In late 2010, Tecmo Koei released Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage. It was basically a derivative of the tried-and-true Dynasty Warriors style of gameplay as players were tasked with taking down scores of enemies across a fairly wide battlezone. Ken’s Rage stayed true to the Fist of the North Star source material, but tended to get bogged down in repetition and a much slower pace than Dynasty Warriors battles saw. It was an okay game, but flew largely under the radar… so it was a bit of a surprise to me to see a sequel, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2, teased while I was at E3 in 2012.
Ken’s Rage 2 sounds like a sequel by name, but that’s not what this game really is. It makes a few changes to the formula of the last game, in terms of character progression and how missions are carried out, but the basics are still very much the same. The Legend mode is the meat of the game, and while the story is largely the same, certain parts are more fleshed out and the pace of the story isn’t quite as brisk. Unlike in the previous game, players will have the opportunity to control different characters as the Legend mode progresses. Aside from Kenshiro, Rei and Mamiya also get mandatory playing time in spots and can be chosen as playable characters during other times. Expect to spend at least 6 hours to complete Legend mode, with a fair amount of that time being used on storytelling through cutscenes and comic-panel storytelling.
Each episode of the Legend mode has missions to play through, ranging from all-out assault missions where players race against time to take down a certain number of enemies to protecting villagers or allies from enemy attacks. Faring well in these missions- as well as doing a bit of exploring as players make their way through each area- can earn scrolls as rewards. Unlike in Ken’s Rage, where skill points were used to build stats and earn special moves, scrolls can be activated for each character in tandem with experience built while in battle. Scrolls can improve stats for strength, defense, technique, and aura. Special scrolls also come with special passive abilities for the user, such as extra recovery when using items or decreasing the amount of time it takes for charge attacks. The one problem with scrolls is that players can only carry so many, and there’s also a finite number that can be stored for later use. Tough decisions will have to be made as players progress in terms of which scrolls to keep, which scrolls to store, and which scrolls to get rid of.
Ken’s Rage 2 does a good job of streamlining the gameplay while in battle from the first game. Signature moves no longer severely disrupt the flow of battle, and there aren’t a lot of “dead zones” in the game that limit the action. These improvements mean that, when you’re not watching story-related scenes, you’re generally engaged in battle and dispatching enemies with extreme prejudice. The one significant problem here is that there’s a lot of loading time that tends to go on when not in battle or during transitions. At times, these loading transitions take place during a boss battle and breaks things up too much. These load times are especially problematic on the PlayStation 3, which is a digital-only title. No disc access is needed, and yet the game requires considerable hard drive access time.
Once you beat the Legend mode, Dream mode awaits and offers many more hours of gameplay. Dream mode allows the use of many more unlocked characters, each with his or her own story scenarios and missions to fulfill. In some ways, Dream mode is much more challenging than Legend mode… mainly because the mission parameters are much more demanding in order to obtain the highest grades, and therefore the most points. It’s not as enjoyable as the Conquest mode in Dynasty Warriors 7 was, but it’s still fun to play as many different characters from the Fist of the North Star universe and see how each handles. Dream mode also allows for online play, working with friends to clear missions and earn more powerful scrolls as players proceed. Multiplayer is not a bad addition, but it’s not really a major selling point for Ken’s Rage 2, either. It’s an extra option.
Visually, Ken’s Rage 2 has some issues with unstable framerate and repetitive character designs. The framerate, which can vary wildly from 60 frames per second with one or two enemies on-screen to less than 30 at times with a full screen of bad guys, is hard to overlook. Ken’s Rage actually handled framerate a bit more consistently. As for the enemies, be prepared to see lots of soldiers who look and move exactly the same. With the exception of commanders (minibosses) and end bosses, be prepared to kill the same poor sap tens of thousands of times. These complaints don’t make Ken’s Rage 2 unplayable. The main character designs are still very good and the issues with framerate aren’t debilitating. Unfortunately, in a sequel, it’s an expectation that improvements in technical areas are to have been made… and that’s not really the case here.
The sound fares much better. The original soundtrack from Ken’s Rage is reprised in this game, along with some new, guitar-driven tracks. The English dub from the first game is gone, and the voice acting here is all in Japanese. Dub fans (like me) may be disappointed to see it go, but the Japanese voice work is well done and is more authentic than a dub would be. If there was one real complaint to be had here, it’s that some music tends to repeat a little too much. It’s not a major problem, but by the time you start closing in on the end of Legend mode, you’ll almost certainly notice it.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is less a sequel than it is a better execution of the ideas that the original game brought to the table. The mission and character progressions are more streamlined and make more sense, and the battles move at a better pace with fewer interruptions. If you missed out on the first game and might be looking for something to tide you over until Dynasty Warriors 8 comes out, or if you’re a diehard Fist of the North Star fan, I recommend giving Ken’s Rage 2 a look. If you played the first game, your decision may be a lot tougher. The story is largely the same and there are some technical steps backwards which may cause you to question if $60 is a fair price to pay.
I had a good time with Ken’s Rage 2, despite the flaws. Even though the story hasn’t changed, there were still times when a character’s actions got me to fist-pump or cheer. I also still really enjoy that feeling of you (or you and a few allies) against an army of hundreds. Sure, Dynasty Warriors does it better, but even Lu Bu might have a difficult task in squaring off against Kenshiro. Now, back to Dream mode I go. Many more missions await.
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