Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 ReviewFebruary 13, 2013
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is an enjoyable beat-em-up that packs a lot of content, but a lack of polish and low production values limit its potential.
My knowledge of the Fist of The North Star franchise is pretty slim to non-existent. I’m aware that it’s very popular in Japan (where it’s known as Hokuto no Ken), and I remember licensed games featuring protagonist Kenshiro going back to the Sega Master System, but beyond that you could say I’m a series newcomer. I also recall a few years back when a GameStop employee tried to push a copy of Ken’s Rage on me at the checkout counter. Now, here we are in 2013, and Tecmo Koei has released Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2, a sort-of sequel/ director’s cut of the first game, from what I gather, having never played the original.
The Fist of the North Star franchise celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the last survivors of humanity kill each other over the last scraps of food and drops of water, it stands to reason that a video-game tie-in would be rather bleak. You’ll find an incredibly muted color palette in Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2, aside from the rivers of crimson that flow when Kenshiro explodes enemies with his fists (which is pretty much as awesome as it sounds). It looks a bit like Fallout 3, to be honest. Character models, especially secondary characters, look rather cheap and somewhat unfinished. There’s low-res textures everywhere, and the environmental geometry is incredibly flat. I did appreciate that when punching bad guys into walls and pillars, the surroundings exploded in grand fashion, and some of the cinematic kills were creative and quite hilarious. At times, I even thought Kenshiro would be an awesome DLC character in the next Mortal Kombat. Beyond that, however, the game looks somewhere between a late-era PlayStation 2 game and a Vita title.
I’m not one to condemn a game entirely just for its graphics, though. Upon gaining control of Kenshiro, I found the game’s combat mechanics to be rather fun at first. It’s a rather brainless beat-em-up, in the vein of God of War or Devil May Cry, but I thoroughly enjoyed almost every entry in both series. The problem, which became exponentially clearer as the game went on, is that Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 doesn’t have much in the way of new combat features throughout the game. You will learn new signature moves every time you beat a boss, which is appreciated, but unlike GOW or DMC, there are no weapons to be found, and you’ll use your signature moves so often to dispatch huge crowds that they get stale super fast. Granted, this problem extends from the source material, as Kenshiro only uses his fists most of the time, but it greatly hampers the longevity of the gameplay. In GOW, for instance, you can switch between different weapons, each with their own style and moveset, freely during combat, which keeps things fresh, not to mention puzzles and other gameplay varieties to break up the fighting. Ken’s Rage 2 has a few amateurish stealth sections, a rather rote maze section, and a section where you throw barrels and spears from a distance, but like the rest of the game, they have a noticeable lack of polish. However, I did find an encounter against a giant Devil to be pretty cool. There is a bit of a level-up system in the game; by finding “Scrolls” throughout Ken’s Rage 2, you can increase your vitality, defense, offense, etc., and with the right combinations you can really beef up Ken’s skillset, making him even more godlike. But if Kenshiro were to learn expanded styles and movesets along with signature moves after each boss battle, the game would have a much better flow.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there are so many enemies to kill in Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2. Literally, you can destroy hundreds of opponents within a minute’s time. While this felt badass at first, somehow Dynasty Warriors seems to pull it off better. God of War features not only rolling and jumping, two things Ken’s Rage 2 lacks, but also a well-done parrying mechanic that keeps you on your toes. There’s also a variety of enemy types with wildly different move sets. While Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 does have blocking and a dodge mechanic, it’s very hit or miss, and you’ll only ever need to employ them against the boss characters; even with hundreds of baddies being thrown at you every second, you never feel truly challenged in Ken’s Rage 2. Another feature sorely missed from other brawlers is long-range attacks. You’ll basically be running after crowds of enemies to get close enough to spam your 4 or so combos and signatures. You feel like a god, which I guess Kenshiro basically is, but I felt like I was just mowing down walking targets after a while, the enemy count increasing just to artificially inflate the game’s completion time. It should be noted that in Dream Mode you can play online co-op, though in my many tries I could not find a single entity to play with, which is worrisome. I was able to connect to the four-player mode though, which packed some fun mini-games- but the whole time I was thinking how much cooler Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 would be if four-player co-op was allowed throughout the main game, or at least the main Dream Mode missions. You can play local co-op with a friend in Dream Mode, however, if you’re unable to find a partner online.
The cutscenes in Legend Mode are also a bit hit or miss. I liked the graphic novel style of some scenes, where basically a voice over would be played while a camera rotated around character models locked in one frame, but the novelty wore off when this style was used more often than the fully-fleshed out animated cinematics, in an obvious effort to cut costs; the lack of an English dub only accentuates this feeling. While I enjoyed the story and the Japanese dub seemed decent enough, I just couldn’t shake the “bargain production” feeling throughout my time with Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2. It’s telling that the PlayStation 3 version is only being released as a digital download, when its predecessor was widely available at retail.
That’s the biggest problem here, I think. While I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my time playing the game (as mundane as the waves of enemy clones and recycled environments could be), pricing Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 at the full $59.99 point forces me to rate it alongside titles with far bigger budgets and far better production values. While I enjoyed Kenshiro’s story and destroying legions of evil-doers for a while, Ken’s Rage 2 just doesn’t manage to keep things fresh enough throughout its campaign. I feel as though the production values invested in Legend Mode (which, to my understanding, is largely a rehash of the story mode from the first Ken’s Rage) should have gone into Dream Mode, while allowing four-player co-op throughout. Dream Mode’s multitude of playable characters and online integration make it the clear winner in this package, but sadly many players may skip it entirely after trudging through Legend Mode in its entirety.