Review: Rise of the Kasai (PS2)

Rise of the Kasai
Platform: PS2
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Bottlerocket Entertainment
Rating: Mature
Release Date: 4/5/2005

OK. So, first off the bat, I’ve got to apologize for quite possibly getting that asinine commercial for Coke with Lime stuck in your head. At this very moment, I’m mustering every neuron in my head to think of a combination that was better along those lines. No, not Crystal Pepsi, with it’s full transparent body that coexisted as both blessing and curse. The outing between Public Enemy and Aerosmith comes to mind for their collective rendition of Walk this Way, but the novelty wears off quicker than any KISS album or commercial venture of the past 20 years.

But I digress.

There are and continue to be worthwhile couplings of things you thought you couldn’t mix together. Some cried ‘sacrilege!’ over Chris Cornell’s team-up with the Rage Against the Machine guys, but it turned out -in my opinion- better than anything Zack De La Rocha laid his vocals onto. The Taco Bell Chillito, with it’s 50 cent-in-public-school price point, blended the harmful stoner staples of chili and burritos into a seamless grace. And just as Vanilla Coke works, so does, for the most part, Bottlerocket Entertainment’s Rise of the Kasai; the sequel to their sleeper hit, Mark of Kri.

So how does Kasai measure up?



Story

Following -and at points- preceding the events of Kri, Kasai follows the story of four warriors – Rau, Tati, Griz, and Baumusu – who make their way across the many lands and locales of the world in order to stop the spread of the Kasai; a religion/cult of sorts whose followers seek to manifest the powers of a completed Mark of Kri. Throughout the game, the story is delivered through damn good cut-scene animations and equally good voice work.

Before I go on, I’ve got to get this out of the way: despite every good intention and necessary dollar amount to back it up, I never got a chance to play Mark of Kri, which, as previously mentioned, is the first game in the series. While I can only assume that players that have had experience with the prior title will be able to pick up wherever the first game left off without any problems, I can’t sufficiently say the same for those of us who haven’t. From the onset, you’ll be hearing names of places and people as they fly by your ear at such a speed that it may appear, at first, that the story is damn hard to follow. The intricacies of the storyline have the beginnings of a story that could become as detailed as the Legacy of Kain series in scope, which since there are only two games in the series, is no easy feat. And despite my initial experience in trying to follow the story which could have been characterized as ‘daunting,’ it has a sense of charm to it.

The reason for this is because the overall feel of the story is damned refreshing. The game’s story has a very spiritual feel that is simply absent from a lot of contemporary games. The focus is not on a single personality or any idea rooted in personal resolution (revenge, criminal syndicate ascendancy, ect) save for Tati, but rather conveys a real epic sense that the task of trying to bring the Kasai in check is larger than any one character. The presentation of the story, from the brilliantly animated cut-scenes and superior voice work in between levels to the shell, which is a white letterboxed picture with an aurora highlighting your choices, has a uniquely aboriginal feel that’ll grip players from the game’s beginning.

It is these elements that accentuate Kasai‘s story and presentation, and on story alone is well worth the investment.

Rating: 8/10



Graphics

While Kasai doesn’t appear to be pushing any graphical boundaries on first sight, it becomes apparent as you play that Bottlerocket makes damn good use of the hardware they’re given. It’s no Gran Tourismo 4 or Resident Evil 4, but it’s evident that a great degree of care went into this.

The levels, which apparently were designed for navigation by two simultaneous players (more on that later in replayability), are huge and colorful at every turn the player could make. And despite what may seem like an overwhelmingly huge level, you can tell that special care was taken to limit any geometric or overall conceptual redundancy from level to level. Each place has it’s own distinct feel and look which fits the given play mood perfectly.


Character model construction and animation is solid throughout, as all of the characters move as seamlessly as the player would expect. Depending on the weapon and the given killing technique being used, the execution of slowed down death-strikes, like stealth kills or multi-hit combos come off as very slick and appropriate to the technique.

As mentioned before, the shell and cut-scenes are beautiful. Said cut-scenes that take place in between levels are presented in what appears to be a type of wire-frame technique, as before and after loads, the game will seamlessly enter and exit into what looks like animation being done on a roll of papyrus. Regardless of the technique, it’s beautiful.

Rating: 7/10



Sound

This is another area that Kasai excels in.

In-game, an ambient score of sorts is used to drive the level’s flow, in which the tempo will pick up if an enemy approaches; a convention used in other games, like Legacy of Kain: Defiance. That is, in the thick of the battle, voluminous drumming will surge through the speakers until the last man is taken down. Only then will the player be left with the soothing ambient score that holds most levels.

The production and mixing is spot on as well. You can hear the details throughout any place in the game from in the game itself, to the shell, as well as navigating and simply pausing the title.

Good presentation all around.

