Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage – The PS3 Attitude Review
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage is a game based on the popular manga series from the 1980’s. Set in a world destroyed by a nuclear holocaust, the story revolves around Kenshiro, the successor of an assassin’s art known as Hokuto Shinken. This powerful martial art allows Kenshiro to utilize pressure points located on the human body to decimate his opponents in brutally awesome ways.
Ken’s Rage is Tecmo Koei’s attempt at retelling the entire story of the manga. Did the developers at Omega Force do the beloved franchise justice, or is Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage already dead?
I’ll start this review off by stating that I’m a huge fan of Fist of the North Star. I know the story quite well and absolutely loved the anime. Fist of the North Star’s influence on various forms of entertainment are simply undeniable. References to the manga and anime exist in many of our favorite games. For instance, Chun-Li’s Hyakuretsu Kyaku technique (her fast Lightning Kicks) most likely wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for Kenshiro. To say that I’ve been excited for this game would be an understatement and I’ve been looking forward to it since its original release in Japan.
Ken’s Rage is a beat ‘em up similar to games like Dynasty Warriors. There’s countless waves of enemies you’ll encounter throughout your quest just waiting to be killed. The end of each chapter features a somewhat difficult boss fight in comparison. The formula is pretty basic. The game’s scenario mode, known as Legend Mode, plays differently than what you’d expect from a Dynasty Warriors title due to its slow pace and linear design.
For the most part, the combat is simple and consists of chaining together light and heavy attacks and performing special moves somewhere in between. When you first play, you’ll notice that the attack speed is really slow. It takes some time to get adjusted but the speed does prevent mindless button mashing. Of course, that’s assuming that you’re actually trying to perform a specific combo. Still, the lack of instant gratification at the start of a combo can be frustrating. At higher level play, you can cancel attacks and juggle enemies. There’s a surprising amount of depth in this game.
As you play through each chapter, you’ll gain experience points so you can unlock better attributes, new attacks, and new abilities. Each character has a Meridian Chart with tons of upgrades to unlock and this gives you the ability to customize the cast to your liking. All of your upgrades carry on in each mode, so there is a lot of incentive to upgrading characters.
Omega Force did a great job at making sure each character is as unique and authentic to the source material as possible. The animations for each attack look incredible and it’s fun seeing groups of thugs explode into puddles of blood. It’s just so satisfying and that’s the real driving force of this game. Rei might not be the main character in the game but his gameplay mechanics thanks to his counter hits are just too much fun. You’ll always feel overpowered, but it actually makes sense.
Boss fights are a mixed bag. You’ll most likely find that these fights are often cheap with bosses performing moves that seem unblockable or unavoidable. I found that a lot of the cheapness can be avoided once you realize that you need to use your techniques at the right moment to counter their own. The fights became so much more enjoyable once I started doing that. At the end of a boss fight you’ll need to perform a series of QTEs to finish the battle. It’s kind of random but it gives you something to do while watching your opponent take a beating like none other. Unless, of course, you make a mistake. If you do mess up, the boss will regain some health and you’ll have to take him out again.
There are multiple modes to play through in Ken’s Rage. The first of which is Legend Mode, which takes you through the entire story of the manga. You start off as Kenshiro but as you progress through the story you will unlock the ability to play as Rei, Mamiya, Toki, and even Raoh. Each character has their own timeline to play through and much of it either fills in the blanks in Kenshiro’s story or overlaps it in some way.
Eventually, you’ll unlock “Dream Mode” which changes the gameplay to Dynasty Warriors completely and has support for 2 players locally. You’ll have to capture areas, defeat captains, and annihilate even more waves of enemies. There’s no actual story to follow in this mode but the developers did add some dialogue with “what if” storylines that don’t particularly make sense. Omega Force knew this and made some jokes along the way that fans will appreciate. Another mode included in Ken’s Rage is the “Challenge Mode” and this allows you to battle against every boss fight in the game. In both of these modes you’ll be able to play as the heroes and the villains. It’s a lot of fun using characters like Raoh due to his overwhelming power.
Unfortunately, this game has a bunch of flaws. First, the slow attack speed might not please everyone. Even if you get adjusted to the gameplay, there will be moments where you whiff attacks only because it takes so long to do a combo. You will eventually find tricks and techniques that lessen these occurrences, but it’s still something you’ll have to deal with frequently for no particular reason.
Another problem is that each chapter is too long. Kenshiro’s story alone will take you about 10 hours to finish, but there are multiple characters to choose from. Beating the entire Legend Mode can take you nearly 25 hours to complete. That alone isn’t necessarily a problem, but when you consider the fact that you’re playing through many of the same areas again, it does start to get annoying even though each character is unique.
Each time you perform a special technique the game will dramatically pause and announce the name of the move, just like in the anime. It’s pretty neat and fans will appreciate this addition. However, imagine playing Ken’s Rage for 30 hours and seeing this every single time you perform these specials. It makes no sense why the game needs to pause each time and it would have been nice if it was optional.
The biggest disappointment is in the presentation of the story. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, much of it simply won’t make any sense. There’s almost no logical progression to the events taking place and this makes it difficult for non-fans to get into the story, especially when most of it is told by a narrator and scrolling text before each chapter. It’s nearly assumed that the player knows the entire story already and that just seems like a lazy oversight.
When you have a tale as interesting and magnificent as the one found in Fist of the North Star, it’s just a shame that it couldn’t be told better. As a huge fan, this really detracted from the experience. Occasionally though, there will be cutscenes that are amazing but it just doesn’t happen frequently enough.
The graphics are surprisingly good for a Dynasty Warriors title, especially the character models. As you battle your way through countless waves of enemies, even their clothes will begin to tear off. What’s great is that there’s a nice amount of destructible environments. In one boss fight, an entire building just falls apart and it really adds to the epicness of the encounter.
You can tell that Omega Force actually spent some time with the visuals. That said, Fist of the North Star is set in a post-apocalyptic world and you will always be reminded of that. There’s just so much emptiness and lifelessness in each chapter and it’s pretty depressing. At least we can that the scenery matches the source material. Just be prepared to see a lot of barren land.
In terms of music, there’s a fair amount of generic rock tracks but it generally sounds pretty good. The remixed version of the anime’s intro theme “Ai wo Torimodose!” is epic and exciting. There’s a few other tracks that stand out but none are as memorable as that one. Ken’s Rage has dual language support, so you can choose between English and Japanese voice overs. The English voices aren’t too bad but I played through the entire game using the Japanese VAs. Since I watched the anime with English subtitles, that seemed like the way to go for the game as well.
It should be noted that this game features a mandatory install (3GBs). In our interview with Tak Yamamoto, it was mentioned to be optional but that turned out to not be the case.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage is designed for fans of the series. The combat is deep enough to keep you interested in the gameplay but the story is really disappointing. You can easily spend over 30 hours playing through each mode with every character, so there’s tons of replay value. If you have never heard of Fist of the North Star and don’t care to read the manga or watch the anime, then this game just isn’t for you unless you enjoy the Dynasty Warriors formula. I’m actually not a fan of DW in the slightest but I really enjoyed Ken’s Rage.
PS3 Attitude giveaway!
In the US, we are giving away a copy of Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage and character alarm clocks. In Europe, we are giving away character alarm clocks and a rare artbooks signed by Hisashi Koinuma, the producer of Ken’s Rage! Find out how to enter by clicking here! Good luck!