Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2
Hard as it might be to believe, the Fist of the North Star series has endured in popularity for over thirty years thanks to its unabashed usage of gore and other endearingly cheesy qualities. Like most titles based off beloved mangas and animes, its videogame adaptations have always missed the mark with the most recent misstep being Ken’s Rage as it tried to fit the material into the tired Dynasty Warriors mold. Ken’s Rage 2 is a more sincere effort that, while clinging to that particular style of gameplay, still attempts to adapt the material into a respectable brawler.
Ken’s Rage 2 covers the entire series, from the first arc ending with the demise of Raoh the Conqueror to the much maligned second story arc. Any fans of the manga are going to be giddy at the sight of every single storyline getting its share of attention during the campaign as Kenshiro—defender of the weak, punisher of the wicked—lets his Hokuto Shinken skills tear through one depraved megalomaniac after another in the post-apocalyptic world. Along the way Ken teams up with a few kids and some fellow martial artists while getting revenge on the man that gave him his trademark seven scars.
The story is told through cinematics and manga-inspired cutscenes that have the habit of going on for a bit too long. For a brawler, Ken’s Rage 2 might actually be too long, and the cutscenes have a bad habit of weighing the experience down. If you’re familiar with the events in the Fist of the North Star universe, it’s advisable to skip the cutscenes and jump right into the game.
“Might actually be too long”Like its predecessor, Ken’s Rage 2 is primarily about punching and kicking your way to the stage’s endpoint while numberless hordes of marauders try to take you down. The engine has been reworked and there are even more enemies onscreen than there were before, so it’s not uncommon to take out several dozens in one combo. The visuals aren’t up to snuff compared to modern, triple-A titles but at least it’s an improvement over the original.
Jumping has been removed entirely and replaced by a dash that’s handy for maneuvering around crowds and difficult boss battles. While some might lament the ability to attack from above, the absence of any awkward platforming segments is a huge relief. Combat is a bit faster now and there’s overall more of a punchier feel, thanks in large part to boss battles having more back-and-forth action between fighters.
The combat system itself is slightly more nuanced with more moves for Kenshiro to learn and charge up, particularly the signature moves that he gains through playing the campaign. Pretty soon Ken has multiple attacks that help out in certain situations. Some are better for crowd control while others focus on one enemy, although there are a few that are trusty standbys as well. A more manageable way to flip through them would have been appreciated, though.
Leveling up is done through acquiring scrolls found throughout the levels that boost things like attack, technique, and defense. Using multiple scrolls focusing in the same area can be stacked for a bonus, and some of the scrolls will take on special properties like poison or regenerating health. Scrolls that have become useless can either be discarded or proffered to other characters, which becomes invaluable when tackling Dream Mode.
“More of a punchier feel”Dream Mode is most like Dynasty Warriors and serves as a ‘what if’ scenario regarding the other characters in the series. There are far more characters to choose from both story arcs than in Ken’s Rage from every faction whether it be Hokuto, Nanto, or lone warriors. Chances are if you have a favorite character from the series, they’ll be here. Each one has their own fighting style, so there’s a nice amount of variety between each of them and there are no palette swaps this time.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of overlap between the stories and Dream Mode lacks some of the more creative divergences in the storyline that was in the first title. And with mechanics derived from Dynasty Warriors, Dream Mode can become a slog more so than the long-winded campaign. Players must take over multiple bases across the map while taking on any high-ranking enemies or characters from the series. Your army is essentially useless, and with no orders to give them they serve little more than decorative purposes. Taking on an entire army by yourself is tough, even given how insanely overpowered some of the Hokuto and Nanto fighters can be. A little bit of grinding is required to win along with cunning usage of some high-level scrolls to tip the scales in your favor.
Ken’s Rage 2 isn’t the ultimate Fist of the North Star game, but it’s a pretty decent step up from the first with way more characters to play as and a tighter focus on trying to make a good adaptation rather than trying to make it a re-skinned Dynasty Warriors. There are still too many holdovers from that franchise, but Ken’s Rage 2 overall is a smoother experience that gives plenty of fan service to those that enjoy watching Ken and his pals splat evildoers with their bare hands.