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EGM Review:
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2

Posted on February 11, 2013 AT 06:07pm

You Are Already Meh’d

For nearly as long as there have been videogames, there have been licensed games built upon popular franchises from other media—and as long as there have been licensed games, there have been terrible games built upon popular franchises from other media.

Koei taking their tried-and-true musou concept—as in, the gameplay style that has powered other projects such as their Dynasty Warriors series—and building a Fist of the North Star game around it seemed like a totally logical idea to me. Written by Japanese mangaka Buronson and drawn by artist Tetsuo Hara, Fist of the North Star is the legendary 245-chapter tale of Kenshiro, a martial artist who fights against the lawless gangs who rule over the postapocalyptic world he walks. In the pages of the series’ 27 volumes (as well as its various animated versions), Kenshiro uses the techniques of his fighting style—known as Hokuto Shinken—to bring quick, bloody justice to countless punks and ruffians.

Having seen various attempts to bring Kenshiro and company to life via interactive entertainment since the days of the NES and Genesis, Koei’s musou-style attempt seemed like it could be the first time that idea would really work. Unfortunately, reaction to that 2010 game—Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage—was extremely mixed, and my excitement waned to the point where I never got around to giving the game a shot.

So, now it’s a few years later, and Koei’s gone back to take a second crack at getting things right; that was the promise—or, perhaps, just the expectation—for Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2. While I do have some knowledge of the ups and downs of the first game, I came into Ken’s Rage 2 prepared to judge it on what it was, and not how it compared to the previous game.

I came to the realization while playing that maybe, those many years back, I was wrong when I thought this was the direction that a Fist of the North Star game should go. Or, perhaps it is a great idea—just in need of better execution.

Above any other flaws or faults, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 has one huge, core problem: It never made me feel like a badass. The reason we play games such as this is that we want to take these characters that we’ve seen as larger-than-life warriors for years, and be given the chance to—under control of our own hands—live out those adventures. When my co-worker, EGM reviews editor Ray Carsillo, plays games such as Batman: Arkham City, one of the reasons he loves them so much is because they allow him the ability to be Batman—and make Batman do all of the badass things he’s read or watched Batman do.

Kenshiro is—as he himself admits—a god of death, and I want to feel like every button press I make is laying a fist (or foot) into some poor scum’s face with the burning fury of 1,000 suns. I didn’t feel that here, though. As Kenshiro’s Hokuto Shinken ripped through wave after wave of generic enemies, there was a noticeable lack of weight or excitement to what I was doing. The enemies kept coming, and the total I needed to clear through before I could move on increased. 50, 75, 100, more. The quota could keep going up, but it wouldn’t matter. Tap out the same combo string—any combo, really—and they’d keep dropping like flies.

That, really, is the disconnect with this game. Kenshiro should—and must—be that total badass, and there should be a certain amount of glee from knowing that no enemy you’ll face can really go toe-to-toe with you at the end of the day. The problem is, games like these need to do one of two things: They either need to provide you with a legitimate level of challenge—where, like zombies, foes that would be nothing on their own suddenly become deadly when grouped in enough of a horde—or I need to feel like I’m controlling the coolest mother-effin videogame character to ever live as I rip through so much worthless computer-controlled fodder that I lose count how many lives I’ve taken.

Neither of those elements are in effect in Ken’s Rage 2. Most of the game’s challenges require little more than a continual mashing of buttons, and even then, the combos we get as a result just aren’t interesting. Even worse is that the times when the game absolutely should not fail at creating drama or exciting gameplay—boss battles—it indeed fails at both. Besting these foes takes little strategy, and outside of the occasional instance of quick-time events, there’s never much variety to how you’ll defeat them.

And, yet, I wouldn’t feel OK with myself if I just called Ken’s Rage 2 a terrible game. Being fair, it’s not terrible. None of its pieces are completely broken or unplayable, and the brainless nature of combat—and pummeling your way through endless waves of enemies—can, at times, be fun and cathartic. There’s also a beefy amount of content presented in the two included gameplay options: Legend mode runs players through all major points of the Fist of the North Star saga, while Dream mode opens up a wide selection of familiar faces for use in a handful of more Dynasty Warriors–esque “what if” scenarios.

However, that word that I just used is the best way to sum up Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2: brainless. This isn’t just in terms of its combat, but also in its straightforward level design, handling of the Fist of the North Star mythos, visual quality, presentation, and other elements. I just wish that Ken’s Rage 2 weren’t so terribly average in everything it does, because I want a well-crafted Fist of the North Star experience where I can truly feel like I’m controlling Kenshiro—and other characters from the series—in all their glory.

Instead, we’ve been given a game that probably won’t be exciting enough for newcomers to Fist of the North Star, yet which I feel doesn’t do enough to earn the respect of hardcore series fans. Had this been a budget release, I’d feel more accepting of its middle-of-the-road quality, and I could be a little more trusting in its potential to please attack-spamming action fans or the Hokuto hardcore. As a full-priced release, however, this is like buying a ticket to see a Kenshiro cosplayer—but for the price of a visit with the real deal.

SUMMARY: Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 convinced me that a Dynasty Warriors–style trip through one of manga’s more infamous worlds wasn’t as good an idea as I once thought. While I still see a lot of potential in the concept—and in this game itself—this effort’s underdeveloped and disappointingly average.

  • THE GOOD: Lets you kill a whole lot of people in gruesome ways.
  • THE BAD: Somehow makes killing a whole lot of people in gruesome ways not as exciting as it should be.
  • THE UGLY: The fate awaiting any character in the Fist of the North Star series not named Kenshiro.

SCORE: 5.0

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii U. Primary version reviewed was for the PlayStation 3.

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got started via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as can realistically be crammed in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk Eric on Twitter: @Eric_EGM. Meet the rest of the crew.

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