The Mark of Kri Review
By now, how can you even deny it? Sony's 1st party efforts clearly shine and stand out among some of the finest 1st party titles ever created by Sega and Nintendo themselves. Last year's barrage of wonderful 1st party games such as Gran Turismo 3, Twisted Metal: Black, Jak and Daxter and of course ICO proved that Sony was pretty serious about being a respected 1st party developer, with games such as the aforementioned, they sure do deserve to be. And with games like The Getaway, SOCOM: US NAVY SEALS, Sly Cooper, Ratchet and Clank, and The Mark of Kri, Sony is well on their way to becoming every bit as respected as Sega and Nintendo. Their first major PS2 hit of 2002 has finally arrived, and despite what you may have heard, it's an excellent game any way you spin it.
For one, if you enjoyed ICO's beauty, you'll love the art and atmosphere in The Mark of Kri. The game tells its story with art stills that are being drawn, filled in and completed as the narrator speaks. It's a really nice touch that Sony's San Diego Studios put, and it makes the story telling aspect of Kri almost feel epic-like; you'll see what I mean when you play the game for yourself. As far as Kri's environments go, they are huge! The game is loaded with a bunch of large stages, complete with wonderful art and atmosphere. Each level feels and looks distinct, and many will even awe you. Aesthetically, it may look simple, but if everybody remembers, so did ICO -- see where I'm going here? Kri also animates extremely well and looks much better in motion than it does in screenshots. The textures, despite being simple, are very well suited and make the whole storybook atmosphere even more apparent. To put it in other words, the simplicity makes the game scream with charm -- much like Super Mario Sunshine and Ape Escape 2. But perhaps the biggest difference between Kri, Mario and Ape Escape is that Kri is an M-rated gore fest -- despite its bright, vivid and lush imagery. The game will have you explore everything from ruins to snow covered mountains to forests and the like. There's a whole lot of variation in the stages, so you won't play a stage and have it feel the same as one you've played before. As far as nit-picking technicalities are concerned, you will run into some frame-rate hiccups when you're fighting five or six enemies simultaneously, and the game engine isn't exactly Jak and Daxter, so draw in is present. Thankfully though, neither the draw in or frame rate are annoying. Altogether, everything looks and runs as smooth as silk.
The Mark of Kri is about a barbaric sized, skilled swordsman named Rau. After getting rid of thugs from his home village Rau learns that something far more dangerous threatens his home, and it involves a spell that has already afflicted 6 people. Rau is recruited by a mysterious, dark, mage-like character who tells him that he must retrieve 6 scrolls in order to break the once cast spell. He soon learns that by doing so, he is actually making matters worse, and is helping out a foe rather than an ally.
Gameplay wise, The Mark of Kri is like a hybrid of Tenchu, Soul Reaver, Metal Gear Solid 2 and Conker's: Bad Fur Day. The Tenchu/Metal Gear Solid effect comes from the whole stealth presence that Kri features. But more or less, because of the atmosphere, The Mark of Kri can be most closely associated with Tenchu. You'll have archers shoot arrows at you once they spot you. Not only that but they'll sound their horns (literally) and have a group of baddies gang up on you. So it's obvious that the game requires the player to utilize a blend of stealth and all out action, when the time calls for it. There are times when you'll be required to keep your tracks very thin, and times when you'll have to kill everything in sight. The stealth plays out much like Metal Gear Solid. By placing your weapon away, you'll have to sneak up (or shimmy against a wall) on an unsuspecting opponent and snap the poor guy's neck. The Soul Reaver element in Kri is directly related to the sword impaling, sorry no blood or soul sucking here. Lastly, The Mark of Kri is a deceiving looking title, much like Conker's: Bad Fur Day. It may look bright and cartoony, but beneath the shrink wrapping is one shiny can of whoop-ass and violence that makes almost every other action title seem tame in comparison.
Rau's companion Kuzo is a very important factor in the game. If you want a good view of where the enemies are, all you have to do is point Kuzo towards a mark - by directing your camera to it - and tell him to fly there by pressing L2. When landing on a marked spot you can use Kuzo to look around for enemies and alert Rau, or move on to another mark, if there is one, or if it can be seen. Many times, Kuzo will be the factor for completing a stage. He may be required to fly up high and grab something that Rau wouldn't be able to get, or sit on a ladder so that it is lowered for Rau to climb. Strategy is key if you want to avoid being spotted, and Kuzo is your first step towards that, so put your feathery friend to good use. At times, Kuzo will be necessary to pick up Save Scrolls, which are like the equivalent of Resident Evil's ink ribbons. Once you have a Save Scroll, press start and select the save option. Once you save, you'll be able to pick up from exactly where you left off. You can carry a total of up to 4 Save Scrolls per stage, but there are as many as 10 in some stages. You'll be able to pick up health, as well as a life bar extender in every stage. The extenders don't carry on into other stages, so you'll always have to pick up a new one throughout every stage. As far as challenge is concerned, Kri possesses some very fine AI that will give you a pretty hard time once they spot you. Each stage has three different classes of enemies to fend off. You have the amateur fighters that have very little fighting skill and defense. You have the intermediate fighters who are a bit tougher, with respectable defense. And lastly, you have the difficult fighters who have good power and great defense -- these take some good timing, skill, and usage of the block button to defeat.
