Gamestyle Archive intro: The early days of the PS2 and Xbox received numerous adventures with Japanese swordsmen with most failing to land any notable blows for gaming. Perhaps during the archive we’ll discover other candidates but first up is Kengo.
Published: March 2001
VERSION: PAL PS2
PUBLISHER: Ubi Soft/Crave
RELEASE: Out Now
Yes Kengo is yet another traditionally themed Japanese game on the PS2. This time based around the Samurai and your quest to become a master swordsman. What sets this game apart from the other combat games is that it is based upon fact and realism or so they would have us believe. The attraction of becoming a master swordsman and living the life of a Samurai will no doubt fascinate many of you out there but read on for the Gamestyle verdict.
Kengo is set just after during Japan’s Genroku Period, which for those who don’t know their Eastern History lasted from 1688 to 1704. During this period a Samurai could easily prove their worth in battle as the country was torn apart by infighting and feuds. Once peace and stability returned to Japan, many Samurai were left to train and become mercenaries or engage in tournaments to prove their worth. Unfortunately unlike the excellent Shogun, Kengo ignores the possibility of a story mode and instead offers several fighting modes: Street Battle, Imperial Tournament, Survival Battle, versus and the unusual Training mode. Battle and Tournament modes will only become available once you have defeated the master and his disciple of your chosen Dojo. It is a missed opportunity and would have added some much needed depth and durability to the game. No doubt Taketsune Nakayama wishes to restore the honour of this family but in Kengo you won’t mange to witness such an event.
The main single player mode offers you the choice of three characters all with different backgrounds and aims. There are no strength or physical characteristics differences on offer and your selection is purely based on cosmetic attributes. After you have selected your swordsman you then have a choice of which Dojo you which to join. Each school offers training in a certain style, which you will learn through an intensive training regime. It is worth considering at this stage what your own favoured technique would be – power over speed or combination attacks over sweeping thrusts. In total there are eight Dojo’s to choose from and each contain a secret technique and excellent sword. The aim of Kengo is to achieve the status of Samurai Master and this can only be done through training, training and yet more training. Your character is rated on six levels and these are attack speed, agility, insight, spirit, attack power and fame. Your rating in each can be improved and the actual limit increased through using the six training exercises on offer. Only fame can be increased by victories in combat but balance is the key here, as too much power will reduce your speed.
The training exercises are fun at first but soon the challenge of button bashing or co-ordination becomes mundane and routine. I’ve never stood naked under a freezing waterfall to test my spirit or tried Zen meditation with the threat of a monk hitting me if I fell asleep but in Kengo I can do so. Novel at first but with no extra training exercises to earn or open you will loose interest rapidly – similar to the problem with Ready 2 Rumble. You can organise your training regime from the comfort of your own home yet you will never seen another room in the building.
The highlight of Kengo is the actual combat, which takes place in the Dojo and various arenas. It’s a shame that the excellent presentation and style is let down by a simplistic combat system, poor AI, bad collision detection and at certain times a wayward camera. The Dual Shock is no doubt the best controller to use for a fighting game however for Kengo you only need three buttons (attack, defend, parry.) Through victory you can acquire new special techniques that can be assigned to the shoulder buttons but I rarely had need to implement such attacks. I have to disagree with the inclusion of a health gauge which detracts from the combat as after two lashings from my blade I would expect the opponent to die, particularly if you have the blood option turned on. This reduces the game to the level of Soul Calibur – not a bad game but arcade in nature and fantasy. As mentioned the AI is very suspect and the hack n’ slash method will get you through most opponents on Kengo.
The threat of a one hit one kill scenario would have promoted a more cautious, planned and realistic approach. I found the collision detection awful and only second to EA’s Knockout Kings in terms of clashes and clipping. It might have been my controller but I am positive that there is a slight delay in pressing a button and the response appearing on screen. At times I felt as if someone else was controlling my character or my pad wasn’t connected correctly! The graphics on show are above average with a high resolution and nice effects such lighting and the shine on the wooden floors.