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Bev Chen
27 Nov, 2010

Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage Review

PS3 Review | By the time you finish reading this review, you will already be dead.
Chances are if you have an interest in anime and manga, you will have heard of Fist of the North Star. Often considered the grandfather of shounen (boy's) series, the manga made its debut in the early 80’s to widespread popularity and acclaim. It’s not as if there is a shortage of games based on the series either, with titles being released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayStation 2 and even in the arcade. It’s taken them a while to design a game based around the crowd-control element of the manga rather than a one-on-one fighting game, which is where Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage delivers.

The original story of Fist of the North Star is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and follows the journey of Kenshiro, a man with seven scars on his chest who is the successor to the ancient martial arts style of Hokuto Shinken. Ken’s Rage manages to successfully translate the setting presented in the manga to players’ living rooms, with the bleak visuals of the wasteland and villages looking rather nice (if you don’t squint too closely, that is). The outrageous violence that made the manga so infamous is also present, with enemies distorting horribly and exploding if you perform certain attacks on them. The voice acting, which comes in both English and Japanese, is also reasonably competent, with Ken’s battle cry (you’ll know it when you hear it) being the most impressive.

The game’s Legend Mode takes the story and follows it to a tee, almost to the point where it may be incomprehensible to players unfamiliar with the anime/manga. Being a game in the same vein of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes or Dynasty Warriors, Ken’s Rage not only allows you to play as Kenshiro, but packs a handful of other characters in as well. These include more agile characters such as the Nanto Shinken user Rei and characters with special play styles such as the firearms-equipped Mamiya.

The game is a great way to remind yourself how soft and fleshy humans really are.

The game is a great way to remind yourself how soft and fleshy humans really are.
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Gameplay is typical of the genre, with players being able to mix and time attacks to form different combinations that work to their advantage. It’s nothing new, but it does give the illusion that you are doing something new every time you discover a new combo. However, movement feels sluggish, which is understandable for characters like Kenshiro that are all about pure strength, but even faster characters like Rei suffer from the same problem.

The game does attempt to rectify this by providing players with a couple of handy techniques, such as the ability cancel out of a combo (amazingly useful during boss battles), as well as the ability for you to change the direction of your attack. Signature attacks are executed upon building up your Spirit Gauge and having enough Spirit Reserves (represented by blocks), depending on how powerful the ability is. Each character has a good number of abilities, each faithful to the manga, and players can assign up to four of them to the directional pad and swap between them to mix things up a little. In addition to Signature Attacks, each character also has a Focus gauge which fills gradually as you attack. Fill it up enough and you will be able to use a Hyper Signature Move, an attack that will kill weaker enemies such as mini-bosses instantly. Characters can also use elements of the environment to deal some serious damage, from smashing enemies into walls to kicking barrels over to send them flying.

Bad guy bowling!

Bad guy bowling!
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With all its emphasis on combat, it’s a little unusual that Ken’s Rage doesn’t really reward you for using a diverse range of combos . An attack is an attack – shred flesh all you want, but it doesn’t make a difference how you do it, which ultimately feels unfulfilling more than anything. You do get rewarded with experience for every enemy you kill though, and gaining enough experience will result in skill points. The use of skill points only become apparent when you begin thinking about how to make your characters more powerful, and that’s where the Meridian Chart comes into play. The Meridian Chart works in the same way as the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, starting players off in the center of the chart. As you choose different upgrades, you unlock different abilities and eventually begin to fill out the whole chart.

The Legend Mode in Ken’s Rage is broken up into different stages, and to add the sense of an action-adventure title rather than a pure beat ‘em up, there are seven side missions that you can do in every level. While you might think that this would break the monotony of running through each stage and flailing around at anyone who looks like a bad guy, it actually gets a little irritating when you realise how repetitive the side missions themselves are. If they don’t comprise of tasks like ‘Rescue the Villagers’, they require you to wander aimlessly around the stage while looking for certain items to destroy. Completing side missions does have its benefits though, with players earning various rewards ranging from a stage-specific increase in attack power or a hefty skill point bonus.

As if you won’t be spending a good chunk of time completing Legend Mode with each character, Ken’s Rage also includes Dream Mode, which takes each character and gives each of them an original scenario to play through. Dream Mode plays a little bit more like a strategy game, with players leading their troops into battle and defending/attacking various control points on the map.

Unfortunately, you can't punch boulders out of the sky.

Unfortunately, you can't punch boulders out of the sky.
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If there’s one aspect of Ken’s Rage that is to be applauded, it’s the camera. Whereas in most beat ‘em up games the camera is stuck in an awkward position, it is placed a good distance away from your character. It pans out accordingly, depending on how large the area you are fighting in and will even show you areas of interest in each stage. While the camera is fixed, players can switch between a targeted camera to a normal type during boss battles, something very handy during fights in more confined areas.

Anyone who isn’t a fan of the genre to begin with is going to read the synopsis for Ken’s Rage and wonder why developers are still making beat ‘em up games. It’s true; the game doesn’t do much for the genre, but that doesn’t mean that the game itself is bad, with additions such as the Meridian Chart doing their bit to keep the game fresh. Ultimately however, it all boils down to whether you’re a fan of the genre, or whether you’re a fan of Fist of the North Star. And if you’re both, you’re likely to be stuck with this game for a fair while.
The Score
If you like beat 'em ups, you will appreciate this one, but ultimately Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage is a love letter to fans of the original series. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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4 Comments
3 years ago
I always remember watching this anime years ago but never remembered what it was called.

You are already dead!!
3 years ago
i recall seeing it but cant recall where i saw it ? cant even find dvds for it just the new stuff , played the demo glad i dont have to import this.
3 years ago
For all it's faults, this game is still crazy fun. Great for working out stress.

Rated M for Manly, though.
3 years ago
ATATATATATATATATATATATATATATA

Manly game is manly.
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  15/09/2010 (PreLoaded)
Publisher:
  THQ
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2009
Players:
  1

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