December 7, 2000
Kessen, which literally translates to "strategic battle", wasn't a game that many expected to see being released outside Japan on the Playstation 2. This is an action strategy game which is set during seventeenth century Japan where you are a warlord in charge of a large army. The armies are equipped with swords and horses rather then the tanks and machine guns of today. This is definitely not a style of game that is common in Western consoles and PC's, with Shogo: Total War the most recent title with a similar style of gameplay. That Electronic Arts has picked up Kessen for distribution in America and Europe was a surprise.
The idea behind Kessen is simple. Players take control of one of thirty generals in the game and his regiment of troops, which can include archers, cavalry and infantry into a series of battles. Like Koei's Romance of Three Kingdoms you have to determine when your soldiers will fight, rest or move as well as plan strategies, issue orders and deal with evolving personalities of your officers. Each command you give will have a direct result on the outcome while it is possible to find new weapons during the game. Perfecting your timing, tactics and leadership skills is essential to claiming victory on the battlefield.
The main game is divided up into several sections. Following the description of the upcoming battle you can choose which general will be sent into battle and how many soldiers will make up each brigade. It is then your choice of tactics that will help decide the outcome. The can be from full on attacks to bribing an enemy general to loose the battle. During the battle there are five basic commands that include Attack, Rush Attack (a more brutal but costly attack), Move, Hold and Messenger to send messages to other generals. Even after your death the battle will continue where you can watch, but not take part in the outcome.
Electronic Arts' translation of the game to English seems to have progressed remarkably well. The game has retained all of the Japanese graphics although the Japanese speech has been dubbed over with English, which is adequate if not totally impressive. Perhaps for a game based in Japan it would have been more appropriate to retain Japanese speech and add English sub-titles.
The amount of detail in Kessen is quite amazing. With realistic helmets, armour and banners among some superbly detailed backgrounds Koei have done a magnificent job of re-creating the battlefield. Thanks to the Playstation 2's power the developers have managed to place over fifty 3D characters on the battlefield simultaneously. Each of the soldiers runs on a separate animation routine so the characters don't look artificial or computer generated. Due to a large number of cinematics in the game the developers, Koei, were the first in Japan to make use of DVD media for a game.
The release of Kessen here probably would not have happened were it not for the high sales of the game in Japan. In fact, while many titles were dropping out of the Top 30 charts after a matter of weeks, Kessen remained there for several months. Whether or not this game will put a dent in the charts outside Japan remains to be seen but the game has a very unique feel which will appeal to the hardcore gamers and strategy fans alike. Thank you EA for giving gamers a chance to experience one of the best strategy games ever.