Adaptations are a tricky thing to attempt, especially when taking inspiration from comic/manga based properties. While the original visuals may act as a storyboard and inspire design elements, the overall feel and tone must filter through to succeed and most of the time, they fail to do so.
Having more than a passing familiarity with the source material, as I picked up the original Fist of the North Star manga when it was released in the late 80s, I had equal parts excitement and intrepidation when approaching Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 for review.
It always reminded me of a Japanese take on Mad Max (or The Road Warrior for our American cousins) with similar themes of hope against seemingly insurmountable odds, defending the weak, taking a stand and, of course, the absolute lashings of incredibly confronting and explosive violence. The series was not for the faint of heart.
It told the lonely and tragic tale of Kenshiro, a leather clad sombre warrior trudging across a post-nuclear apocalyptic world where money no longer carries weight and might makes right. The strong abuse the weak as bandit factions terrorise the general population with the strongest hoarding all the resources.
Kenshiro is a master of the deadly martial art of Hokuto Shinken targeting the body’s vital pressure points causing enemies to explode from within in gorgeously gory fashion. He uses this to inspire hope against the cruel emperor ravaging the land and local populace. Little does he realise he is on a collision course with painful memories of his past. This is classic Japanese drama rife with betrayal, jealousy and love, dripping in blood and remnants of internal organs.
As Kenshiro wades across what’s left of creation I was salivating over the symphony of shrieks which would accompany his journey. I hoped to have a multitude of combinations ala God of War to tactically eviscerate my enemies. I wanted it to rain exploding body parts and bathe in its gory magnificence. I did not. While Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 earns brownie points for religiously following the manga’s plot, the execution truly lacks punch and is uninspired.
Each section plays out as such. You enter a bland, lifeless area. You defeat a certain number of enemies who simply wait to get taken down or casually strike at you from afar. These adversaries literally drop in from the heavens in dozen lots, are reduced to only a few variations on a theme and bunch together waiting for death’s loving embrace via your feet and fists. That’s pretty much it.
Occasionally you’ll have tougher commanders to dispatch or a boss battle (see above) in keeping with the manga, but these events leave minimal impact. They just involve beating someone down with a longer health bar and finishing them off with a Quick Time Event (QTE). After a few hours of this I’d lost anything other than a passing interest fuelled by my love of the original manga. I’d imagine those not familiar with it would tap out even sooner.
It even incorporates some limited jumping and stealth elements to little or no effect as well as a scroll power-up system which you don’t really feel any tangible results from, much like the combat. You kind of just aimlessly wail on scores of leather clad bandits without feeling any particular weight to your strikes or satisfaction from connecting and dispatching them by the score. It closely resembles Tecmo Koei’s other staple franchise Dynasty Warriors, filled with the same limitations and the Dream Mode is a prime example of its short comings.
In Dream Mode you play through a series of smaller scaled battles as a variety of side characters in their own short story. Sounds initially promising, but the end result is just tedious. You face off against waves and waves of enemies, taking out a specific number to win over a specific base. Win each base, take on a commander and move on. This is classic cut and paste Dynasty Warriors.
The side characters have little to no personality and their skill and move set reinforces this fact, painfully. After taking the first few steps on this ‘journey’ I tapped out realising this dream was quickly becoming a nightmare in limbo. Both game modes had the potential to carve out their own niche and cement themselves as a quirky little distraction but there’s simply nothing of substance to maintain your interest.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 leaves no lasting impression and is only fleetingly entertaining, at best. The combat is repetitive to the point of disinterest, the power-up system lacks impact and the Dream Mode feels more like busy work and time filler. C’mon Tecmo Koei, take a chance and break the mould a little. I haven’t been wowed by any of your offerings since Dynasty Warriors 2 (which I finished with all 50 characters, no shit). I keep hoping and praying for a return to former glory, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 isn’t it.
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