Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2
Publisher: Tecmo Koei Games
Genre: 3-D Action/Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: 02/07/2013
Man, it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Wii U game. My last one was Tekken Tag Tournament II Wii U Edition back in December and I didn’t think there was going to be anything mildly interesting for the system again until Lego City: Undercover. I’m a big fan of the Fist of the North Star manga and anime (the VHS of the original OVA movie was one of my first ever purchases as a kid. Thank god my mom didn’t realize Japanese cartoons had gore, violence and nudity.) and it’s always made a huge impression on me. So when I asked Tecmo Koei for a review copy of Ken’s Rage 2, I was happy to get the Wii U version, albeit a few weeks after the game was released due to Nintendo being slower than molasses at getting review code vouchers out to publishers or gaming websites (Not Tecmo Koei’s fault; they were as frustrated as we were). I wasn’t originally going to be the one to review this, even though I’m a big fan of the genre, mainly because I didn’t get a chance to play the first game (It’s on my backlog though), but things got shuffled around, and now here I am sinking my teeth into the second game in the Hokuto no Ken series. I’ve got Kodomo Band’s Heart of Madness queued up in my iTunes and a copy of the original VIZ Manga US release I picked up way back in 1995 beside me. It’s time to see if Ken’s Rage 2 is a fine addition to the Wii U’s lineup, or if this game is already dead.
If I had to sum up Ken’s Rage 2 in two words, they would be Dynasty Warriors, because that’s basically what you are getting here. If you’ve ever played a Dynasty Warriors or Warriors Orochi, or really ANY Koei game that isn’t Romance of the Seven Kingdoms or Pokemon Conquest, you know what you are in for here. Ken’s Rage 2 is one long button mashing beat ‘em up where you will be killing tens of thousands of enemies. The two big differences is that Ken’s Rage 2 uses the Fist of the North Star license and that it is far gorier than any Dynasty Warriors game that I have ever played. So if you’ve played and liked a DW title, you know that you’ll probably like Ken’s Rage 2, even if you’ve never paid attention to anything in the Fist of the North Star series before. Conversely, if you hate the series, you’ll probably want to stay away from this one.
Ken’s Rage 2 offers two modes. The first is Legend Mode, where you play through issues of the manga. I was surprised because I expected Ken’s Rage 2 to be a sequel, but in fact, the game covers the very first issues of the series, like meeting Bat and Rin for the first time, taking down Shin, dealing with the red berets and so on. If this sounds familiar to people who played the first game, well, it probably should as you’ve already played it. Me? I missed out on the first game so I’m quite happy with what’s here, but I can definitely see this irritating people who played through the first one already. I mean, after all, when you pay for a second game, you don’t expect to repeat the first, am I right? I get that Koei can do this with Dynasty Warriors as there are so many characters us ways to tell the same story, but with Fist of the North Star, you’re pretty much locked into the same thing. I honestly can’t fathom why Koei would do this when they could pretty much have done out of continuity stories or used some of the side story or Gaiden manga. I guess this is a perfect example of ignorance being bliss, because I absolutely enjoyed playing through this, but when I went to read about the first game to look for stuff to compare and contrast, I was shocked to see how much overlapped. Still, there is a lot of post Raoh content here, so for FotNS completionists, this is probably the game to go for of the two story-wise.
Dream Mode is just a mindless beat ‘em up through multiple stages with several character options including Rei. These characters are only playable in Dream Mode (aside from Ken, whose experience earned in one mode carries over to the next). Here you’ll just be wandering around maps, clearing out bases, trying to achieve a few battle stipulations like killing X number of enemies in Y amount of time, and earning boss fights. There’s no story to be had here aside from some conversation bit here and there and nothing in dream mode is in actual FotNS continuity, so it’s just meant to be mindless beat ‘em up fun for the Dynansty Warriors fan. It’s entertaining at first, but it really drags on, even with the ability to play as other characters and even online with other people who own the game. As a result I spent most of my time in Legend Mode getting to see the manga come to life in fully rendered 3D CGI images instead of hand drawn animation, but I did occasionally go into Dream Mode because I love Rei and wanted to see what all I could do with him.
Visually, Ken’s Rage 2 is gorgeous. Whether I’m watching it on my giant plasma television or on my GamePad screen, Ken’s Rage 2 looks like someone colorized the manga and brought it to life, which is a massive compliment. Honestly, I had flashback to how blown away I was as a kid when I first watched the cartoon. The game looks that good. Now is it the best looking game ever? No, of course not. If it the best looking game for the Wii U? No, not that either, but it should delight any fan of the Fist of the North Star franchise with how accurate the characters look, how well animated the legions of enemies, and most of all, how people explode when Ken strikes them. Like I’ve said throughout this review, I’m a big Fist of the North Star fan, but even if I wasn’t I’d be impressed by the character models and their animations. I also liked the cut scenes which unfold like a comic book with still panels. Instead of hand drawn stills like you see in a lot of JRPGs, the game uses the 3D models from the game. While I’d have loved to see some new or even reused artwork from the manga, I was find with the computer generated models for the scenes, if only because it was a very different way to do them and the character models look like the manga come to life.
