Review of Kengo
The great Shogun and feudal wars of Japan are over. Many heroes have fallen, but a few have survived to tell the tales of historical bloodbath that took place that shaped a country…for better or worse.
Those that survived retained knowledge of special arts and as time passed there were many people that still retained an interest in these skills. One talent that particularly interested people was the swordsman way of life…the Master of Bushido.
Dojos began to appear where people could go and be trained in this fine art…this is where you come in.
Made by the same team as the infamous Bushido Blade games for the PS1, Kengo enters onto the PS2 not so much as the final of the trilogy but instead as an extension of the two games taking both good points and unfortunately bad points from the series.
My immediate displeasure with the title came when I discovered that life bars have now been added into the gameplay. While I learned to accept this as I played more and of the game, I still dont have to agree that it was the best approach…but I am getting ahead of myself here.
The game menu that you get plopped into before starting is a slick, albeit simple one, giving you control of the various gameplay and options settings. Its here that you can turn your Ki meter display (different from your life bar) on or off, gore (on/off), set match time, sound, etc. The game modes available for play are vs., Single Player or Tournament.
In single player mode you can select from one of three characters and then it is up to you to then train that character in one of the 8 available Dojos. You can pick whichever Dojo you choose, with each one offering specific types of training. Some focus on specific moves like one handed attacks, while others offer a more balanced approach.
From there you are presented with various lessons and tests that you must pass to progress further into the game. Each character starts with a predefined set of attributes that have numerical values associated with them. As you progress in the game you continually improve you attributes with each successful lesson, test or venture that you pass. The attributes are Attack Power, Attack Speed, Agility, Insight, Spirit and Fame.
Besides the lessons and tests to increase your core attributes, you can also take training to increase the upper level of these attributes. The training bits are an interesting mix of Zen meditation, where you get whacked over the head if you fail to remain still. Another one has you standing naked (with just a jock) under a waterfall struggling not get swept away. There are other training lessons as well that focus on specific areas of your attributes. Your ultimate goal in this mode is to become a Master of the Sword (Bushido). Trust me, getting there is a very difficult road.
The Tournament mode gives you 11 initial characters to select from with a total of 22 (11 to unlock). This mode basically just tracks the number of successive battles that you have won against the various opponents the game throws at you. Honestly, I found myself getting bored rather quickly with this mode as it really had nothing more to offer. There isnt even a team or round robin battle.
Vs. is your basic one on one battle with a friend in tow.
The fights will truly test your will and patience at first mostly because the control scheme is rather wonky. Fights consist of one on one battles that take place in a designated area (inside a Dojo, etc.). You move you character with the left thumbstick or directional buttons while pressing either the square (parry), X (block) or O (attack) buttons. This will cause your characters to move forward, backward, tuck, roll, and kick (depending on your Dojo) among other moves. Its just that the controls dont always seem to do what you are intending for them to do and can quickly frustrate newbies. Then there is the camera angles which occasionally pan from a direction that is very hard to see you navigate you characters from. Get past this though and you will well on your way in mastering the gameplay mechanics.
The battles themselves are usually rather short. You have a lifebar (boo!) to keep track of, but one hit kills are still a distinct possibility (crack someone square in the head and they are out). You also have a Ki meter that when full gives you a better chance of connecting and defending blows. You can also pull off special moves when the meter begins to flame.
Another feature that I thought was really unique was the fact that you can customize the special moves that you learned and assign them to specific buttons on your controller. As you gain more knowledge and skills you can further customize and apply them into your fighting techniques.
The battles are truly interesting enough with a lot of diverse characters with all types of different skillsets to face. I was however very disappointed that the environments were as limited as they were though. Gone are the multi-level sprawling backdrops of the first two Bushido games. You are now dropped into a designated area with very real (and rather small) boundaries.
The graphics in Kengo are a rather mixed bag. The character models are quite nicely realized and include flowing articles of clothing, great motion / animation and highly detailed faces and musculature. Everything runs at a silky smooth frame rate and there appeared to be now slow down.
The backgrounds are also highly detailed with great character shadow effects on the floors, reflective surfaces and superb little details like being able to see through a window and the scene that appears on the other side.
I should also mention the blood effects…they are excellent. Nail someone in the jugular and blood spurts out realistically…soaking the clothing as well! Of course you have the option to turn the gore off…by why would you?
Finally there is the intro CG…it is fabulous and sets up the game story quite nicely.
On the down side, while the animation is very good, transitional moves appear to be rather choppy. Going from a tuck, to a roll and then an attack didnt seem to flow quite right to me.
While the backgrounds are nicely detailed, there is very little interactivity with it lie the previously Bushido games. Most battles take place in the confines of a specific location and your characters are locked in there…gone are the free roaming environments from the past titles.
Finally, the overall color scheme was very unappealing to me with the most predominant colors being olive/dull green or browns. I totally understand that it mimics real environments nicely but I wanted to see more vibrant imagery.
The background musical score fits in nicely with the settings and atmosphere of the gameplay. The sound effects are also on the mark with grunts and groans from the combatants and cries of utter pain when they get wasted. The clashing of swords (metal on metal) was also quite realistic.
Also, to retain the oriental feel, the spoken language is foreign with English subtitles.
OUR PLEDGE: We promise that we have fully played 'Kengo' before writing this review. The scores given above are our honest opinion and were not influenced in any way by the manufacturer or distributor of the game.
This review was written by Tom Rooney © Absolute PlayStation
Click here to view our 41 Kengo in-game screenshot slideshow
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