Rating: 8/10



Gameplay

As far as I know, the same control system that graced Kri is the same one found in Kasai. For the uninitiated, it’s a rather interesting -if not ingenious system- of pressing the R3 analog stick towards the direction of a given group of enemies in order to target them. In the order you rotate the stick, up to four enemies will bear the logo of a given Playstation button over their head. For instance, if you lock onto two people, you’ll find that one is labeled with an X, and another is labeled with a square. Hit the applicable one, and your character will charge towards the button you pressed.

Depending on how many people you target, you can pull off up to 4-hit combos which, if landed successfully, will treat you to a slow-motion display of the battery as well as verbal confirmation that you have indeed pulled off a specific combo. Now, while I like the idea of having combos in my action games, I’m not too keen on the particular execution Bottlerocket chose to go with.


Depending on the weapon you’re using, you’ll have to time your attempted combo to the hit timing of said weapon. If you’re using a light sword, for instance, you’ll be able to tap out the combo sequence quicker than if you’re using the axe, which is heavy and as slow as hell. If you think you can import the same combo schema that you have from any Capcom fighter, think again. Because of this, I found the combo system rather frustrating.

Another point of contention I found was with the execution of stealth kills. Since I learned my stealth kills in the Tenchu school, I spent my first attempts trying to kill people while walking toward them. Sounds intuitive, right? WRONG. In what is considered a boon to new players, but frustrating to me, you actually have to stand still while executing any type of stealth command. This can be adapted to in time, but I found it frustrating beyond belief before I found out what I was doing wrong.

Other than these setbacks, the control is decent. Routine combat is executed well enough, and a raven spirit guide is there to help you peer around corners by use of the R2 and Triangle buttons in concert. A plethora of weapons exists for a sense of variety, and level challenges are presented for every level which help you develop your skills anyhow.

Overall, a decent execution.

Rating: 7/10



Replayability

Just when you think it’s done, Kasai will have you coming back for more. And part of the reason for such is rather interesting…

For you see, way back in 2004, there was a goal that Bottlerocket was shooting for. And that goal was a 2-player co-op mode. An online mode, no less. This would have entailed two characters going through the same level side by side, and completing goals to aid each other in the progression of the game. For whatever reason, however, the co-op mode fell by the wayside. In a playful sense, you can see vestiges of it in the prompts before some levels, as directions are given to both you and your AI partner. It just so happens, though, that rather than strip out said vestige of this mode that remained, Bottlerocket left it in there. And in order to complete many of the level challenges, you’ll have to play as both characters. Not too shabby, huh?


The incentive for doing this unlocks new weapons and the like, which by some degree of cosmic thought, creates some kind of cycle in which you complete the challenges, to unlock weapons, to lay waste to your enemies, which are part of completing challenges, and this goes on.

Pound for pound, it works out rather nice.

Rating: 7/10



Balance

Quite simply, in an abbreviated sense, this game’s balance is good enough to keep you on your toes without hindering the progression of the story. There are points where you’ll feel the tension of trying to fight your way out of a hoard of enemies, but there is enough health to keep you truckin’ along. The AI won’t insult your intelligence, but won’t let you pass without the three magic words either: square, triangle, circle.

OK. That joke was poor. But balance isn’t. It’s where it needs to be.

Rating: 6/10



Originality

Four heroes on an epic adventure to keep a cult from gaining the power of the Mark of Kri, for if they don’t, then all hell breaks loose like a Chinese protest against Japanese textbooks on a global scale. Not very original, but it’s told so damn well. I’m almost tempted to give an extra point to story…

Rating: 5/10



Addictiveness

Once you pick Kasai up, you won’t want to put it down. The execution of the story, as well as the desire to see how said story unfolds, will keep you coming back for more. You’ll also be compelled to complete all the level challenges, as well as attempting to master the combo timing. There’s much to see here, and it’s an almost painless exercise in doing so.

Rating: 7/10



Appeal

There will be two camps here: those who have had some affiliation with Mark of Kri, and those with no prior exposure to the franchise at all.


Those who have played Kri will definitely want to pick this up. A co-worker of mine, who spoke of the game at length, hit the nail on the head in saying that the reason why Kasai is such a great sequel is because Bottlerocket didn’t mess with anything that worked in the first title. Despite not having played Kri, I can empathize with this statement when it comes to other franchises, and believe wholeheartedly that this assessment is concise.

For those who haven’t had any affiliation with the franchise, there’s a damn good chance they might enjoy it. Action heads will get their fill and story buffs have another tale to follow and take in.

Rating: 8/10



Miscellanious

And as if a sequel wasn’t enough for those who played Kri, Kasai will recognize your older Kri game saves and will unlock exclusive costumes for the protagonists. Patronage in action. That’s pretty damn cool.

The Rating: 7/10



Story: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal:8/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

Overall Score: 70/100
FINAL SCORE: 7.0 (GOOD!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Rise of the Kasai isn’t without fault, but more than makes up in it’s ability to deliver a great story and great action to boot. Fans of the franchise won’t be disappointed, and quite possibly, neither will new players.