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Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 PS3 Review
Fistful of Mohawks
Tecmo Koei are perhaps best known for publishing and developing (often through in-house developers Team Ninja or Omega Force) the Dynasty Warriors series, Dead or Alive series and Ninja Gaiden series. As a brand that specialises in the historical action genre, it was seemingly only a matter of time before they worked their magic on the well followed manga series of the 80s, Hokuto no Ken, or Fist of the North Star as it’s known to Western audiences. The first game was released on multiple platforms in 2010 to fairly mixed critical response in the West despite being very popular in Japan – It’s a heritage brand over there. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the manga series, the sequel has arrived in 2013 but whilst many things have changed (that probably shouldn’t have) other new additions help the game out which leaves a fairly uneven package unfortunately.
For those new to the series on which the games are based, Fist of the North Star is set in a post apocalyptic world after a nuclear war. The land has become barren and some people have survived. Many have become freakishly strong/oversized due to the radiation causing widespread gangs to loot and pillage what little is left – generally food, water and alcohol as money is now worthless. Only the strong survive. Kenshiro, the proclaimed, ‘Fist of the North Star’ having inherited Hokuto Shinken (a fictional name for a martial art based on pressure points and blindingly fast strikes) from a young age is seen as the only one to calm the chaos from the various tyrants in the land. Cue lots of fighting, cocksure bad guys and an unstoppable force in Kenshiro’s fists. In essence it’s Mad Max with a nice dose of Bruce Lee cranked up to 100. It’s a traditional Good Vs Evil tale when all is said and done but adds both flair and bluntness.
Be the Legend, Live the Dream
The game is split into Legend and Dream Mode. Legend is the main campaign where you will play as Kenshiro for the most part and unlock other characters as the story progresses as well as scrolls to upgrade the character. Dream mode allows you to control a variety of other characters in their own stories and there is a bucketload of content in both modes.
Legend mode follows the story traditionally from the comics and it takes into account many more of the story arcs and scenarios that the 1st game did not. You’ve got God’s Army in there, Devil Rebirth and Jackal as well as going to the Land of Shura – it’s a fuller and closer representation of the story which will please the hardcore fans and give new fans a lot to sink their teeth into. It is also closer to a Dynasty Warriors style than the first game which means it loses some of its identity that made the first one quite unique in my eyes. You have main attacks that can then be altered with the heavy button presses mid combo and these differ for each character. Some range from unleashing a flurry of kicks to a wide number of Mohawked 80s goons whereas others focus more on stunning single opponents (useful more for bosses). You also have the musou gauge which fills up as you deal damage allowing you to unleash a signature move (of which there are many) for that character. These are flashy, powerful moves that you never get bored of watching. Watching Kenshiro do his trademark ‘Hundred Crack Fist’ where he obliterates enemies with 100 punches is superb.
Dream mode has you capturing enemy bases which is even more in line with Dynasty Warriors style but as you unlock Dream Mode characters through playing Legend Mode there is enough variety in fighting styles to keep this interesting. A few ‘God Hand’ moments also.
You're Already Dead
You upgrade your Attack, Defense, Life, Aura or Technique as you play depending on your preferred play style which the game recognises. Manage to not lose much life while fighting? Life goes up. Finish combos with hard hitting finishers? Attack goes up. It’s an interesting method which helps you play in certain ways to get the right attribute higher – it forces you to experiment. Coupled with this you collect various scrolls and add them to your character grid to further bolster your abilities. Link more than one type of scroll in the grid and you get an extra bonus such as extra Musou gauge, increased defense when low on health and many others. It lets you tailor your ‘build’ and I liked having a high focus on Technique allowing my combos to flow much smoother and quicker.
Besides the new upgrade system there are some other changes compared to the first game. There is now no jump button which has been replaced by a dash but as the Nanto Seiken characters can link jumping attacks into their combos it isn’t too much of a pain. There is also no English language track and just Japanese with subtitles. I actually liked the English dub with part of the tv series and the first game so this is more personal preference but would have been nice to have the option. The other main gripe despite some quite bland environments, textures and fiddly camera is that arguably the game hasn’t changed much from the first. The story is much more developed (best part in my view) but it is still very similar to the first game. Much like a Dynasty Warriors game you’ll be doing a lot of punching smaller enemies until you get to a commander or boss and defeat them. It can be repetitive so be warned if you don’t like Dynasty Warriors’ gameplay it’s unlikely this is the game for you.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is an unashamedly over-the-top action sequel. It may not reinvent the wheel from an action gameplay standpoint that much but stays true to the original material and quenches a thirst for pulverising hundreds of enemies with Kenshiro, Shin, Shu or many others out of the famous collection of fighters throughout the manga series. If you’re a fan of the source material, the developed story alone is a big plus and still worth getting if you own the first one. For newcomers I would recommend the 1st game to see if you like the characters and combat because this is more of the same. Remember...only the strong survive!