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Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi (PlayStation) artwork

Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi (PlayStation) review

"The Star Wars Universe is a violent place, in a bloodless kind of way (the occasional piece of lightsaber dismemberment excepted). Through all of the films, we've enjoyed countless spectacular person to person battles, whether the weapons were blasters, gaffi sticks, lightsabers or the Force. Gamers pined for years for all of this violent stuff and a solid range of characters from the Star Wars world to be distilled into a one-on-one fighting game. We didn't just want to be able to recrea..."

The Star Wars Universe is a violent place, in a bloodless kind of way (the occasional piece of lightsaber dismemberment excepted). Through all of the films, we've enjoyed countless spectacular person to person battles, whether the weapons were blasters, gaffi sticks, lightsabers or the Force. Gamers pined for years for all of this violent stuff and a solid range of characters from the Star Wars world to be distilled into a one-on-one fighting game. We didn't just want to be able to recreate famous lightsaber skirmishes (though we REALLY DID want to do that), we wanted to explore all of the crazy 'what if's...

- What if Princess Leia bravely decided she would take out Darth Vader on Endor (with a staff of all things) and save Luke the trouble?

- What if Han got totally sick of the mumbling/roaring antics of his Wookie copilot, and decided to teach him a lesson with some fisticuffs followed by a brisk blast to the head?

- What if Boba Fett got sick of toadying to Jabba and decided to start a war with the Gamorrean Guards?

These are just some of the scenarios you can relish staging for yourself in 'Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi', the 3D one-on-one fighting game with a cast of twelve Star-Warriors and nine worlds to play with. The game wasn't too well-received when it did arrive in late 1997 / early 1998, but I doubt that anything could have made it unscathed through the amount of advance hype this game had to deal with. For me, this has become, and remains, my favourite 3D fighter for the Playstation, outlasting even such incredibly polished weapon-based fighters as Soul Blade, and always giving me one hell of a fun time.

With a tasty 3D engine, sparkling graphics, predictably authentic and visceral music and sound-effects from the Star Wars galaxy and a huge inventory of moves for each character - to the extent that printing them all out takes up some twenty-nine A4 pages - there is tons to enjoy here. There are catches. Controls are on the difficult side, computer AI is harsh, and the Survival Mode on offer is off the charts in difficulty. But look, if I get to fight with lightsabers, I really don't care.

'I want to be a Master of Teras Kasi, like my father.'

You're right, Luke never did say that. Teras Kasi is (quoth the manual) 'an ancient and almost forgotten fighting art'. It's a mix of martial arts and weirdo supernatural mysticism... hey, just like the Force! There's actually a fun story to this game to set the scene for all the punch-ups to come, which is presented to you as the game blasts off with the Star Wars theme and opening scroll. In short, these events are set after the loss of the first Death Star. The Emperor wants swift payback, so he calls upon the services of an assassin named Arden Lyn, a Master of Teras Kasi, to take out key rebel figures. Miss Lyn is the newly invented 'star' of this game. She's mysterious, unflinchingly brutal and likes to maul people with her ancient droid arm and scary Teras Kasi powers.

What's the rest of the story? Well, it's flimsy. The targeted rebels 'prepare for battle'. That's it! But what more do we need? As far as I'm concerned, they've given us free reign for everyone to kick the crap out of everyone else.

'You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.'

Who's here? It's a mixture of the classic characters, new creations such as Arden Lyn, and interestingly, a few characters from Star Wars novels. Even if you haven't read or don't care about the novels, I cannot deny that they have presented us with some very cool new characters.

You initially have eight playable characters - Arden Lyn, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Boba Fett, Hoar (a Tusken Raider) and Thok (a Gamorrean Warrior. You remember, those big piggish guards from 'Return of the Jedi'?) There are five more characters you can unlock, though I only really consider four of these to be useful as 'Slave Leia' is just Leia with skimpier clothes. The other extra characters are Darth Vader (YEAH!!!), Jodo Kast, who is a bounty hunter from the same race as Boba Fett and wearing similar armour, a storm trooper, and Mara Jade, a female Jedi with a troubled history re: Luke.

