Since the eighties, numerous developers have attempted to offer interactive interpretations of the seminal manga/anime Fist of the North Star. While early adaptations for the NES and Gameboy struggled to capture the dystopian backdrop and bursts of barbarous bloodshed, it wasn’t until 2010’s Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage that consoles were able to properly convey the atmosphere and unabashed aggression of the license. While Western critics weren’t enamored by the title’s Dynasty Warriors-inspired mechanics, the game did garner a diminutive following thanks to its engaging articulation of Hokuto Shinken.
Recently released sequel, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 demonstrates Tecmo Koei Games’ characteristic upgrade of adding a substantial amount of content to the core game. Yet beyond that trait, the title is one of the rare follow-ups that is inferior to its predecessor- with extensive changes which exacerbate the game’s combat mechanics, insipid environments, and localization efforts.
Jumping into the game’s Legend Mode, commences a journey through North Star’s extended story arcs. While this narrative explores the same broad plotline as Ken’s Rage, the sequel incorporates an increased amount of source material throughout its 36-stage journey, ultimately covering the majority of events from manga series. In execution, this means that the in-engine cutscenes of the predecessor have been scrapped for still panels which closely mirror Fist of the North Star’s appearance in Weekly Shōnen Jump. Players will also notice that Ken’s Rage 2 forsakes its forerunner’s English dub, divulging the publisher’s lack of conviction in this often slipshod sequel.
Combat, the core component of any musou title, shirks the protracted tempo of the first game, offering a swift cadence that’s closer to contemporary Dynasty Warriors’ titles. Regretfully, this adjustment is accompanied by a visual shortcoming; the PS3 iteration fluctuates between 60 and 25 frames per second depending on the number of on-screen foes. While it’s still satisfying to master every characters’ upgradable move-set and become a champion of crowd control, the title’s oft-unbreakable combat animations mean fracases feel unnatural. Expect to fling successions of far-flung haymakers just to land a concluding strike on an encroaching enemy leader.
Regretfully, boss battles have been over-simplified, with most encounters becoming a war of attrition. Gamers will spend a majority of their time issuing up insubstantial punches and kicks which contribute to their aura meter. Only when this gauge is filled, they can launch an assault that takes off more than a scintilla of damage. Regretfully, the potential for air-initiated attacks is slashed by the removal of the jump command, substituted with a dash move which recurrently places players behind their target. The one major upgrade to combat is the ability to adjust the direction in which combos are played out. Now, Kenshiro’s flurry of fists is much less likely to become squandered on empty space.
While Legend Mode aspires to recreate North Star’s storyline, Dream Mode provides original content that echoes the base-capturing ambitions of most musou titles. After selecting one of the four fighting styles, players then choose from a prearranged rooster of characters. Like Dynasty and Samurai Warriors, determining the proper course of action across a labyrinthine battlefield is the key to success, with each foray punctuated by boss battle where both assaults and acerbic comments are traded. Access to these characters is Ken’s Rage 2 greatest asset, with players able to toss Outlaw’s mohawk like a whirling blade, summon a bat for a Babe Ruth-sized wallop, or command Roah’s brawn to lift and crush puny opponents. Dream Mode also allows players to player cooperatively and an online companion, while the game’s Team Matches allows for group to via for supremacy. Unfortunately, the comparative community is exceedingly small right now, making finding a match prohibitive.
Save some quick-time events, Fist of the North Star’s signature rupture of viscera has been tempered. Sure, beating hordes of Zeed and King results in a fleeting wash of blood and if player wait around, they can watch contorting foes burst like entail-filled piñatas, yet most of the game’s bloodshed is remarkably understated. Similarly, the game’s palette and variety of environments is abated, sending Kenshiro and company through homogenous arenas and compounds. The game’s one aesthetic perk is its soundtrack- filled with blistering ‘80s metal which impeccably harmonizes with the tempo of the on-screen action.
Although Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 offers a plethora of content, a lack of polish and ambition means that Kenshiro’s adventure descends into tedium after a few hours. This isn’t a knock at musou mechanics; over the years I’ve spent countless hours with Omega Force’s franchises, annihilating multitudes of would-be aggressors. Yet, Ken’s Rage 2 quandary is that the title fails to trump its predecessor, swamping speed for precision and trading in its meridian chart for a convoluted collecting component. FotNS fans who haven’t picked up the 2010 game may want to seek out the antecedent before committing to this sequel.