The first Ken’s Rage sold relatively well, and it’s Koei, so we got a sequel 3 years later.
Which would be fine, until you realize what it actually implies in this case, and i don’t mean it simply being released to coincide with the series 30th anniversary.
That is something else entirely that ultimately condemns Ken’s Rage 2, but the main issue is that you just can’t do what Dynasty Warriors does with Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, as the source material for that leaves it open to the real historical characters being reinvented or changed, on what of the many events (historical or pure fiction like the many uses of magic) focus more the narrative, while keeping focus on the essential battles and significant achievements of the warring factions, and their part in the path to the unification of China after the fall of the Han dynasty.
You can’t just re-imagine Kenshiro, his friends and foes, as they have all distinct personalities, distinct character designs, signature moves and Fist Of The North Star’s popularity never really waned in 30 and plus years, so people still are quite well aware of it. On the other hand, you could hardly justify making a sequel when the first game stopped at the end of the Raoh’s story arc.
I mean, you COULD, since there is almost another half of story left to the series as a whole, but then it would look like you split a game in half and sold it as 2 full priced releases… and not that Koei is totally above that (can’t say the same for Namco Bandai and the Unlimited Cruise titles), but it’s just not something i expect from them, they just wouldn’t want to turn away people that didn’t play the previous installment by forcing them to play that one as well to get the complete package.
They could have done the “dream scenario” thing that Pirate Warriors 2 tried, but in the end they just did retell the same story, adding some minor arcs previously ignored like God Land, the arcs after Raoul’s defeat and up to the actual conclusion. Which would be fine, on paper, but the price to pay for it… it’s incredibly cheap. An incredibly shameless recycle-job, even for Koei,….and somehow they managed to fuck even that up, because the narration is worse. FAR, far worse.
The game wants to replicate the “comic book” style of cutscenes used in the first Pirate Warriors, so it uses still in-game models frozen in place and put in comic book style panels… but it can’t even manage to do that. First, in Pirate Warriors 1 character models looked good and were cel-shaded, they knew how to make this work in a satisfying manner, and there were proper cutscenes as well.
Also, now the QTEs can happen during the “comic crap” cutscenes, and failing at some can have effects on the fights, which is ok if immersion wasn’t instantly killed by the cutscenes looking so dang cheap.
Contrary to Pirate Warriors, here the models look ugly, the “comic book” style doesn’t work because they can’t even edit together these still images, so it becomes obvious it’s a cheap-ass cop-out that makes you wish they instead narrated over still images that look good. Some cutscenes do use the in-game models and properly animate them, but this also exposes how the graphics that haven’t improved at all in any way despite the first Ken’s Rage being released 3 years prior (and boy they needed some polish, as everyone is so jaggy to seem fashioned out of post-apocalyptic scrap), and that Koei also completely removed the english dub, despite one being available in the previous game.
A previous game that Koei – as we will see – just regurgitated, but also managed to make way worse, in a way that’s still unbelievable. Even for Koei/Tecmo Koei.
Instead of recycling and improving upon the insane amount of content Ken’s Rage 2 just cribs from the first one.. the game removes most of the stuff that was there to provide some variety to the experience, making every level an incredibly linear affair, corridors after corridors where you fight gaggle of enemies in a predictable fashion, every small “arena” after another, over and over again.
“Kill 80 soldiers” “now kill 100” “Kill all the enemies you can in this time period” “avoid that the ally NPC get killed” that’s it.
Even by Warriors standard, it’s a repetitive slog, or stuff that it’s still worse than the first game clunky attempts at inserting platforming and puzzle solving. At least they tried there, here i can’t even claim they did with any good intention. When there’s variety in Ken’s Rage 2, it’s either something bad, stupid easy (like the “stealth sequences”) or so pointless it might as well be done in a cutscene instead of asking you to press buttons.
Or shit like having to throw rocks at enemies on a distant platform to avoid them killing civilians…, and realizing how unbelievably crap throwing objects is, since the reticule doesn’t actually point at where it will land, and even compensating for gravity and physics it’s just akward and stupid to use. It’s no wonder most of the game doesn’t make you do shit like this with the throwing “ability”.
