For anyone who isn’t as old as I am, Fist of the North Star probably doesn’t have much meaning, but back in the early nineties, a virtually unknown anime film of the same title found its way into retail stores and rental shops, where it was quietly ignored by anyone who wasn’t a fan of Japanese animation. For fans, however, Fist of the North Star, among other films, showcased a side of anime that kids raised on Voltron and Robotech hadn’t yet experienced: violent, over the top action-packed animated films with little need for coherent plot and plenty of need for things and people blowing up constantly. The film pretty much faded into relative obscurity, and subsequent releases of the toned down television series have done little to spike interest in the franchise again, but for those who have seen the film, the name is synonymous with violent action, and while it’s probably not anyone’s “best anime ever”Â, it’s definitely a favorite of plenty of its viewers. Most Fist of the North Star related media doesn’t find its way to the US for the “lack of popularity”Â reason noted above, but after Tecmo Koei was given the ability to develop a Dynasty Warriors game based around the series, the company decided that it was worth giving a shot in the US market, and as such, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage was on display fairly prominently at E3 this year. I was given not only an opportunity to spend some time with the game, but also to interview Hisashi Koinuma, producer of the Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors Gundam series’, as well as the producer of this game.
Needless to say, I was absolutely floored.
The interview started with Koinuma asking about my familiarity with the product, and my subsequent gushing about being a fan of the various games as well as the Fist of the North Star series. Koinuma basically explained that he approached the game with the intention of trying to offer up both a Fist of the North Star and a Dynasty Warriors experience, and as such set up two playable modes: Legends Mode and Dream Mode. Legends Mode is intended to be a storyline mode that follows the story of the manga across five separate characters (Kenshiro, Rei, Mamiya, Toki and Raoh), while Dream Mode allows for multiplayer play (offline only, unfortunately) of eight characters (the above five, as well as Jagi, Souther and Shin), plus DLC. Unlike prior Dynasty Warriors games, the upgrade systems that allow for different weapons and armor and such will not be making an appearance in the game as such, however, Koinuma was able to confirm that there will be branching upgradable skill trees for the characters, though he didn’t have any to show off at that point. He also noted that Legends Mode will basically revolve around Kenshiro heavily, and he will have the most robust story of the lot, though the other characters will have decent stories as well. You will also have to play through various sections with Kenshiro to unlock the other characters in Legends Mode. He also addressed that the costumes are of a somewhat different design, specifically for the game, though there may be DLC available of the original costumes for those who want this thing.
At this point, it was time to get down to business.
The E3 demo offered three playable characters, each of whom represents the three main fighting styles in the game: Kenshiro, Rei and Mamiya. I took the opportunity to play as Ken and Mamiya for comparison sake as we made small talk about the game and the Gundam animation series, among other things. My primary interest, upon first booting the game up, was to see how well a character like Kenshiro would translate into something like Dynasty Warriors, and I’m happy to report that the answer is “very well”Â. The game itself plays exactly like a fan would expect, between the light and heavy attacks, the ability to jump and attack from the air, and the ability to unleash “Musou”Â attacks, or super powerful attacks that rip enemies apart. For the more skilled Dynasty Warriors players, there are also options available to switch between said Musou attacks as desired, with each depleting a bar on the gauge, as well as the ability to power up your attacks temporarily and the ability to counter attacks by pressing the block button at the right time. For those who were hoping for a faithful Fist of the North Star experience, yes, when you defeat enemies, they absolutely gush blood, and when Ken beats them down in particular enemies tend to expand like balloons before popping like overripe fruit, which is awesome on multiple levels.
Ken himself played exactly as I was hoping he would, between his heavily powerful attacks, spot-on perfect Musou techniques and general ability to destroy everything in his path, so I opted to put Mamiya through her paces, as she looked to be a weird character play-wise. Unlike Ken, who is more about short range physical assault, Mamiya is more about wide-range and long-range attacks, and she comes equipped with a crossbow to accentuate that fact. She’s a faster character with more interesting combat techniques, though she’s also noticeably less powerful than Ken pound for pound. Unlike Ken, who I played a bit to get a feel for him, I took Mamiya through her whole stage, which felt like a somewhat more linear Dynasty Warriors experience, focusing on combat over location control and army management, which might put off fans of the series, though it’s probable that Dream Mode will allow for such elements. Mamiya also allowed me my first change to face off against a boss, as Heart challenged me at the end of her stage. The battle was actually fairly complex, and I ended up getting a firsthand lesson on counter techniques, as well as a firsthand display of the dynamic model damage that appears as you fight. Basically, as you take damage, your characters will show signs of physical damage on their outfits, including ripped shirts and, in Mamiya’s case, skirts, to indicate that you’re physically injured, which is neat. Eventually I managed to put Heart away with a last minute Musou attack, where I discovered that major enemies don’t simply die, but require an Active Time event to put away for good, which won’t be anything new to Dynasty Warriors Gundam fans who have locked swords in battle. The killing blows inflicted in these scenes are quite impressive, however, and fairly easy to pull off if you’re prepared for them.
If Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage is as good as the E3 demo promises, it’s pretty much going to be a fantastic experience for fans of the Dynasty Warriors series and fans of Fist of the North Star. There are a lot of things I didn’t get to see in the demo, however, so this will be something to keep an eye on in the future, and stay tuned for the inevitable review when the game sees a US release later this year.