The coolest thing about Koei’s Dynasty Warriors (or Musou) series in the past few years has been the occasional branching away from the same old Three Kingdoms song and dance and exploration of really great, classic anime franchises. It started with Mobile Suit Gundam, followed that up with Fist of the North Star and most recently tackled Eiichiro Oda’s insurmountable cash cow One Piece. The first game based upon Buronson and Tetsuo Hara’s classic post-apocalyptic martial arts saga, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage was a bit of a divisive game; some found it sluggish and limited in scope, but others (including myself) enjoyed it as a hard-hitting, accurate tribute to the classic manga (and anime) that made a few interesting changes to the typical Musou formula.
Kenshiro is back to rapidly punch thousands of bandits into explosive, bloody pulp in Ken’s Rage 2, a game that brings a slew of ostensible improvements to the formula, as well as cover even more territory from the original story that the first game merely glossed over or skipped outright. The problem is that for every step forward, more steps are taken in the opposite direction.
On a basic level, everything that made up the original Ken’s Rage is back for more. You start with Legend Mode, a trip through the series’ canon history as main character Kenshiro that serves as the introduction and primary campaign of the game, as well as your vehicle for additional character unlocks. After or during that, you can play Dream Mode with your new characters, which adds all of the other characters to the mix and features non-canon storylines and more traditional Musou gameplay via huge maps and base capturing.
The first thing returning players will notice is that the combat in Ken’s Rage 2 is slightly faster. Kenshiro especially is a little more flighty, and his combo repertoire has been expanded slightly, adding extra moves to his combo chains and making him a little more proficient with crowd control. The more satisfying, meaty hits from the first game are gone, but it makes a fairly decent attempt at finding a middle ground between the martial arts brutality of the first game and the zany speed of the rest of the franchise.
However, with these new gameplay adjustments come odd structural changes that really bring the game down. In the first game, the slower gameplay led to something Musou games never really had before: interesting level design. Ken’s Rage far more resembled a classic brawler game in the vein of Final Fight than your usual wide-open Dynasty Warriors game, and it also had some refreshing variety in mission goals. Here, it is frustratingly apparent that somebody on the dev team got really lazy. Most of the assets are reused from the first game, including graphics and (super disappointingly) music, and the levels are mostly empty corridors that open up into giant circles that throw several dozens of enemies and a time limit at you and call it a day.
Clearing each group gives you a letter grade ranking based on how quickly you clear it, which leads to Kenshiro’s faster fighting style equating more to spamming than a fun exploration of the fictional Hokuto Shinken fighting style. It gets disastrously repetitive, and since one of the game’s new selling points is the inclusion of most (if not all) of the story bits from the manga, the 20-plus-hour Legend Mode will run your patience ragged.
Ken’s Rage 2 also abandoned the previous game’s upgrade chart system, which was a fun way to pick and choose how to develop your characters, and replaced it with random item drops that will increase specific stats when equipped. You can chain matching scrolls together for bigger bonuses, but you’re ultimately at the mercy of what the game decides to give you rather than having tangible options. Your character’s stats also supposedly rise based on how you play the game, but all I did was mash the square and triangle buttons and the various stats would go up with little to no noticeable pattern.
Ken’s Rage 2 isn’t terrible if you’re a fan of both the game series and franchise it is based upon, and even has a few perks. Dream Mode, once again, succeeds in finding interesting ways to tell original stories surrounding the supporting cast (which is precisely where a lot of similar games falter in terms of writing), and the faster combat is what a lot of folks were asking for; it does admittedly feel a lot smoother, though less devastating and unique. Koei has essentially given the fans more of what they thought they wanted, but abandoned most of the ingenuity that made the first Ken’s Rage the standout Musou title that it was.
Pros: Covers more of the story than the first game, gameplay is slightly faster and more fluid
Cons: Cool and unique features the first game have been removed