Gameplay was tweaked from the first game to make this one plays more like a normal Warriors spin-off, down to removing the jump and instead giving the player an evade manouver (which is not used as a guard break move, oddly enough, despite it also working as a dash in motion), changing the way the throwing/grab move works, making the special moves bar fill faster and upping attack speed, to cope with more enemies being present on screen at once.
Aside from these changes, the differences between the various fighting styles (Hokuto, Nanto, etc.) remain… as the movesets for characters that were already playable in the first one. Yeah, they didn’t even bother to change, improve, refresh or expand them. Just recycled them as they were.
And this was 3 years later, did Koei realized at the last second the 30th Anniversary of the series was due? I figured this was an ashcan project, but i’m not so sure, since they clearly still have the Hokuto No Ken license, as they relaunced this one in a heavily revised form for smarthphones recently.
While all the characters from the previous game are also playable here from the get go or can be unlocked by progressing through the story (even those that were made paid DLC because Koei, including the hilarious “Outlaw/Thug” with mohawk/buzzsaw musou move)… most of the new characters are many that pretty much were pretty much complete but weren’t made playable in the first Ken’s Rage, so it clearly didn’t take much effort to let you play as them this time.
Most of them anyway, as Amiba is paid DLC, and he was also a boss in the previous game. Yeah, they still had the gall to make some characters that appear as bosses (and show they already had most moves already programmed) paid DLC, like Shachi, Han and a “Nameless Shura” warrior.
Progression has been changed, and not by just giving every character all their complete movesets (not all special moves) right away, but because there’s a new Scroll system instead of the older, more straightforward upgrade system seen in the first game. Here the character doesn’t level up normally, but levels up his stats, which is both fairly self-explanatory, as hitting people raises your attack… but also killing people when your health bar is still colored green gives you extra levels in the “Health” stat… it’s kinda both convoluted and dumber than necessary.
You can equip scrolls to boost their stats, gain passive abilities (like being able to block even unblockable moves, poison damage, aura regen, etc), and overall influence more the growth of some stats to the decrement of others. It’s not bad, but it’s not a better system either, and it’s frustrating how few scrolls you can have for each characters, so it won’t take long when you have to descard them, or give them to other random players.
All the various gauges or gimmicks like tall, fat or armored types of officers or bosses, also removed. Most boss fights that were present in the first game also have been confusingly neutered, with the boss fight stage gimmicks removed entirely (like the pillar where Shin could be fooled into getting his hand stuck), and with that some of the moves, like Jagger/Jagi throwing bombs, etc.
Sure as shit they didn’t really rebalance or fix a problem that is usually present but less taxting in most Warriors title, as in boss characters not flinching, able to stop you mid-combo and start their own unblockable combos or special moves. It’s really cheap, as it goes from you stunlocking their asses from them almost killing you with some powerful moves in a blink of an eye.
So it just becomes more about spamming signature moves as fast as you can and mashing the evade button. Yes, you consume the special attack gauge a bit for each dodge, but still, the problem remains. Also, it’s amazing how the game can’t even let you lock-on on medium enemies, or bosses, and even when it shows the prompt to lock the camera to the boss… it really doesn’t. And it’s an incredible annoyance, how hard is it to make this work? Incredible.
Look, i know that Koei added the number 2 at the end for the international releases, and the original title (Shin Hokuto Musou) better clarifies this is a revision, but it’s an insanely crap revision. Even for Koei, this is utter dung, every way you slice it.
And stupid as well, because i understand not wanting to make a standard Warriors title yet… but Koei really should have let Omega Force make this one as a more standard musou, because this shit of linear corridors doesn’t fuckin fly or improves anything.
It’s just crap.
The story mode is notably worse, the Challenge mode is gone entirely for no fuckin reason, but there is some solace to be found in Dream Mode, which uses a typical Empires system of connected bases to capture, offering various missions that tell canonical stories and events regarding the various factions/alignments/groups, dream scenarios and challenge missions.
There’s definitely some fun to be had here, also thanks to the new playable characters, even if it’s annoying that you can’t just level up characters with in-game money, and some easy missions aren’t that easy. I do like the way Dream Mode handles the various missions, with some specific requirements to get better grades and so better rewards, and in the harder battles you’ll have to consider which bases to capture first. because each has a power level, and even with character that you levelled up a lot, you can get your energy bar chomped down a lot easily, so it’s better to capture the weaker bases connected directly to the stronger ones to lower their levels.
