Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 – Review

Title   Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2
Developer  Koei
Publisher  Tecmo Koei
Platform  Playstation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii U
Genre  Beat 'Em Up
Release Date  7th February 2013
Official Site

There is a shelf on the approach to the tills in my local Aldi. Housed on this shelf are a variety of items, including toasty makers, assorted cookbooks and endless quantities of cheap DVDs. This is the shelf of true magic, where the most wonderful cinematic experiences of all are found, and hidden among the dross are gems.  I have a confession to make: I adore bad movies. There’s just something special about that spectacular blend of atrocious acting, shoddy stories and extravagant – if badly choreographed – action that makes my hair stand on end. It’s glorious, and I simply can’t get enough; I could spend hours simply browsing the shelves of budget films, luxuriating in the warm glow of their slightly blurry boxart.  Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 belongs on that shelf in Aldi. It’s not a particularly good game, not in any way, shape or form. Nevertheless, it is absolutely glorious and I love it.

Set in a post-apocalyptic vision of the (potentially) far future, Fist of the North Star tells the story of Kenshiro, the only successor of the powerful Hokuto Shinken style of martial arts. It’s based on the legendary manga of the same name and, for the most part, sticks to the source material religiously. Kenshiro’s tale is told through a succession of still-frames that are beautifully rendered, but unfortunately static. Very seldomly does Ken’s Rage 2 show off its cinematic chops, but when it does it’s worth the wait – actual cutscenes wouldn’t look out of place in an anime and, for the most part, actually put the rather dated source material to shame, all of which makes it all the more frustrating that they are not more frequent.

As much as I would like to compliment the high quality of the accompanying dialogue, I unfortunately can’t, simply because it is entirely in Japanese and I have no idea if it is any good, as I don’t speak Japanese. The (potentially) unintentional by-product of my complete inability to speak Japanese is the requirement to read the subtitles, also meaning that I could never look away from the screen. Constant attention was required if I wanted to know what was going on – and I did – and over the course of the 20 plus hours of story mode this becomes incredibly wearing.

Thankfully, the actual gameplay provides a good rest for your wearied brain, as there is absolutely no need to use it while you are playing. It is one of the most mindless gameplay experiences possible, made up of the same few segments of gameplay over and over again. These sections are essentially a succession of enemies thrown at you for you to take down with your tiny moveset, often boiling down to mashing buttons until your special meter is full, and then using that special move. Over and over.

Despite that potentially damning statement, there is a certain pleasure to be found into beating quite literally hundreds of enemies senseless. It’s mindless, it’s idiotic, and it is quite wonderful. Every so often the waves of peons are interrupted by a tougher enemy, and on even rarer occasions a boss character interrupts the flow of battle. This is normally a brief interruption at best, signified by a lot of signature moves repeated over and over again, interrupted by flashbacks and relationship exposition or a brief QTE before being thrown back into the next stage of the fight. Although it can be monotonous, there is still an undeniable joy in completing that last QTE and watching a powerful opponent explode from the inside – a common occurrence when Kenshiro is around.

I doubt at this point that it would surprise you to hear that the story that is so faithfully adhered to is, well, holier than the pope. The plot is as repetitive as the gameplay, and new, more powerful enemies for Ken to take on appear with startling regularity, often with a complete disregard for the events that have already happened. Continuity is a word alien to the Fist of the North Star writers, well loved though they are. It must be said as well that at 20 hours, it sometimes feels a bit like the story mode has outstayed its welcome, much like that annoying cousin that wants just one more cup of coffee. I’m fairly sure that I completed Ken’s Rage 2 at least three times, but only on the third attempt did it actually end. Third time lucky I guess.

On top of the ludicrously lengthy story mode – rather pretentiously named Legend Mode – there is something called Dream Mode, where you slip into the shoes of other characters in the world of Fist of the North Star. There are more than 20 to choose from, all of whom are encountered during the course of Legend Mode. Every character has a unique style, ranging from styles that are based around speed and quickly building up signature moves to others that simply smash their way through crowds, using signatures as and when they are needed.  These characters are split into several factions, and these have their own storyline in Dream Mode. It’s not actually a storyline as such, but does serve to provide context for the battles that you are fighting your way through. Dream Mode also provides an opportunity for multiplayer, as the battles are conducted in pairs for the most part, and these can be formed either locally or wirelessly.

This, on top of the lengthy Legend Mode, provides several dozen more hours of content, so if this is your thing, you will no doubt be playing Ken’s Rage 2 for the foreseeable future without running the risk of finishing everything that is there to be done.  When you look at nothing but the facts, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is not a good title; you would not be at all out of line if you were to call it bad. However, words alone cannot quite convey the pure, unadulterated joy that it can inspire. Yes, it is repetitive. Yes, it re-uses assets over and over. Yes, the story is terrible, but bloody hell is it fun.

  • The character designs are great
  • There is a huge amount of content to enjoy
  • Somehow it’s fun
  • Assets re-used all the time
  • Story is a mess
  • Japanese voice acting only – can often be draining
  • Not enough animated cut-scenes
  • There is a lot of repetition

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 feels like it belongs on that shelf in Aldi. It’s not a particularly good game, and at times slips to the realms of being genuinely bad, with characters, animations and assets re-used throughout an already repetitive experience. Even so, it is a glorious experience, and if you can find it in you to revel in that B-Movie feel then it will bring you a great deal of joy. The score was an issue for me because I can and do enjoy this particular brand of low-quality entertainment, but even though I love this title, it really is pretty bad.

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One Comment

  1. Tom Tom says:

    This was so goddam annoying to hear you play, ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya-har!

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