Fist of the North Star is a manga series more than 25 years old over in the Land of the Rising Sun but hasn’t seen a Western release in twenty years. Does Ken’s Rage prove itself to be a wonderful 21st century beat ’em up?
Available on a PlayStation 3 near you, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage is the story of the stoic Kenshiro as he wanders the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. Developed by Omega Force, famous for the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors franchises, Kenshiro must tap into the power Hokuto Shinken to blast his way through thousands of brain-dead opponents. Literally — blast. Hokuto Shiken is a martial art that centers around hitting an opponent in specific acupressure points and causing them to explode. Or fry in an electrical blaze. Typical stuff.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage is a three-dimensional beat ’em up in the style of the arcade classics like Streets of Rage or even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While that may sound like a good thing as those pick-up-and-play titles are some of the most revered in video game lore, it ends up hurting Ken’s Rage. The levels in Ken’s Rage are actually very large and are filled with the same generic backgrounds and enemies. Instead of making progression through the world, it feels like you’ve been dropped in a dungeon-crawler-like RPG setting that you have to get through.
There is plenty of combat in Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage and, while it isn’t anything special, it works. While you start with the usual Square, Square, Triangle combo and a few signature moves, there is a great upgrade system. It actually feels similar to Final Fantasy X‘s Sphere Grid system. As you gain experience from killing enemies you unlock new upgrades, abilities, and moves and vastly increase Kenshiro’s repertoire of annihilation techniques. The only bad part is that even with a bunch of moves, the combat feels very slow and unresponsive. It actually feels like Batman: Arkham Asylum‘s combat, except with no flow whatsoever.
And don’t plan on listening to Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage as you play it. If the generic hard metal soundtrack doesn’t dull your senses, the voice acting will. While parts of the dialogue exist as signature lines, such as Kenshiro’s oft-used “You are already dead,” the localization and delivery are miserable. While Kenshiro has a deep and powerful voice, he switches to a high-pitched kung fu “AIAIAIAIAIAIAIAIAI” when he does his signature moves. While I may not know kung fu, it really emasculates the badass hero. The story is told to the player between each chapter in over-dramatized and broken sentences. It’s just painful to listen to.
The story isn’t even all that special to begin with. The world is in nuclear holocaust and Kenshiro is wandering about a’la Mad Max. Why? It doesn’t say. While the game’s “Legend Mode” follows Kenshiro throughout the story of the manga, the game’s Dream Mode lets your explore the universe through a multitude of other characters. But you really won’t want to try that unless you really, really care about the story. Even though the plethora of playable characters have different skills, the fighting ultimately feels the same. But if you got this game, chances are that you already are a fan of the Fist of the North Star canon.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage is a bland beat ’em up plagued by monotonous gameplay and an extremely inclusive story. The environments are dull, enemies are recycled over and over, and characters faces don’t even show any expression. Add an unbearable audio track over the whole thing and players will wish that before playing this game they were “already dead.”
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
– Gameplay and combat are uninspired.
– Only Fist of the North Star fans will tolerate the story.
– Voice acting and soundtrack are both miserable.