for them, fuse weapons together and equip two different perks per character. Leveling up is something that never felt like a chore at all, as you’ll collect extra EXP scrolls on the battlefield for each general you defeat. However, you can also level up your characters by distributing “Growth Points”. You’ll earn these points at the end of missions and once you return to your camp, you can access the “Distribute Growth Points” menu to further upgrade your characters. Speaking of the camp, this will be your hub where you’ll be able to speak with other characters, form bonds between them, purchase and fuse weapons, and also access the Network Assistant (online co-op). Speaking with other characters is important as these will open up side-missions to unlock more characters, and only a few characters will appear on site to speak with at a time. An interesting mechanic is the “Weapon Fusion”, which will allow you to take elements from one weapon and attach them to another. Each weapon will have slots that utilize countless different perks, such as Ice, Flame, Prosperity and Wisdom, just to name a few. These abilities will allow you to have elemental attacks added, increase your EXP faster, earn more Proficiency for your weapon (which will permanently increase the damage your weapon does), increase your defense, etc. The perks can also be upgraded up to nine points each, so if you had “Ice+1” on the weapon you’re upgrading and chose to add “Ice+4” from another, it’ll become “Ice+5”. It’s this level of depth the weapon system has that makes it addictive to try and max out a weapon to become a complete beast. As for the Network Assistant, it does what it needs to in order to get an online co-op session going. However, the online co-op only allows you to play missions that have already been completed, so if you’re looking to co-op through the whole story mode online, you’ll be a bit letdown here. On the plus side, if you plan to replay through the game on harder difficulties and earn better weapons, that will give you some solid replay value, both offline and online. The campaign itself will take roughly 12-15 hours to complete, with a plethora of additional missions to unlock that add even more longevity.

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Another game mode that’s sure to give creationists plenty of game time is the Musou Battlefields mode. In this mode, you’ll be able to remix battles that you’ve completed with which generals you want teamed up with you, who your enemy generals are, the dialogue lines they’ll say during the battle, the music track, and the conditions. Once you complete this, you can upload your level for everyone to download and test out. User-generated content can come a long way into adding replay value to a game, and seeing this incorporated into WO3 is an incredibly welcome addition. On top of this, there’s the Duel Mode that’s been added exclusively to the Wii U version. In this, the game will become a 3-on-3 fighter where you can move around the arena and go head-to-head with either the CPU or another player. This mode is not only playable locally, but online as well. Interestingly, for you Koei fans out there, this mode reminded me a bit of Destrega (a PS1 fighter that I recommend getting off the PSN). It spices it up a bit by adding cards into the mix. You’ll be able to equip up to four cards (one assigned to each direction on the D-Pad) that will help change the flow of fights. One may give you the ability to create an invisible barrier that pushes your opponent away, while another may let you summon an offensive ability. You’ll collect more cards as you progress through the story mode.

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As for the Wii U version of the game, they’ve added four new characters, two of which from the Ninja Gaiden series: Rachel and Momiji. The other two characters are brand new to the “Warriors” series: Shennong and Seimei Abe. For Ninja Gaiden fans, returning to a rendition of Hayabusa Village to team up with Momiji or return to a ruined New York City to reunite with Rachel provide for nostalgic moments, especially when those character’s theme songs kick in, which are immediately recognizable to fans. If you’re playing local co-op, one player will play directly through the GamePad, while the other will have the TV to themselves, as you hack and slash your way through battles. If you want, you can still enable split-screen mode if you’d rather play it that way for a more traditional multiplayer experience. In terms of controls, you can use the GamePad, Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Pro Controller, so if you didn’t grab a Wii U Pro Controller yet but have the Wii one, you’ll still be able to co-op. Speaking of controls, while it handles very well and lets you customize every button, there are two buttons that can’t be changed, the zL and zR buttons. These buttons let you switch between teammates while the L button lets you block and R button lets you initiate one of your special attacks. Although, your fingers sit naturally on the zL and zR buttons, which would feel more intuitive for blocking and pulling off specials. It takes some getting used to but it’s jarring that while every button is customizable, these ones weren’t.

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Graphics: 3/5

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a decent looking game, with character models that look pretty good while having some technical aspects that hold it back. Environments look okay, but nothing great by any means. The real kicker is that the game’s draw distance is pretty poor. As you advance through the battlefields, portions of buildings, trees, and enemies will vanish and then reappear depending on your distance. You can be running along the field and you’ll see enemies literally appear about 5 feet in front of you. While this is an issue found in the PS3/360, the draw distance seemed slightly more of an issue in the Wii U edition. The interesting thing is that after a few missions, this doesn’t become as jarring as it might be, becoming something you’ll adjust to. The game does render a ton of soldiers on the battlefield at once, which is a reason as to why they’ll instantly appear and vanish depending on your distance. The framerate seems to keep up pretty well, even though it’s less than the PS3/360. Where as those versions would occasionally run between 30-60 fps, the Wii U version is locked at 30 fps. This is actually for the better, as constantly switching between framerates can be unsettling. The game runs equally as well when playing local co-op between the GamePad screen and TV, with no visual fidelity loss. All in all, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is not a bad looking game, but skims the line of being just average.

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper Gameplay 1

Sound: 4/5

If there’s one thing that really stands out, it’s the soundtrack. Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper has a killer soundtrack that range from epic orchestrated tracks, rock, techno and electronica. Each track perfectly suits the tone and feel of the game. Whether it’s original composed tracks, tracks from the franchises incorporated into the game, or remixes (Ryu Hayabusa’s remixed theme from the NES Ninja Gaiden is insanely awesome), there’s something here everyone will dig. There’s only Japanese voice acting to find here, no English voice option. While purists will be completely fine with that, it may become a slight hinderance when you’re fighting on the battlefield and constantly trying to read what they’re all saying, especially when it’s pivotal to achieving victory. Sound effects get the job done but that’s about it. Nothing overly effective, just decent. Overall though, the audio package is very good, with the soundtrack being the main highlight.

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Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a surprisingly deep for the hack-and-slash game it is. The story will take between 12-15 hours minimum to complete, with plenty of side-missions to unlock and tackle. The Musou Battlefields mode will add even more longevity for those who like to be creative and mix up their own versions of previous completed missions, and the new Duel Mode will provide for a solid amount of fun, whether local or co-op. While it has it’s technical issues, the game is still a great deal of fun, especially when co-oping. If you’ve never played a “Warriors” game before, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a solid one to grab. If you already own this for the PS3/360, then your double-dipping purchase will depend on how much you liked the game. Personally, I found myself enjoying the game more on the Wii U than the PS3…possibility due to the fact that I played a majority of it from my GamePad. Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a game that can provide for many hours of entertainment and still have you coming back for more.

PROs:

+ Interesting story

+ Awesome soundtrack

+ Entertaining gameplay mechanics

+ Fun co-op

CONs:

– Poor draw distance

– Visuals are a mixed bag

– No English voice acting

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