Arden Lyn, the menacing star of this game, is not your typical 'beat-em-up babe'. She's foxy but not in any ridiculous way. She has solid athletic good looks in a couple of dark bodysuits, a dagger-like mass of dark hair about her face, big skull-crushing boots and a robotic right arm with an enormous fist. When you first hear her imperious, harsh and seriously scary voice, you'll be taken aback. Arden Lyn is truly an inspired creation, and an innovative choice as nasty centrepiece for the game.

In the solo game, you choose your character then have to defeat nine opponents in turn, finishing up with Darth Vader (unless you're playing Darth, of course), to see off the threat to yourself and win the game. Yes, this means good guys fight the other good guys. Don't worry about how little sense it makes, just enjoy it. Character selection takes place on the famous circular Star Wars chessboard - a nice touch.

'Bring 'em on! I'd prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around!'

This is 3D combat, with all the free-ranging elements that entails. Using the shoulder buttons you can sidestep around the ring and your opponent. Graphically, all the movement is very fluid, but if you're coming from Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, you may be surprised by relative slowness. The moves here are very assured visually. Nothing will seem to come out of 'nowhere', and many of them have significant lead-ups. Defensive strategy is principally reactive, dealing with what you can see coming, not what you mind-read from your opponent.

When you win a round, it's taunting time. Arden Lyn has so much contempt for her opponent that she'll often turn her back on said crumpled mess and declare in her special way, 'You are a PITIFUL fighter.' She's a lovely person. Luke keeps saying something about 'womp rats' he used to shoot back on the farm (He's a country boy at heart.) You get the picture. The taunts are all pretty good, authentic, and sound 80-100% like the real people. Hmmm except maybe Leia...

What is surprising and most striking about the game is the number of completely different combat styles on offer. Every character (except Arden Lyn) can fight with or without his or her weapon. This is definitely not just a case of 'using my weapon is better'. You have a complete set of moves for each mode, either armed or unarmed. One bad point: Nowhere near enough of the moves are listed in the manual. You'll either have to visit the internet for a full list or spend ages exploring in practice mode.

Some weapons are for melee, such as staves, an axe or lightsabers. Other weapons are ranged - Chewie's laser crossbow and other characters' blasters. Plus there are many special attacks taking a great variety of forms. Some characters can throw thermal detonators (mines) or launch training droids to assist them. Others have supernatural powers to call upon - the Force, or Teras Kasi.

This is incredibly rewarding of your skills because you will be forced to play entirely different games depending on who you are. It's a real eye-opener to see characters with such an enormous variety of styles, powers and weapons facing off against each other. You encounter this 'freedom' factor very rarely in fighting games; it's typically all kung-fu or all weapons, and most games never seriously contemplate giving unlimited ammo missile weapons to anyone!

Luke, Darth or Mara will rarely wish to put their lightsabers away, but will need to for certain Force moves. Chewbacca, Thok and Hoar typically need to run in and maul with aggressive hand-to-hand at first. Boba Fett has an impressive range of attacks - flamethrower, stun-cables, psychotic punching combos, rockets, a blaster rifle and more. Leia is a particularly hard character to master, with her mix of kung-fu, staff combat, special attacks involving robots and mines and even a smattering of the Force.

'Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader.'

You might be wondering how the game prevents cheap overuse of missile attacks and such. Though Han could stand there firing away with his blaster for instance, regular shots don't do massive damage in this game. All characters have to work up enough energy in battle - measured on your Teras Kasi power meter - to produce more severe attacks. Successfully attacking and defending will increase your meter in proportion to the sophistication of the moves involved. Using a greater variety of moves instead of the same ones over and over will also be rewarded.

You can then pull off more powerful and spectacular moves specific to each character by expending sufficient amounts of Teras Kasi power, between one and four bars (four bars is 'full'). Many are charged-up versions of the regular moves. They look and sound terrific, with blue or red flourishes of light flying from the character's limb, and are satisfying to land. As you would expect, moves that require a full four bars can be pretty devastating. Do you remember gasping upon occasion in the films when Vader, in moments of laziness, would just throw his whole lightsaber? You can even pull this stunt if you eat up a few power bars. It's great. The bars don't diminish with time, or even between rounds. So there is a lot of strategy on offer for the timing of your more impressive moves.

