Kessen 2 Review

For PlayStation 2

Rating: Awesome
   I am sick and tired of console strategy games being dumbed down as if all
console owners are morons, and apparently Koei is sick of it as well.  
Kessen 2 is an extremely deep strategy game that will have you playing for 
well over a month before you've seen everything it has to offer.
   If you were expecting a simple re-hash, think again.  This is a 
completely different beast, starting with the fact that it abandons the 
traditional Koei strategy game formula of being an event-for-event 
recreation of real Chinese history.  Having a fictional plot instead of a 
historical presentation has opened up Koei to be as creative as they want 
to be.
   Koei could very well have failed with its newfound approach to telling a 
story, but instead it has come through with several consistently funny 
characters who provide more than a few laugh-out-loud moments throughout the
game.  At the same time, the story itself is credible enough that the main 
sequence of events from battle to battle would be entirely believable as a 
real war if I didn't already know that it's a fictional story line.
   Having a fictional game world has also allowed Koei to add new kinds of 
attacks that would be out of place in a game based on real events.  
Different generals have different amounts of spells allocated to them, 
including fire storms, lightning bolts, meteor showers, tornados, and hail 
storms.  While the spells add to the flash of the game and will probably 
help it appeal to a larger audience, the obvious downside is that it they 
take away from the game's realism and make it feel more artificial.
   The biggest difference between Kessen 1 and 2 is that while the original 
game was slightly too short and far too easy, the sequel has ramped up 
dramatically in both of these areas.  No longer will your units win by 
default unless you manage to screw up in a bad way.  Instead, they lose by 
default unless you have a strategy up your sleeve that can turn the tide of 
the battle.  There are still two unique campaigns in the game, and both of 
them are longer than the entire original game with both of its campaigns 
combined.
   Since you can no longer fire cannonballs or other weapons across the 
battlefield to hit enemies that are not currently engaged in a direct 
conflict, the bulk of the strategy this time around comes from getting into 
strategic positions before engaging the enemy.  The general who runs blindly
into combat will surely lose, and surprisingly often so will the general who
follows the CPU's default battle plans.  The best players will pick their 
spots, wait for an opportunity, and then come down on the enemy like a hawk,
surrounding it from as many sides as possible and ideally making it virtually
helpless.
   Defeating an enemy unit is not accomplished by killing everyone in sight,
but by dropping the unit's morale to zero (although the two sometimes go 
hand in hand).  The added emphasis on troop morale makes it quite possible 
to drasically out-number the enemy and still find yourself getting your ass 
whipped (or vice-versa). 
   In my time with Kessen 2, I have seen units of 5,000 and even 10,000 
troops surrender because I slowly demoralized them until their morale hit 
zero.  There have also been battles in which one of my units had less than 
1,000 troops remaining but was still fighting because it had a little bit of
fight left in it.  This is certainly a lot more strategic than the Red Alert
style tank rush tactics that are encouraged in many strategy games.
   Both sides of every battle have a general who is the top unit for his or 
her particular side, and beating this unit is what ends the battle.  The 
result is like a game of chess from a strategic standpoint, only the king is 
the most powerful unit on the board rather than the queen.  At any given 
time, you have to decide whether to go on the offensive with your top unit 
or to let it hang back and let the other units do the fighting.  It's just a
matter of whether you think it's worth the risk at any given time.
   Unlike Kessen 1, Kessen 2 allows you to take control of your various 
commanders at any time during a battle.  Unfortunately, you can only perform
three functions when you're in direct control: You can slash nearby enemy 
troops, call nearby troops on your side to rally behind you, or charge 
nearby enemy troops (the last two of which go hand in hand).
   This can get more than a little bit repetitive at times, but it's still 
much preferred over not having direct control over your commanders at all.  
Also, while calling nearby troops and launching repeated charge attacks is 
not going to give you a victory if you're otherwise being dominated, it does
demoralize the enemy over time and it can turn the tide of a close battle in
your favor.
   Kessen 2's gate and naval battles add some much-needed variety to the 
game.  Unfortunately, almost no spells can be cast during these kinds of 
battles, which severely limits the amount of strategies that you have at 
your disposal and cuts down on the fun to be had.  If all of your units are 
engaged in a naval or castle gate battle and there are no spells that you 
can use, there's literally nothing to do other than sit back and watch or 
launch repeated charge attacks.
   The in-battle graphics are good but not sensational, while the cut scene 
graphics are among the best yet on the PS2.  The spell animations are much 
like the summons in Final Fantasy 8 in that they're graphically impressive, 
but far too time-consuming and not able to be skipped.  Koei could make the 
game as a whole seem a lot less repetitive by simply including a "skip 
animation" button in Kessen 3.
   The English voice acting is incredibly bad, but it's usually more funny 
than it is annoying.  As you would expect from a Koei game, the orchestrated
music is dramatic and lends itself nicely to the feeling of war on a grand 
scale.  However, you'll be listening to the same track during 95 percent of 
the game's battles, and even the best music gets repetitive when you listen 
to it for hours on end.  
   While it remains to be seen whether the American public will embrace a 
console strategy game that is this deep, it should serve to send a message 
to other game developers.  All of the hot keys and other functions of your 
beloved mouse and keyboard set-up are not necessary to create a rich and 
rewarding strategy game.  Kessen 2 stands as proof that console strategy 
games can be just as entertaining as their PC counterparts.

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