Synyster Graves

Fist Of The North Star: Ken’s Rage

by on Jul.22, 2011, under Xbox 360

Fist of The North Star: Ken’s Rage is a third person hack and slash almost RPG game from KOEI. As with every other KOEI release since year dot it follows the paradigm of the Dynasty Warriors which involves wading through swarms of enemies, mashing the attack button like a hyperactive child on Hungry Hippos and in the end rack up a kill count of 1500 kills per level. Fortuantely this isn’t quite the case.

As an impressionable teen, I came across the Manga series of Fist of The North Star when it was aired late night on Channel 4. Quickly scrabbling to get a recordable VHS I taped about 5 episodes and was utterly captivated by the sheer brutality of the series. Here was a man like Bruce Lee, going around attacking bandits by punching them so their heads explode. I was hooked. A whole boxed set later and I can definitely call myself a Fist of The North Star fan. So I don’t think I can go through the whole review without doing this, excuse me, ATATATATATATATAAA!!! YOU ARE ALREADY DEAD! That feelsa whole lot better.

Shin uses his Nanto Seiken skills to turn enemies into slices of ham....

The game has a few modes which you can play. Legend mode follows the original manga storyline allowing you to play initally as Kenshiro, Rei and Mamiya; with Toki and Raoh unlockable characters. While the storylines are intertwined, it was great to play as the different characters as each of them have various fighting styles. While the majority of the missions are basically fight through the stage to defeat the boss, the grinding element of battling through levels with pretty much identical objectives, but this is glossed over as a devout fan of the series. The Dream mode is where KOEI have managed to stray back into their comfort zone and have created original scenarios revolving around the war between the Nanto and Hokuto factions. But most importantly for them, it’s basically traditional Dynasty Warriors gameplay involving cutting through swathes of enemies to defeat the commander, the main difference being the trail of exploding bodies you’ve left in your wake unlike the Dynasty Warriors games whereby thevanquished enemies just disappear (with the exception of DW6). While this does pertain towards giving a bit more lastability to a relavtively undiverse game, this is actually getting to wane on patience once you’ve crossed the 50 hour mark like I have.

The combat is decent at least, as far a button bashers go. While there is lacking in finesse in the general combat, it is satisfying plughing through a mass of enemies to watch them explode in glorious viscera. You have the standard X normal attack, Y strong attack and various combinations of these yield different combinations, but it’s the special attacks, like DW’s Musou attacks whereby this stays very true to the Manga series. Filling up your bar will enable you bank a special attack of which, like the anime, will execute the move while displaying it in glorious katakana. Very cool. You can pick up objects to either wield them or throw them, of which the targetting for the throwing option is nothing short of rubbish. It takes too long getting the crosshairs to actually zero in on what you’re aiming at and usually you’re hit before you get a chance to throw it.

Ken's big brother Raoh is a formidable character to unlock!

The enemies range from being stupidly easy to rather difficult, especially when attacking en mass as they tend to have an uncanny ability to get a huge hit on you from out of nowhere, or better yet, not take any damage whatsoever because they’ve started a special move. For the record, this becomes increasingly biased when you consider the fact that YOU the player, can be hit out of a combo by the enemies, yet enemies are inpregnable during theirs. Total bullcrap. What’s even more shit is the blocking system. The amount of times you will go in and whale on an enemy boss only for them to do some pathetic crossing of arms which makes them impervious to damage. Further more when this depletes, they recoil and you can hit them with a combo. Unfortunately no. The game will allow one measly hit before the block counter is reset to full, which is total bullshit. What is the point of having a whole guard breaker animation so you can get a single hit in? Even in the Street Fighter Alpha series it allowed a window for you to start a hefty combo upon breaking someone’s guard. The weighting of of damage detection is so incredibly biased in favour of the CPU controlled enemies that the challenge dissolves, just replaced with frustrated cursing at the screen.

The mini-objectives in the game start off as an interesting way of adding variety into a normal mission, but all these “missions” either involve eliminating a set amount of enemies in a certain time period, or protecting dumb witted AI characters who seem to wander stupidly into the fray despite proclaiming how unprotected they are and cannot fight. Senseless. The side missions are also quite hard to come by if you just battle through the level, most of them seem to require backtracking through areas you’ve already passed in dire hope that one of the side objective bosses appears so you can complete that side of your quest. This however will leave you running about like lost lamb for hours on end trying to 100% complete the level. Being a Japanese game in origin, there is of course the scoring system at the end which seems to have got the same mark for GCSE maths as Rock Band. I mean seriously I don’t understand how scoring 3 S ranks and a B averages out as an A. It’s stupid. And why do you need ranking systems in it anyways?

The boss battles is also where it lets itself down. You get the obligatory flooding of minions when you’re trying to actually fight someone and the boss as usual has an arsenal of cheap attacks to chip away at your life. As with any Dynasty Warrior title, you end up running in a large circle getting your combos in where appropriate and using your special attacks. Once you have beaten their gauge down they fall in one knee like a marriage proposal and you have to initiate a finisher. You then proceed to QTE them to death. Yes you have about 3 to 5  screens of button commands to repeat like a trained monkey to finally defeat the boss. This is a totally awful system for defeating a boss and only one mistake can cause them to get life back and you resume the boss fight with their newly acquired invigouration. Completing enough challenges causes the “Star of Death” to light up on your challenge meter and this QTE process is actually even longer, so you work out if it’s worth it for more XP. Personally, impletementing a QTE to finish a boss if totally crap.

All the characters are actually quite good. Even Mamiya with her yo-yos!

All in all as a fan I can safely say I was delighted this game came out and apart from the stupid biased AI enemies, this game is good if you like the Dynasty Warriors style of button mashing. Personally, I really liked this game although the monotony of the game got rather irritating after a while, coupled with the cheating boss battles, I would understand why the average gamer would be put off and I would only really recommend this game for real hardcore fans of the Manga series, as the homage paid to it is astounding. As a stand alone game, it can be perceived as another Dynasty Warriors clone without the swords, but what the heck…ATATATATATATAAA!!!

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