In the not too distant future nuclear war has transformed Earth into a barren wasteland. Governments are a thing of the past, and the small remaining pockets of humanity are relentlessly terrorized by gangs. Many strong warriors also wander the land, seeking power and control of whatever they can get their hands on.
Luckily for humanity there is one man, Kenshiro, who, despite being the master of the most powerful assassin's art known to man, dreams of a world free from violence and destruction. Determined to stick up for the little guy and rid the world of evil, Kenshiro and the deadly art of Hokuto Shinken serve as a beacon of hope for the darkened land.
Each character can also grab and throw enemies with R2, perform a special move with R1 (each character has their own unique special), dodge attacks with a well-timed press of the cross button and block with L1. Dealing and taking damage fills up an Aura gauge that's used to launch ultra powerful Signature moves. As you progress through the game you'll get stronger Signature moves that require more and more Aura to activate.
Most levels follow a similar pattern which has you dispatching a variable number of henchmen, followed by a slightly stronger commander, and then an end of level boss. Henchmen are little more than fodder that serve to boost your Aura reserves, and commanders aren't much better. End of level bosses are warriors that specialize in other deadly techniques, similar to Kenshiro's Hokuto Shinken. It must be said that Hokuto Shinken is pretty cool as it attacks the body from the inside, usually causing Kenshiro's enemies to explode. Few can stand against it, though the many warriors you'll come up against fare a lot better than their henchman and commanders.
It's possible to customize your warrior with various scrolls found throughout levels. The scrolls affect up to three of the following parameters – Life, Aura, Attack, Defense and Technique. You can equip up to five scrolls at a time, and equipping scrolls so that the same parameter is lined up vertically across two or more scrolls achieves a nexus. Each nexus gives a bigger than usual boost to that parameter, as well as a special Nexus Skill, which is something like increased defense when your health is low, or a reduction in the charge time for charged attacks.
Your warrior also levels up each of these parameters as they progress through the game. Killing enemies in different ways earns experience points for the parameters, for example defeating enemies with normal attacks boosts your life, while defeating them with heavy attacks increases your attack. This all happens behind the scenes but you do receive on-screen notifications every time a parameter levels up.
There are two game modes in Ken's Rage 2. Legend Mode is the surprisingly long campaign (about fifteen hours) that follows the story of the original manga. Dream Mode lets you take control of warriors unlocked in the campaign through their own unique stories. These stories are ‘what might have been', and so have different endings to those the warriors endure in the campaign. Far from being a tacked on addition Dream Mode is extremely deep, with at least one hundred missions (and probably more like 200) to play through. Completing everything Dream Mode has to offer would likely take weeks.
In my experience the online play is solid, at least from a technical standpoint. In my games, which admittedly were only four-player, there was no hint of lag or slowdown. The objectives likely aren't inspiring enough to keep you coming back for long however.
The biggest issue facing Ken's Rage 2 is its repetitiveness, and this is true of all aspects of the game. The fighting is rather mindless because most of the enemies are pushovers. Also, it's simple to find the one, best attack for each warrior and then stick to it, almost to the exclusion of all else. Hitting, square, square, triangle over and over for hours at a time will be enough to drive even the most ardent fan a little batty.
Although there are a huge number of levels across Legend and Dream modes, the maps, objectives and visuals are very samey, giving you little reason to press on to the next area. Enemies are repetitive too, and lack variety in both their weapons and strategies. Most of the time they just stand in front of you waiting to be pummeled, and they actually line up in front of you if you taunt them (with L2), making it even easier to dispatch them.
The best way to describe the visuals (aside from bloody) is functional. There isn't a lot of detail to environments, and enemies, at least the henchmen, look alike throughout. The good news is that more time has been spent on each of the main warriors, so they at least look cool and move fluidly. There aren't many flashy fighting animations outside of signature moves, and while this ensures you're not distracted from your job of wiping enemies out, it's disappointing because a bit more eye candy never goes astray.
One thing Ken's Rage 2 doesn't want for is blood. Hokuto Shinken is a deadly art that specializes in exploding those it is used on. Nary a combo goes past without massive sprays of blood all over the screen. Yes, Ken's Rage 2 definitely deserves its MA15+ rating. As far as cut-scenes go, many of them are static and use in-game models, meaning they're nothing to write home about. The animated cut-scenes are a different matter, and some of them look absolutely fantastic. They probably consumed much of the budget though, because they are few and far between.
There are no English voice work in the game, which to be honest is probably a blessing. The story is quite corny and listening to it in English might have exaggerated this fact, but in Japanese most characters still manage to sound at least a little cool. The voice acting is quite expressive, and if you're into the story (and not just skipping it impatiently) they should add to your enjoyment.
Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 is a game designed for a very specific audience. If you like the idea of battling through endless hordes of the same enemies, smashing all and sundry with nary a thought for strategy, Ken's Rage 2 should be right up your alley. If that isn't your idea of fun then steer clear. One for Fist of the North Star and genre fans only.
Review By: Mike Allison