Intensity is a big part of this game. Somehow, The Mark of Kri manages to make me shout obscenities at the screen, after I perform a stealth kill, or better yet, do double stealth kill. As you slowly approach for a stealth kill, you'll try your damndest to keep from having the enemy spot you, and once you grab the poor guy and slice his head off, there really is no better feeling. As mentioned, you can kill two opponents simultaneously, which makes the game even more exciting, because there are not many games that allow you to grab an enemy, impale him with a sword, then grab another enemy, break his neck and then slice his head off. The satisfaction and feeling has no peer. The stealth sequence kills are like that of Eternal Darkness' "insanity effects"; there are a bunch of different ones, all that you'll like to see for yourself, and all that are as violent and gruesome as they come. Some of the stealth kills will have Rau sneak/shimmy against a wall, grab an enemy, pin the enemy against wall and impale a sword through his head. Another one includes Rau sneaking behind an enemy, grabbing him from behind and slicing his head off, a'la Tenchu 1 and 2. If those two don't get your pants wet, check out the list of a few more:
- Rau sneaks behind an enemy, uses his sword to trip and flip the bad guy on his backside, then he impales his heart.
- Rau sneaks against a wall, grabs the enemy by surprise and repeatedly drives the body of the unsuspecting sap into the wall (head first), until his skull cracks.
- Rau sneaks behind an enemy and cuts his arm off. The Enemy will bleed to death if you leave him alone.
- Rau sneaks behind an enemy; he'll tackle him hard and snap his neck.
- Rau sneaks behind an enemy; he'll tackle him, take out his sword and impale the bastard.
- Sure, it's graphic, but hell it's the most fun I've had in an action/adventure game to date. There are more sequences that I didn't list, but those are some of the frequent ones.
The game soundtrack is excellent! Juno Reactor has put together one of the finest soundtracks to an action/adventure title yet. It fits the atmosphere absolutely flawlessly as the soundtrack is composed of Jamaican-esque drum beats, and other sounds that make you feel as if you're in a place of wilderness. But the music doesn't constantly play, it comes in and fades out during intense and calm moments, respectively. The game also involves a lot of interaction between other [supporting] characters; pressing the Triangle button whenever it appears over somebody triggers interaction. The voice acting is superbly done and is easily some of the finest you'll hear all year round -- right up there with the likes of Nintendo's Eternal Darkness.
The much talked about combat system, has been the highlight of Kri. While some call it repetitive and boring, it is in fact pretty intuitive and innovative -- quite possibly every bit as innovative as Ape Escape's control scheme. Spin the right analog stick around to lock onto the nearest opponents (up to three) and engage into combat with them. By pressing specific and assigned buttons you will attack a certain enemy. X, O and Square are the three primary buttons to use. Depending on distance, in some cases you'll be able to attack all three opponents subsequently. By holding R1, you will also be able to block attacks from the tougher opponents you face, and believe me this will come in handy. If you take the training course in the beginning of the game, you'll be given a pretty good explanation of variables, and you'll be taught some combos. A variable is a button that is not assigned to an enemy -- excluding the triangle button. So if you have one enemy, that means he is assigned the X button, which leaves Square and Circle as variables for other attacks and opportunities to create a combo. When timed just right, Rau will also be able to sweep somebody off their feet with his sword, have them land on their back, and impale them. That my friends, is an instant sweep kill. At the proper distance, and catching your opponent off guard, you will be able to perform this incredible and very useful technique. Some may think it gets boring too fast, but I like the combat system in The Mark of Kri. It's well done and doesn't take too much to get a hang of.
I happen to like The Mark of Kri a lot. It's nicely executed and intriguing title with excellent atmosphere, and a great and intuitive combat system to boot. It's visually appealing, no doubt, and the audio is top-notch to say the least. The controls can be quickly learned once you take a stroll through the training level, and from there on your journey will begin. Replay wise, it's roughly a 10-12 hour adventure, but chances are you'll find yourself re-spawning back a save point, after five enemies pummeled you to your death, so the game is hardly a breeze. If you're still torn as to whether or not you should purchase the game, I'd certainly recommend at least renting it and giving it a shot -- it's certainly worth that, if not more. The Mark of Kri is certainly one title that I'll be playing throughout the year; it's a great game.
7/29/2002 Arnold Katayev