I’ve been wanting to revisit the Ken’s Rage series for a while, especially because it seems like a no-brainer to make a Warriors style game about one of the most beloved shonen series of the 80s, Fist Of The North Star, with Kenshiro and his cast of powerful, larger than life foes, with more post-apocalyptic muscle mountains and the array of martial arts that explode people from the inside, cure them from all ailments, and do whatever insane mystical, awesome bullshit they do.
Not that Fist Of The North Star lacks videogames based upon it, but aside from the first NES game (released without the FOTNS license as Black Belt), most of them never left Japan, or did reworked due to licensing into something else. In either case, here in Europe we almost got nothing of that for decades, so Ken’s Rage was actually a nice treat for starving fans that wanted to experience Kenshiro’s post-apocaliptic odyssey in videogame form on their modern consoles.
The game covers from the early chapters, starting with Ken facing Zed’s gang and closing with the end of the Raoul’s arc end. So it’s not all encompassing and complete in retelling Fist Of The North Star, but it has everything the fans will want to see and play out, and it’s narrated pretty well, with the main campaign retelling events from Kenshiro’s viewpoint, and the others getting shorter mini-campaigns filling their part in the overall’s plot, and it’s all fairly loyal to the source material.
Some quite good looking cutscenes and a decent english dub, which is nice.
Interestingly, this was NOT developed by Omega Force.
I would have been a reasonable guess, since 99 % of the times Koei does exactly that, obtain a license, give it to Omega Force to make it a Warriors style game with some differences, but this time they actually developed it internally, clearly in an effort to make it stand out a bit more and do something a little different with it, as at the time Koei seemed to give some importance to the critiques they regularly got – regardless of them being true – about Dynasty Warriors games.
It’s still a straightforward hack n slash game and you can tell it’s from Koei regardless, it still feels like a Warriors title to some extent, but as requested by series co-creator (and artist) Tetsuo Hara, the attack speed is fairly slow, in order to be more realistic and i guess true to the original work.
In order to proper assess things, i replayed for some hours Ken’s Rage 2, then went back to this one to confirm if the pace of combat was an actual problem or not, i didn’t felt it was back when i played it years ago, and on re-evalution, while the parry could have been better (or having a way to cancel a combo that isn’t just jumping away) i honestly don’t think the attack speed is a problem, since the game is designed to decline the Dynasty Warriors combat in a more typical beat em up fashion, hitting people its more fun and it has more weight because of the deliberate attack speed
Yeah, combat system is pretty much Dynasty Warriors style, with the extra option to grab and throw enemies and objects, but it’s basically that. Aside the endless supply of weak mohawked thugs serving as peons, there are medium enemies, the officer equivalent, with a name, more health, better IA, the ability to guard (and damage on contact in case of armored spiked ones), and in case of fat or giant/tall enemies, a shield bar that stops directly damaging their health bar.
It’s fun but while it plays more like a standard beat em up, there’s still some repetitivity to the combat and its button mashing horde clearing nature, it’s still cut from the same cloth as Dynasty Warriors, so keep that in mind, but it can be quite fun regardless if you can tolerate these aforementioned flaws. On the upside, it’s one of the more challenging offerings from Koei, it’s still challenging even at normal difficulty, it’s a welcome change of pace and it’s nice having to think a bit more about what you’re doing, since enemies are fewer but a bit more resilient and aggressive.
Bosses are no exception, and are pretty good, even if at times it feels like they went a bit overboard. Not much, but enought to make it a bit more frustrating than needed.
With a Dynasty Warriors style combat, i don’t mind too much medium enemies and bosses ignoring some of your combos to start their own or having special moves that make invincible when in execution, i mean, otherwise you would stunlocked them to death, but at times the bosses feel like they have a bit too much advantage, as they also can recover health if you don’t press the offensive always, can make you go in a weakened state AND unable to block.
Not that blocking serves much purpose, it can be useful, but the timing to do a perfect parry is a bit too precise to work reliably through the game, and there’s no useful dash manouver to directly dash-cancel your way out of a special attack (as said before, you have to jump and hope you don’t get “comboed” or special attacked in the ass just when you land and start moving to run away from it) that might hit you way harder than expected, or leave you at the mercy of bosses juggling your ass. I didn’t think much of it the first time i played it, but as i got back and reached the fight against Raoul in Toki’s story mode… yeah, it’s oddly unfair how it can get in some occasions.
I mean, even if you took out some of the mechanics for the bosses or boss type enemies, most of them would still have been challenging, they just overegged the pudding a bit.
And to be honest it looks a bit better than i remembered, but i still think it still look cheaper than it could, it could. I know it’s Koei, but still, even if FOTNS and the scenarios are barren, they could have been more detailed, as some parts of the characters models (in some cutscenes you can notice some oddly low quality assets for some of the character’s hands or something very specific) look good, but everything else clearly does feel it could have used some polish, even more since – by design – the game doesn’t prioretize having hundreds of foe on screen at once.
sadly the soundtrack isn’t one of the strongest, kinda humdrum aside from some cool arrangments of Hokuto No Ken classic themes. The english dub – as said before – it’s pretty good though, no complaints there.
The story mode is linear, but the levels actually give you some room to explore, as you can find extra scrolls for bonus skill points, secondary missions, and some parts of the level are accessible only by certain characters, which have their own small story mode. It’s mostly linear, but it’s always good to explore what you can when possible.
To break up the fights there is a bit of platforming and puzzle solving. And while i appreciate the effort, i don’t mind them being there as they do help break up the slaughter sessions… they’re pretty token and clumsy, especially the platforming, this game engine really isn’t made for jumping, but i’ve played worse, at least jumping isn’t that imprecise, you can work with it.
So yeah, they don’t really work well, even the similar attempts (in the form of QTEs based platforming ) made by Omega Force in the first Pirate Warriors are slightly better.
One of the gripes i have with the story mode is that while each character has its own, and while not identical, they take place in the mostly the same stages as Kenshiro’s, so they feel more of an aftertought, with just some parts of the stage that can be accessed thanks to a character’s specific ability, like if you see a small ground passageway, you can’t pass through that unless you’re playing as Mamiya. Its not bad extra content, but i would have preferred an unified and slightly bigger story campaign, to be frank.
Dream Mode offers a more traditional Warriors experience, enacting non-canonical scenarios, what-if situations (and fun stuff like fighting the fan favourire “Huge Granny” character) over maps featuring a traditional musou capture base system, a pretty standard one, yes, but they actually designed the maps here with this in mind instead of just jumbling together assets and lazily laying an Empires style base system over it.
A bit disappointing is the roster, as it’s only 8 playable characters (plus 2 DLC ones that really should have in the game to begin with, since they’re fully featured bosses), the standard for the “foundation title” crossover Warriors games, but they’re pretty good and they each have a pretty good number of specials and moves to unlock.
As far from a content standpoint, it’s fairly packed, it’s not embarassingly short or too bloated, and there is replay value even for story mode, it will require some effort to perfectly ace each mission and find all the hidden missions or generals that fill up the “bonus gauge” in each level.
If you’re a fan of Kenshiro’s post-apocalyptic story and hack n slash/beat em ups (especially – but not necessarily – the musou inclined ones), i do quite recommend this one, lots of fun even if a bit repetitive and technically a bit cheap, but you can tell Koei really cared with this one.
Eventually, the company would follow this up with a… disgrace, let’s be honest, we’re talking about Ken’s Rage 2 next. We do have to. Sorry.