Of course, not all of the visuals are a bed of roses. The backgrounds repeat themselves regularly, even very early on. I get that the game takes place in a post apocalyptic wasteland, but there really does need to be some more visual variety to the game. Looking at your surroundings does get old fast and by the sixth or so episode, you’ve seen nearly all there is to see in terms of layouts. Yes, this is disappointing, but at the same time, combat is constant and hectic so you probably won’t have time to care, much less notice.
Aurally, I don’t know what to think of the game. The first Ken’s Rage had English voice acting, while Ken’s Rage 2 only has a Japanese audio track. That’s fine I guess, but why include an English option for only the first game? I was a bit disappointed by the Japanese voice acting cast. I was hoping for some of the original anime (be it OVA or TY series) to return, but instead we have actors who have not played the characters before. Kenshiro, for example, is played by the same Japanese voice actor who does Snorlax in Pokemon, so it was a bit of a shock the first few times Ken spoke. I mean,w hen I think of Kenshiro, I don’t think of Japan’s answer to Garfield. That said, once I got over my initial impressions, I do feel that nearly all of the voice acting cast did a well enough job in their roles. Sure, it wasn’t the voice cast I was hoping to hear once again after all these years, but what’s here is done well enough that fans of the series will be happy and newcomers to the Fist of the North Star franchise won’t feel the need to compare previous actors to the current cast.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the first and second game in this series comes down to the gameplay. Ken’s Rage 1 tried to slightly distance itself from Dynasty Warriors, while Ken’s Rage 2 has embraced its heritage fully. The game is much faster than the original and the size of enemy hordes have increased dramatically. The jump button has been replaced by a dodge command and Hyper Moves have either been excised altogether or merged into signature moves or regular attacks. Signature Moves are also streamlined to keep combat as a constant rae rather than announcing them in the midst of battle Dragon Ball Z style. Again, I haven’t played the first Ken’s Rage, but I did play the demo on my PS3 and I can honestly say I like the way Ken’s Rage 2 handled better. I also watched some boss fight videos from the first Ken’s Rage and compared them to my own battles against the same antagonists and all I can say is that, while similar, the one’s in Ken’s Rage 2 are faster paced and offer less variety of attacks, such as Jagi’s bomb chucking in the first. It all depends on what you want. Do you want something far closer to Dynasty Warriors, or did you prefer the slower, more methodical pace of the first game? I found myself considering Ken’s Rage 2 to be Street Fighter II Turbo to Ken’s Rage 1‘s Street Fighter II. Sure they are mostly the same game, but for some the changes made will be highly significant while to others, it will feel like a quick overhaul done simply for some extra cash.
Gameplay is pretty cut and dry. You have a strong attack, a weak but fast attack, a dodge button and your Signature Attack button. Triggers let you block, taunt, use a special move and do a grapple or throw (depending on the character). As you kill enemies, you’ll earn one of five types of experience: Attack, Defense, Aura, Life and Technique. As you level up in each, Kenshiro (or the character you are using in Dream Mode) will become more powerful in that aspect. Aura lets you have more signature attacks, Life raises your health bar, Attack lets you do more damage and so on. The way you kill an enemy determines what type of XP you get, so your character will grow and evolve to fit your play style, which is quite neat. You can also find scrolls, or earn them by doing well in levels. Equipping scrolls boosts one of your five stats as well and putting the right scrolls in the right order and give your stats an even higher boost.
Besides all of this, Ken’s Rage 2 is essentially a button masher. Bosses might requires combos, counters or sig attacks, but it really just comes down to hitting buttons as fast as you can as often as you can. I didn’t find the bosses in this game anywhere as hard as Mark and Seventh did in their respective reviews of the first game. The thing I probably has the most trouble with was the camera, which can only be operated by the right analog stick and there’s no way to center it, so often times you can’t actually see what is going on. Surprisingly this doesn’t make the game harder as if you just hit buttons, you should still be killing enemies regularly without taking damage. So the game is neither hard to play, nor to master. By the time you kill Shin in the fifth or so episode, you should be having no problem advancing through the game rather rapidly.
