May 2, 2002
Kessen II - Review
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The battlefields are massive.
Another of Koei's Playstation 2 launch titles was Kessen, which was published outside Japan by Electronic Arts. This sequel is being published by THQ, but is by no means a lesser game. In fact, it's a lot better then the original. Kessen II is a strategy game in the strictest sense of the word as you enter into battles with hundreds of soldiers on the screen at once but unlike Dynasty Warriors 3 where you command one soldier through the battles in this game you command entire armies issuing orders and directions. Koei have pushed new boundaries with this game by taking the graphics to an all new heights and splendour.

Click To Enlarge Image
The battlefields are massive.
Kessen II is yet another attempt by Koei to hit the mainstream market with their strategy titles which has in recent years diminished to the very hardcore gamers due to the overwhelming stats and detail in games such as Nobunaga's Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This game, as with the prequel is still quite detailed, but a lot more user friendly. Set in China the game starts out with a rather solid tutorial to get you used to all the commands while, while at first daunting, soon become second nature. The game is split into two main sections which include commanding the battles on a large scale or zooming in to concentrate on controlling your own character, much like the Dynasty Warriors games. Each of the controllable characters has special magic attacks to help take out multiple enemies. These battles are split up with some splendid looking cut scenes which flesh out the story while smaller interludes during battles warn you of approaching enemies and tactics.

Click To Enlarge Image
The battlefields are massive.
Perhaps Kessen II's biggest downfall is not the game itself, but the minds of western gamers. Even though Koei have turned this into a more accessable title compared to what they usually develop, many westerners may still have trouble coming to grips with the very strategic style of gameplay. It's a shame because this is probably one of the best strategy games ever, especially on consoles. Another niggle is the number of small cut scenes within the game which are too plentiful. You will hardly be playing for a couple of minutes before another little 10 second cut scene pops-up.

One of the first things what will strike you about this game graphically is the quality of the cinematic intro. Koei have put together one of the most impressive groups of CG artists in any company to create intros and cut scenes in line with those at Square, Namco and Capcom. Sadly, but understandably, the lip-synching has not been altered for English voices which takes away some of the quality impressions. In-game graphics, while looking plain, are actually extremely impressive when moving. Hundreds of soldiers can be on screen at any time with minimal slowdown. The magic spells are also impressive to watch during battles, but never take over the entire scene.

Click To Enlarge Image
The battlefields are massive.
Sound is yet another area where the game has strong and weak points. Kessen II has some wonderfully dramatic orchestral music which suits the game so well (why couldn't they use this in Dynasty Warriors 3). As you head into battle the music builds and the swords clash together with frightening brutality. Sadly the English speech isn't that exciting. While the voice acting is passable some of the phrases sound rather "silly". They can have some very Japanese type sayings, which really don't suit a western audience. Still as an entire sound package it's better then most.

All-in-all Kessen 2 is a much better game then the original. The action is a lot more exciting, especially when you zoom into the battles, while the magic is exciting to watch. Perhaps the biggest achievement for this game is the scale of the battles. You really feel that it's an epic unravelling in which you play a crucial role. While Kessen II may be too detailed and technical for some, it's certainly worth considering if you're looking for some detailed strategy. I'm looking forward to the third installment.

GRAPHICSHundreds of soldiers, great cut scenes and nice detail. Very polished.
SOUNDSome great orchestral music is let down by some average speech.
GAMEPLAYIt's a love/hate type gameplay. Will demand some patience to get into.
VALUEBetter value then the original game as it will have you going longer.
OVERALLKessen II is a great strategy game that may be too much for many western console owners. Still if you want a challenge, and something different, then this game should keep you happy.

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