Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 is a new button-mashing beat 'em up released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U last month. Developed by Koei, the game plays a lot like the Dynasty Warriors franchise - except worse.
There are two main game modes in Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2: Legend Mode and Dream Mode. Legend Mode follows the events of the Fist of the North Star manga/anime with players taking on the role of Kenshiro. Although the game covers all of the major arcs from the series, things seem to move just a little too fast. You will be introduced to a new main bad guy and then less than an hour later, you have already beaten him to a bloody pulp. It seems like the game rushes through the story and it would have been nice to have each plot arc fleshed out a little bit more.
Dream Mode allows you to play as other characters from the series (such as Kenshiro's nemesis, Shin) with all new stories showing you a bit of each character's history and providing alternate scenarios to the events from the manga. Since different characters have different techniques, Dream Mode is a very welcome breath of fresh air after pulling off the same tired old combos throughout all of Legend Mode. Dream Mode does feature online co-op play supporting up to four people, but trying to find a game on Xbox LIVE is like visiting a ghost town. You will rarely be able to find anybody else online.
Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 has good controls, but poor mechanics. It is easy to pull off the moves you want to do and the controls work very smoothly which is a plus. But the problem is, there really aren't that many moves to even perform. There are only really two or maybe three combos that are worth using at all. Considering enemies flood at you in waves of hundreds, techniques that affect one person are rendered all but useless in this game. Repetitiveness is always an issue with games like this, but Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 brings it to a whole new level of tedium. For comparison, each character in Dynasty Warriors 7 had six different combinations of quick and strong attacks to use. In Ken's Rage 2, Kenshiro has only three different quick/strong attack combinations.
What makes things worse is that you always have to defeat a certain number of enemies to advance and you are always timed (sometimes you have a time limit while other times the clock is used to judge your grade). This pretty much forces you to use moves that will sweep across the screen and hit as many enemies as possible. Once you find the best technique that hits the most people, you'll find yourself simply performing it over and over and over again.
Boss fights are also extremely frustrating because they can simply power through your combos unaffected. Kenshiro's fists can bust solid steel but yet when you are unloading on a boss, he won't even flinch. This often leads to them attacking you mid-combo, inflicting damage that you really shouldn't have suffered. Blocking is also pretty useless because you have a dash button that can be spammed to avoid almost any boss's attacks. As a result, boss battles often devolve into dashing around the battlefield and hitting them a few times before dashing away again.
Graphically speaking, Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 is mediocre. The character models are detailed enough but the environments are pretty shabby. This is especially true in Legend Mode where you don't even get a full map. Battles take place in tiny blocked off areas that are very bland and desolate. Dream Mode is a little better in this regard, because you have a full map to run around capturing bases like in the Dynasty Warriors games, but the environments still look like something out of a PlayStation 2 game.
At least the voice acting seems pretty solid despite the dialogue being available only in Japanese with English subtitles.
One cool feature in Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 is that you gain experience toward leveling up different stats based on certain factors. For example, defeating enemies with normal quick attacks earns you experience towards leveling up your life bar. Defeating enemies when your health is green will earn you experience towards defense. Beating opponents with strong attacks earns you exp towards attack power and killing people with a combo will level up your technique skill. This system rewards more varied gameplay and would be awesome to see implemented into a Dynasty Warriors title.
Players can also equip scrolls that they find on the battlefield to increase their stats. Equipping multiple scrolls of the same type will create what's called a Nexus and provide added bonuses in battle such as reducing the energy consumption of your special musou-like attacks.
It feels like Koei cut a lot of corners when developing Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 and longtime fans of the Dynasty Warriors series will definitely feel that this game is lacking something. Ken's Rage 2 really only appeals to gamers who love the Fist of the North Star anime/manga. Fans of anime in general who haven't seen Fist of the North Star might also appreciate playing through the game just to experience the storyline. There may be a lot of content to play through, but Ken's Rage 2 probably isn't worth dropping $60 on. Wait until the price goes down to pick this one up.
Final Score: 2 / 5 stars
(This review was based off a review copy of the game).