Kessen 2 Review
For PlayStation 2
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
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
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
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
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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