Within a couple of minutes it is abundantly obvious why this series continues to be so popular. It's brutally violent, and offers a wide range of very different (though completely imaginary) martial art styles on exhibition. The setting - a post-apocalyptic wasteland - is also a real breeding ground for bittersweet stories of humanity and heroism. But mostly, it's just brutally violent.
Tecmo Koei's Warriors formula is also an appropriate choice for a game based on Fist of the North Star for that reason - it enables blood letting on a massive scale. Ken's Rage 2 acts as something of a refinement or expansion pack to the original game. As such, fans of the first game should get something of value out of this game though they might grumble at paying full retail price for it again, and Fist of the North Star fans who hadn't played the first game now can now buy this instead as this acts as the definitive edition.
In other areas the game stumbles in trying to offer variety. The stealth sections are just silly - Kenshiro can take down an entire army with his fists - he hardly needs to sneak around anywhere. In fact, at any time where there isn't combat, Ken's Rage 2 creaks under an engine that isn't designed for anything but combat. Between battles there's also a "scrolls" system that offers a rudimentary (and rather dull) way to power-up and somewhat customise characters. It's not much and eventually becomes a chore.
Dynasty Warriors games feature a free-flowing, fluid and graceful combat system. They're the elegant, cinematic-style games. Samurai Warriors games tend to focus more on individual duels with rival warlords than on bringing down thousands of warriors in each battle.
A game like Warriors Orochi is more about fulfilling a fun fantasy, and then there's other experiments - such as Trinity, which turns the formula into an RPG-style game.
The differences between the warriors games are subtle, and if you don't play them regularly and in-depth, they're easy to miss, but they do offer substantially different experiences that are unfairly ignored by critics.
Outside of the main story mode is a "Dream Mode," which introduces a couple of interesting quirks to the combat while reducing the focus on storytelling. In Dream Mode there are "bases" littered around the environment that players will need to capture in order to access the level's main boss. This is a familiar system that we've seen in Dynasty Warriors and Gundam Warriors games in the past. It can be taken online for both coop and competitive play, which offers a fair replay value, but be warned - as a niche game expecting to find online players at times is tough.
On Wii U
I also had the opportunity to test the game on the Wii U, and it's functionally the same although it's clearly not optimsed as well. There's some frame rate issues and the odd graphical glitch that I didn't notice in my PS3 playthrough. Not enough to affect the overall quality of the game, but it's disappointing that more care wasn't put into the port.
- Matt S
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