Kessen Review

For PlayStation 2

Rating: Good
   Kessen is a deep strategy game that isn't quite deep enough to be a must-
have game.  Koei has done a brilliant job of making Kessen much more 
accessible and less menu-driven than any of its previous strategy games, but
the overall experience isn't as deep as one might expect.
   The joy of Kessen lies in controlling multiple units of troops and trying
to defeat the enemy commander in any way that you possibly can.  You can go 
straight for the commander with all of your units, you can take out all of 
the commander's supporting units one by one until he is left all by himself,
and you can also do pretty much anything else you can imagine. 
   The real-time game engine forces you to think on your feet much more than
Koei's Romance of the Three Kingdoms series.  Even though the actual units 
move very slowly, the overall pace of the game is much faster than RTK 
because it's not turn-based.  If a group of enemies has one of your units 
surrounded, you have to decide what to do in a timely fashion if you want 
your unit to survive.
   You often have to play a clever balancing game between different
strategies.  For example, staying back and doing long-range attacks like the
cannonade is a great way to eliminate large amounts of enemy troops without 
ever putting your own in danger.  On the other hand, this strategy also 
requires long periods of inactivity as you wait for your unit's "zeal meter"
to recharge so that you can launch another cannon assault.  These kinds of 
strategic decisions are what prevent Kessen from ever devolving into the 
mindless action found in Dynasty Warriors 2.
   A similar balancing game has to be played when choosing which units to 
enlist in battle and which ones to leave behind.  Before each battle, you 
can view the loyalty ratings and number of troops for each potential unit, 
and you have to take both tidbits of knowledge into consideration.  For 
example: What makes more sense?  Choosing a unit with 2,500 troops and a 
loyalty rating of 100; or a unit with 10,000 troops and a loyalty rating 
of 70?
   In a nice touch, you can get to the end of the game in a variety of ways 
rather than being forced to repeat each battle until you win.  You progress 
through the game in a non-linear fashion that is dependent on the outcomes 
of individual battles.  I'm also pleased with Koei's decision to let you 
save at any time, and also view the percentage of troops remaining for both 
sides at any time.
   The overall package of the game is extremely addictive and is only 
enhanced by the music.  The musical tracks are stirring and emotional 
despite the fact that they're slightly repetitive.  The graphics are also 
impressive, particularly the CG cut-scenes.  My only complaint with the 
graphics is that the troops look like little dots if you don't zoom in the 
camera angle.
   Koei's desire to make Kessen more of a "mass-market game" than its cult 
hit Romance of the Three Kingdoms series might have been an admirable 
endeavor, but not when it comes at the expense of long-term gameplay depth.
The number of non-interactive sequences in the game vastly out-number the 
interactive ones, which means you'll be watching the game just as often as 
you're playing it.
   In addition, if you know how to attack the enemy efficiently, you can 
easily win the war using an "attack everything that moves" strategy.  As a 
result, none of the pre-battle strategy decisions really matter once you get
into battle because the game isn't challenging enough to require intricate 
battle plans.
   Thanks to the fairly easy gameplay, you will probably win the war for the
Eastern Army a few days after you get the game.  This unlocks the Western 
Army, which essentially offers the same gameplay and the same campaign 
length, only with a different story line.  Once you finish the campaign for 
both sides, there's no real motivation to play the game again.  This is 
where a multi-player mode of some kind would have come in handy.
   If the upcoming Kessen 2 offers multi-player modes to go along with a 
longer and more difficult single-player mode, it will be an all-time 
classic.  As it is, the original Kessen is probably the best game that I 
have ever rated "Good."  It's non-stop fun for about a week, and then it's 
permanently obsolete.

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