The first of many soldiers dash forward with fervid zeal, bursting the silence of the placid field. The environs are sullied by many a shoe of war, impressing scars of aggression on the once-virgin plain. With archaic countenance and arms, the warring parties near each other towards the center of the terrain where the first blows are exchanged. The visceral entity of war swells when the first blood is drawn, and the first life lost. The obsolescent spears and cavalry are tokens to the brutality of the melee. Then, without warning, the strangely organized chaos is shattered by the mesmerizing spectacle of magic spells; lives ebb from the battle as swirling funnels of wind and brazen bolts of lightning crash upon the theatre of war. Each trifling soldier, for all their combat prowess, is virtually oblivious to the grandiose drama that engenders each abrasion, victory, scream of anguish, and grisly death.
Such is the singular experience of Kessen. Casting gamers directly into the flourishing era of ancient China, the Kessen experience embroils the game player in the struggles between three Chinese empires and their rulers. Players will assume the role of Liu Bei, the ruler of the Shu Kingdom. The title will document Bei's epic quest against Cao Cao, his rival, of the Wei Kingdom. While the sequel to the well-received Kessen will not allow gamers to assume the role of Cao Cao, one can certainly expect similar bonuses upon completion of the game. The Wu Kingdom, led by Sun Quan, will also influence the storyline. The plot, commencing circa 168 A.D., apparently becomes more involved when Diao Chan, Liu Bei's love interest, is abducted by a rival kingdom. The similar gameplay notwithstanding, the sequel will be fraught with change. For example, battles are no longer based on actual events, rather components of an entirely original storyline crafted by Koei's writers. "We wanted to make the game enjoyable even to those who are not familiar with the period," explained Shibusawa. "Still, we've added classic elements that [students] of the Three Kingdoms era are sure to recognize and love." Additionally, Koei has tripled the size of the game itself, implementing an impressive 30 stages on which to wage war. Kessen II will also boast a substantial degree of variety in its levels, as imposing castles and moving sea vessels will complement the series' traditional grassy plains.
While Koei's original title in the series offered a tantalizing pseudo-historical glimpse into the fantastic world of the Three Kingdoms romance, the company hopes to once again utilize the superlative power of the PlayStation 2 to create an even more dynamic and enjoyable experience. In a controversial approach, however, Koei plans to burden the system's technical power by counting on the title's improved visual faculties to improve gameplay. "Unlike in its predecessor, we're able to display 500 game characters on screen at once [in Kessen II,]" commented Koei Producer Kou Shibusawa. Shibusawa-san maintains that the gameplay in Kessen II will benefit tremendously from this colossal jump in technical complexity. "We think this truly approaches the technical limits of the PlayStation 2 in terms of real-time characters appearing on the screen simultaneously."
Graphics aren't the only thing on which Koei has been laboring for Kessen II, however, as the company is also addressing concerns such as incomplete control, which reared its ugly head in the original game.
Despite the game's historical inspiration, Koei has clearly taken some artistic liberties when constructing the gameplay for Kessen II. For example, magic spells will terrorize foot and cavalry soldiers; the fire and ice storms, lightning bolts and wind funnels are particularly shattering when cast upon large groups of infantry. "The addition of magic to the arsenal of weapons can change the entire strategy of a battle," affirmed Shibusawa. Moreover, troops sporting hang gliders can soar above the field to wreak havoc on the fray from the sky and permeate enemy boundaries. Reinforcing the title's focus on strategic warfare is the formation system. Unlike the original Kessen, the sequel forces additional planning upon the gamer because units in close proximity to each other can influence and support their comrades. This means that the specific positioning of each individual soldier will impact enemy damage, as opposed to the general formation of a group of troops dictating these factors in the original Kessen. This change is more than superficial, as the game's AI will be significantly impacted by the scheme. For example, when troops are near each other, their defensive prowess is increased; on the same token, units will have more success breaching enemy formations when the unit or squadron in question is supported from the front or back.
As mentioned, further avenues in the storyline will become available as you prove yourself in the tempering fires of battle. One can only surmise that these earnable options will consist of the ability to play the anticipated game from a different vantage, such as from that of Cao Cao.
Like many videogame developers as of late, Koei may find itself walking a tight-rope when developing Kessen II. While it's certainly essential to maintain the majestic grandeur that is Kessen's famed combat, the company must also tend to the needs of casual gamers who may be bored by the languid nature of historical documentation. Seamlessly melding these needs into an absorbing system of gameplay while simultaneously weaving an engrossing storyline may very well be the key to Kessen II's success. Whatever Koei does with its upcoming epic, the cathartic, primal fervor of human warfare has never looked more appealing.
2/14/2001 Bryan Keers