Here are some of the more exotic ones: The Gamorrean character can physically grow! First, you can become a giant, double the size of your opponent. Fill your energy once more and you can now breathe fire, which if it hits, is likely to be fatal. Boba Fett can fly around with his rocket pack or launch salvos from it. Just don't fly out of the ring - every silver lining has a cloud. Darth can burn people with the Force (Don't forget to say, 'I find your lack of faith disturbing' as you do this). Arden Lyn can torch the whole play area with vile pink Teras Kasi energy if she gets fully charged up. Also, I'd challenge anyone to not wince when she delivers a rolling uppercut with a Teras Kasi sting to an opponent's jaw, sending them up and down in a bloody heap minus 2/3 their life.

'A Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.'

Let's talk controls. The left pair of shoulder buttons are for sidestepping. The right pair are for running (almost never needed) and to draw/holster your weapon.

Crucially, there are no attack buttons on the shoulder pad. It's the four main symbol buttons that produce all of your attack moves. Some might disagree, but I think this is the best deal with the Playstation controller. I hate having to reach to a shoulder button for attacks, especially in a combo attack sequence - it's just too hard and can sink a control scheme.

Teras Kasi includes combo attacks in force for all characters. They are quite 'deep'. You can chain together as many as ten blows in some cases. They're good in that if you fluff up, say, halfway through the button sequence for a combo, it will complete the attack sequence up to the point where you botched it. Each button press produces a discrete part of the combo. A cool system.

Given the length of the combos, there's a huge amount to remember in total, but physically they're all reasonable to pull off. (Lone exception: Hoar's ludicrous 'whirling dervish' combo, which almost never works.) But gradually, you will develop Jedi-like prowess in zipping and rolling your fingers over the symbol buttons and pad. There are typical quarter rolls of the pad and back-and-forth movements. And mercifully, there are none of those stupid forward, then down, then forward-and-down arrangements or the like!

Blocking is mostly of the simple 'hold away from your opponent' system. This works very well here. There are zillions of possible kinds of attack to fend off, and I think going into specific blocks for all of them would have made things way too confusing. You can sidestep, roll under or jump over some missile attacks. There's a lot of strategy for characters with missile weapons to build up enough energy, by using hand-to-hand first, in order to earn the right to fire tracking shots that sail off the screen then come back to sting the opponent a little later. This is also a great antidote to overly defensive characters who won't let you in. Stand back and let the tracking begin! I still can't over-emphasise how cool the variety of attack styles is.

'Fast ship? You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon?'

As I mentioned, the characters themselves move with great fluidity. You can see every 'moment' in every move, which is great. When they go down, they'll spin or topple or crumble in the painful and appropriate fashion. Framrerate is absolutely solid, flinching only in the most extreme moments of perhaps one or two special moves (E.G. Arden's area-nuking Teras Kasi blast), which will never affect gameplay. As a sadistic bonus, there is a deliberate slow-mo effect if you deliver a particularly jaw-breaking combo assault.

All of the characters look exactly like they do in the films, with the possible exception of Leia (again!) who's... a little square? A bonus for Star Wars fans are the alternate costumes on offer. In some cases an alternate costume amounts to a new character. The alternate storm trooper is actually the biker scout.

My favourite things of course are the lightsabers. They look exactly like the real deal, casting the eerie green, red or blue glow onto the face of your opponent. They sound EXACTLY like the real deal. Sometimes I turn off the background music and start up a saber duel just so I can enjoy that most famous sequence of hums, pulses, roars and screams which makes me swoon. Try not to be so stunned by your own saber choreography that you let your opponent stomp on your head, though.

The environments in which you can fight include such favourites as Hoth, the swamp of Dagobah, the Rancor's pit, the carbon freezing chamber, bases on Endor and the Death Star. They look very beautiful, finely detailed, and very much like the real thing. They successfully alter the mood and atmosphere of each fight. Lighting effects are dynamic. Alternately skulking in the shadows and fighting in the dirty yellow glow of the carbon chamber is Very Cool.

