Kessen II Review
As I have progressed through my gaming career, I have always been a skeptic of strategy titles. I'm not sure if it is the complex situating that I thought was involved, or the strategic type gameplay that turned me off. At any rate, I had never played through an entire strategy game, and mostly watched friends of mine go through them as I constantly asked if we could throw something else in. I just thought they seemed slow, like an old war movie that tried to pack as much background as possible. This, of course, has all changed, as I have now been so privileged to play Kessen II. A romantic fantasy, Kessen II is able to portray an amazing story that will hopefully entice you to keep playing. Although it has a few minor flaws, this is one of best strategy titles you can get for your money right now. Koei has truly put together some excellent themes here and has included an incredible storyline that I didn't think could be seen in this genre. Let me just say that I was shocked to discover how intriguing Kessen II could be.
Graphically, Kessen II is somewhat hard to rate. A vast majority of the game is dealt with CGs, so it's tough to combine that and gameplay graphics to form an overall score. In terms of CGs, Kessen II is stunning. The magical attacks and epic fought battles are a masterpiece to envision, and it is no wonder Koei included so many. For gameplay graphics, a lot of the time you see your frontier from far away, as to get an idea of the overall picture you are dealing with. When brought into battle, the character detail is quite good, with no sign of pop being present, even as you make your way through battling an enormous amount of characters. The color scheme and detail of armor is something that will surely catch your eye, as the game is based on ancient Chinese warfare. Every spell and magic war tactic is cleverly played out through a cut scene and is a great addition to the game. You are taken into a world of mesmerizing proportion, similar to summon spell in an RPG. Simply put, it's tremendous, and I give the graphic artists a lot of credit when speaking of Kessen II. Overall, you will be very pleased with the games graphics.
One of the games strongest points is the remarkable storyline that is brought to life with the strategic moves and actions you decide on throughout the game. The main character you journey with is Liu Bei, a war hero who is attempting to rescue his lost love, Diao Chan. Your enemy and holder of Diao Chan is Cao Cao, who is attempting to conquer the world. It is your task to stop Cao Cao, and battle through many of his warriors and armies throughout your adventure. You have an incredible team of warriors, who possess many strongholds and powers to surmount the commanding team of Cao Cao. Liu Bei holds the power to Rally his squad, and is his lone special move when on the offensive. The special attack gives his troops moral and causes a more powerful attack against the enemy. Other special attacks included in the game are Fireball, Fire Storm, Lightning, Duel, Raid, Charge, Ice Storm, Meteor Shower, and Hail Storm, so don't think this is your normal strategic fighter where you simply place your troops for battle. This is a fully interactive title with real-time attacks that make for an incredible experience. Each special attack is allowed only once during battle, unless you are awarded with it again as time progresses. Your main attack in battle is simply fighting those on screen. You are able to gather your troops by pressing down on your controller, and then send them forward in an outburst against the opponent. The problem I find with this, however, is that you take out some of your own characters as well, which is something I hope Koei changes in the future. Why would I swing at my own team while I'm charging forward? It just doesn't make sense to me, and this is exactly what happens when fighting regularly. So in accordance with that, your best move is to always try and find the biggest swarm of enemy fighters, as you have a less likely chance of injuring your own men. Thankfully, when performing the most powerful attacks, magic or special moves, you will only kill the enemy. When executing these moves, after you choose what attack to perform, the game will transform into a wonderful CG, and show in detail the destructive and fantastic ability you have just chosen. From meteors falling to the sky to an impressive raid attack executed by your own men, Kessen II provides a tremendous amount of gameplay that is like few other titles available in its genre.
I guess possibly the slight downfall to the game is the crude dubbing of Japanese to English dialogue. Whenever encountering a title with voice acting, if the mouths are so far from the voices being heard, it's tough not getting irritated at times. I understand how this issue is a moot point, but it still should be noted as a fault to the overall appeal of the sound in the game. As a whole, Kessen II offers amazing orchestrated sound and adds a mood to the game that develops the romantic drama storyline. In terms of just the voice acting and the quality of their performance, except nothing short of impressive. Koei has selected an outright superb bunch of performers for Kessen II, and it is obvious with the dialogue that takes place. Expect a very flowing and interactive story as you play, with the only exception being the poor voice-over to the characters lips. As I've stated, the musical score fits perfectly with the game, and works perfectly with the atmosphere Kessen II is attempting to accomplish.
The control for Kessen II has its strong points. It's very easy to pick up, and can be easily displayed by pressing R2 any time during your venture. If you choose to press this, a small screen pops up instructing you of every button and the corresponding action it goes with. It's an excellent feature and a very useful one for those just starting the game. For those of you wondering what each button does, the control scheme is as follows: Square is for army information and to display the world map depending on what part of the game you are at; triangle is to cancel your actions; circle presents combat instructions and selecting special attacks; X is your basic select button to the options presented; R1 and L1 are for selecting and switching armies while viewing the world map; R2 and L2 turn on and off details of the enemy. Overall, it takes very little time to pick up and remember the controls and, like I said, there is a screen basically at all times giving you your options. All right, enough of just the button layout, the real question is whether or not the gameplay control is sufficient. I'd have to easily say it is. It is very smooth and rather user friendly when fighting enemies. The only small problem I had with it was when trying to maneuver quickly in the battlefield. As I attempted to get at an enemy, many times it would be difficult, especially with characters surrounding me. I would try to sneak my way past my own men, but it always seemed they just stayed put, and I would end up moving in a circle. I think this could be greatly improved upon, if the game wouldn't try and compensate as I am simply trying to move forward. I would only push the forward with my analog stick, and the game would automatically turn my man away from where I was going. This really isn't a big problem, since I can easily correct this, however, it is something I hope Koei fixes in the future. Once more, Kessen II gives easy control and a very good battle sequence to maneuver. Don't be fooled in thinking it is difficult; the whole control package of this game is one not to scoff at.
When expressing my feelings towards replay value, once again, it depends on your take of the genre and your liking of it. For me, I could conceivably in the future start my journey over after I've finished, since there can be a completely different route to take in my next adventure. Kessen II offers some pretty nice extras for the game, like an ongoing venture once you complete the title. The game is relatively long with the amount of battles involved, but in no way does it compare to an RPG's game length. Expect about 20 hours to my recollection, with added options available throughout.
To conclude, my take on Kessen II is one I would have never thought possible. I really liked this strategy title, and the romantic fantasy storyline is one of success. I would recommend this title to absolutely everyone who enjoyed the first Kessen title, as it explores new heights and boundaries in a genre that rarely flourishes in the category. If you are a skeptic and have a few bucks to try something wonderful, rent the game and at least be open-minded. You may even be more surprised than I was.
10/12/2001 Matthew Stensrud