Shame that the half-assed effort found in story mode is present here: they didn’t really work much in designing the maps, just slapped the Empires base capture system to give them a structure and flow, with one or more boss type enemies that you can’t access until you capture the battlefield. And there’s really not much pushback to keep 4 bases yours AND then capture the final one to assess dominion, since the enemy force rarely manages to defeat an ally officer, let alone capture a base.
Also, another thing i didn’t notice the first time around, as i really didn’t spend much time in Dream mode, is that you move a little too slow and some maps are quite big. Aside from the fact there could be more locales and assets… the main issue isn’t that, odd as it may sound, but just how often you spend more time throttling between areas in the maps because these clearly weren’t designed with that capture base system in mind, nor were they really tweaked.
So you’d wish the game would just give you the usual “horse call” button to summon a horse when needed…. or did the same but with the motorcycle, which it’s actually in the game, but it’s so sparsly used (even in Dream Mode battles) you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s not in the game at all. At least here it makes more sense than the game spawning the bike in the “story corridors”.
There’s no point going over the technical details of graphics, if anything this one has the obscure – but not totally uncommon – trademark of a crap game: characters with feet or hands that partially clip into the floor, be it earth or cement, when a officer or boss model gets defeated and goes into a kneel down pose, 90 % of the time you can see it just passing through the pavement itself.
I remember clearly another game doing this: Knight’s Contract.
Even with the bigger amount of enemies on screen, the enemy mobs that can appear at once on screen are not that big compared to most Dynasty Warriors games (and the various crossover games), so you would be foolishly be led into thinking at least it runs without slowdowns… but this is Ken’s Rage 2, of course it manages to even have some fairly random framerate slowdown now then, very random “chugs” as well, despite looking like ass and with 80 % of the assets just taken wholesale from a 3 years old game, often looking worse, somehow.
Now there’s online play, which would be nice, if anyone was playing it. By searching around forums and reviews i saw that even at launch you would have trouble finding players online… so i’m not gonna bother with checking myself (as i simply can’t).
And for the sake of argument, even if i didn’t play this one after the first Ken’s Rage, i would have still lots to complain about. Even on it’s own Ken’s Rage 2 is not good at all, but you can’t ignore it being 80 % recycled from the first game…. made confusingly worse in almost everything, with some of the positive sides being meaningless due to how widespread and fundamental the flaws are.
While giving this game a second chance, i found myself really trying to like this one for the Dream mode, as in, there some mild moments of Warriors style fun to squeezed from this one, it’s not a complete turd, but it’s mostly just that.
What’s actually more unbelievable is that while this one is one of the most reviled musou titles among fans of the genre… it has some defenders.
And i kinda get why you would want to defend it, especially if you wanted a more traditional Warriors spin-off with bigger numbers of peons to waste and a faster attack speed to do so… but even so, i don’t get it, because Ken’s Rage 2 isn’t even that, it’s an unbelievably shitty cop-out of a non sequel that can’t even committ to revise the experience in a more traditional Warriors manner, so it just regurgitates all the content and often makes it less fun or interesting to badly satisfy your need to kills dozens of peons (not really hundreds)…. without bothering to actually marry that to any base capture system, or anything else, at least not in the story mode, but even so the Dream Mode is lacking and shows the same issues and unwillingness to give a fuck.
While Omega Force itself has also produced a good share of crap Warriors or “Warriors-like” title, Ken’s Rage 2 is still a masterpiece of crap musou/musou-esque follow ups, even lazy stuff bordering of a full priced re-release like Samurai Warriors 4-II… didn’t worsen the SW 4 gameplay it used as base.
For whatever reason, Koei recently decided to revive the Shin Hokuto Musou trademark for a smarthphone release, and – as i noted before – this time also adding new playable characters, like Boss Fang and the Golan/God Land’s Colonel. This release is Japan-only, with no news of a possible international release, or any interest by Tecmo Koei in making a Ken’s Rage 3, for the better or worse.