I have only one real complaint about the environments. The rings are either square or circular, but in some of the more 'organic' worlds, such as the swamp, having a square-edged ring looks a bit weird.

The musical themes are of course selected from the more urgent musical passages from the films. They're of superb technical quality and work you right into the mood, plus you can listen to them via a soundtest from the game menu if you ever feel like it. And don't forget to play with the music off sometimes. It can drown out the finer sounds effects in the game. Arden Lyn's robo-arm alone makes whirring and clicking noises! Amazing.

'Do or do not. There is no try.'

The difficulty curve is higher than average for this type of game. There are three settings: Easy, Normal and Jedi. I remember that even when I first played the game on normal, I got thumped and had to 'continue' in almost every round. I was using Luke Skywalker, because I'd thought killing people with lightsabers would be a pushover - it wasn't. Luke's 'popularity' stat remains skewed because of my early flailings in the game to this day!

What game modes are on offer? Teras Kasi has a decent variety, with only the survival mode falling down in terms of its difficulty being off the scale compared to the other modes. There's Arcade mode: Nine fights to win the game and enjoy your own cool ending, plus unlock extra characters and features. VS Mode: grab characters, invent a Star Wars story then beat your friend to a pulp. Team Mode is interesting: Two teams of up to four characters 'go' each other in turn (either you and a friend or you and CPU). And finally... the fear-inspiring Survival mode.

Survival is ultra-harsh. You have a mere thirty seconds to fight with each opponent and the CPU goes all out to destroy you. Take it from me, thirty seconds isn't very long in this game. You will have to become a real Jedi to have a hope of outright killing an opponent in that space of time. If there's no knockout before time-out, whoever has more health left wins. If that wasn't you, it's game over. If you made it, you recover just 25% health, then move to the next match. You have got to preserve your health or you'll never survive thirteen successive bouts of this mauling. In early days you'll be lucky to make two or three.

When you first clear this mode, you will be ecstatic beyond belief, but your time will undoubtedly be awful. Elevate your skill level to an even more insane standard, and you can now begin to destroy opponents in survival and/or toss them from the ring, and try to pursue an impressive time. I have to admit that trying to best your own survival times is really addictive, but you must first 'survive' the savage apprenticeship.

'The Force will be with you, always.'

Replayability? I can say for a fact that this game has clocked up more hours than any other fighter on my Playstation. First up, there is the Star Wars factor. I will never get bored of fighting with lightsabers, using the Force, or watching Arden Lyn torch people with Teras Kasi. And Star Wars or no Star Wars - the game easily holds itself up as a fighter. The difficulty and vast number of weapons, characters and moves gives you a huge and satisfying experience, which you can enjoy dipping further into every now and then.

If you master one character, try someone harder or more awkward. Beat every difficulty level. Beat the game with every character. Try team battles, and eventually put your head down and try to clock survival mode without just hiding in the corner. Once again, the range of the game means it's good to play against a friend. There's always one character who'll be a good match for one other particular character, and that's where you could start your friend off to get them motivated in the face of your experience.


-- Staggering number of attacks and weapons
-- Equally staggering number of combat strategies
-- Unrestricted and wide-ranging combat opportunities:
At last a girl with a lightsaber can fight a guy with a gun, etc.
-- Beautiful, authentic Star Wars atmosphere
-- Beautiful, authentic Star Wars graphics and sounds
-- Battles are sophisticated and measured, not 'Insanely Fast'
-- Arden Lyn is the coolest Star Wars character you never saw before


-- Tough to start off - Harsh AI + endless moves to remember
-- The manual doesn't list anywhere near enough of the moves.
You will have to hit the internet for a full list or practise like crazy
-- Survival mode is ridiculous. Persevere though and you can challenge it

This is a great if tough fighting game, with much depth. It's a personal favourite of mine. It provides a dangerous amount of fun. And it is truly an awesome Star Wars experience.

-- Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi -- 9/10 --

bloomer's avatar
Community review by bloomer (March 08, 2004)

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