Online is quite smooth when you find someone else to play with. The most powerful scrolls can only be found via online co-op, so there’s an impetus to actually play online. At the same time, there is absolutely no content in the game save for DLC that can’t be gained offline, which is I really enjoy as well. That means even when the servers eventually go down for this game, you still have access to every last bit of content. Besides co-op, online play also offers “Team Match: where up to eight different gamers can compete. Each team of two, three or four players works together to achieve certain goals and beat specific conditions. Once all the missions in team match are done, points are added up. Winners get super powerful scrolls and the losing team gets something like a weaker scroll or some XP as a consolation prize. Either way, you walk away from Team Match with some nice swag to use in Legend or Dream Mode. That’s always nice to have.
As long as you’re a fan of Dynasty Warriors or Fist of the North Star, you can get a lot of replay value out of Ken’s Rage 2. Legend Mode is quite long, even if you can only play as Kenshiro now. Dream Mode, however, is almost RPG in length, which tons of levels and many, many playable characters to unlock and go through all the levels with once again. Again, if you’ve played the first Ken’s Rage, the replay value is probably drastically lessened if only because it’s a very similar experience, but even then that doesn’t change the fact that you can sink dozens of hours into Ken’s Rage 2 and still have stuff to clear.
At the end of the day, the enjoyment one will get out of Ken’s Rage 2depends on how much you like Fist of the North Star and/orDynasty Warriors coupled with whether or not you have played the first game. I personally had a lot of fun with the game. I loved replaying classic moments from the manga, looking at all the character models, getting to play as Rei and other characters besides Kenshiro and had a blast making people explode. The game was never so hard that I actually died, but it was always challenging enough, especially trying to get an overall A rating since I gravitate towards exploring overt speed runs – the latter of which is what the game pushes you towards. Because I had never experienced the first game, I wasn’t filled with preconceived notions to compare and contrast this game to. As well, it meant I didn’t have the feeling of, “All of this was in the previous game” and instead viewed everything as new, fresh, and most importantly – FUN. I really had a great time with Ken’s Rage 2, but after reading about how similar the first one is to this, but slower, I don’t think I want to experience that. Sure Legend Mode sounds fun with being able to see the story from the point of view of characters other than Ken, but I’ll take the faster speed and streamlined gameplay over that any day. Maybe once Ken’s Rage 1 hits the bargain bin I’ll consider picking that up, but for now I’m not only happy with Ken’s Rage 2, I’m finding it quite hard to put down. Truthfully -that’s what most important – that you can and do have fun with a game; otherwise, what’s the point?
With Ken’s Rage 2 being the only Fist of the North Star game for the Wii U, it’s a lot of fun and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of it. If you have the first one for your PS3 or 360, you will notice a lot of repetition and there’s no way to escape the fact that Ken’s Rage 2 is as close to the original as Teen Wolf Too was to TeenWolf. Just switch out Michael J. Fox for Kevin Bateman and Basketball for Boxing and you have Ken’s Rage 2. So how does one rate a game like this? Basically, if you’ve played the first game in the series, wait for this to drop in price. That way if you do end up finding this to be a complete rehash, you won’t feel as bad (or as ripped off). I honestly can’t speak to how you’ll feel about the game if you’ve played the first, but I’ve seen a LOT of angry people across the web (reviewers for other sites included) that trashed Ken’s Rage 2 for being almost exactly the same experience. Me? I really enjoyed it, but again, that could be the old “ignorance is bliss” idiom coming into play. If you haven’t played the first game, you’ll more than likely find Ken’s Rage 2 to be a lot of fun as it does a wonderful job with the Fist of the North Star license, offers many hours of beat ‘em up fun and a fine addition to your Wii U line up. I know I certainly have. There are definitely things about the first game I would have loved to have seen here, like an English language track or the ability to play as other characters besides Ken in Legend Mode, but those aren’t deal breakers. Just remember that Ken’s Rage 2 is a digital download ONLY release for the Wii U, so this isn’t something you can try before you buy. For the umpteenth time, I really had fun with Ken’s Rage 2, but I missed out on the first game so mileage will more than likely vary based upon your own experiences with the first game in the series.
Short Attention Span Summary
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is a odd game. If you’ve played the first, you’re more than likely hate this for being a near carbon copy with some slight story and gameplay changes. Otherwise, it’s just more of the same, only faster and with a universal jump button. If you haven’t played the first game however, you’ll probably have a lot of fun with this game, especially if you are a fan of the Dynasty Warriors or Fist of the North Star franchises. I know I did. It’s just many, many hours of good old fashioned beat ‘em up fun. River City Ransom with exploding heads. Just remember that if you have played the first game, you’re basically paying twice for the same experience. The level of ire that raises in you may vary.