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Kessen (PlayStation 2) artwork

Kessen (PlayStation 2) review

"The cinematic strategy game of Kessen takes us back to a time in Japan that can only be described as feudal. It was a time when brute force could prove enough to claim ultimate leadership of the land of the rising sun, and a time when the manhood of the greatest leaders was decided by the size of their infantry. Kessen has placed a focus on a certain one of these epic battles, a battle touted as one of the greatest of all time. "

The cinematic strategy game of Kessen takes us back to a time in Japan that can only be described as feudal. It was a time when brute force could prove enough to claim ultimate leadership of the land of the rising sun, and a time when the manhood of the greatest leaders was decided by the size of their infantry. Kessen has placed a focus on a certain one of these epic battles, a battle touted as one of the greatest of all time.

Ieyasu Tokugawa and Mitsunari Ishida are the two warmongers battling for a stranglehold of the country, one of them for the honour of his kin and the other for the simple, spontaneous motive of ambition. You must fill the shoes of one of these commanders, leading their army to victory in a string of skirmishes to vanquish your foe and establish yourself as the supreme power in that particular little corner of Asia. Will you have the guile and bravado to topple an opposing army........or will you fall asleep half way through the first battle?

First up, Kessen is not just another strategic fighting game. Well actually it is, but the creators would have you believe it is something more. There is a fairly decent storyline thrown in there which is meant to set it apart, but it is poorly told and ends too quickly to make it a decisive part of Kessen.

The actual gameplay of Kessen is separated into two distinctive phases; the pre-battle section in which strategies are formed and subversive tactics are engaged is laboured through before the real fun begins, the battling of course! Youíre taken out to the fields of some random Japanese city and treated to a great bloody spectacle as the East and the West duke it out. All of this may sound rather exciting, simply reading about it may get the heart pumping along at a good rate; but the truth is that youíll probably end up doing a lot more watching than actually doing anything with that controller thing that Koei have overlooked.

Before you begin some of the so-called ďbattlingĒ that Kessen asks of you, there are preparations to be made! The first information at your disposal is the list of enemy officers that youíll be facing; the only real use of this display is a chance to laugh at some of the funny helmets that they wear. Up next is the list of your own officers, you can chop and change your list to a degree and make trivial little changes to each of the units. The options at your control here can make winning easier if you utilise them correctly, but itís nigh on impossible to uncover whether or not something is working well. The last step in this stage of your preparation is to choose which of the enemy are most likely to defect to your cause or bide their time and mark them for subversive approaches.

Once youíve got all the tedious menu crawling behind you itís time to raise your head and cheer......until you realise that thereís a fair slab of strategising still ahead of you. Now the player has a chance to place his units anywhere he darn well wants, and at the same time he can give them orders for the beginning of the scuffle! Of course thereís already a pretty good plan mapped out for you by the computer, and changing it would most likely hinder your chance of winning, so really why bother changing it at all?

With all this planning hoopla in the distant past the battles will begin; you as the commander can tell anyone on your side what to do, who to attack, when to retreat, and they have no choice but to obey you! Most scenarios will have the one goal, destroy the unit of the enemy commander, and this never appears to be too hard to achieve.

The various units will crawl wherever theyíve been told to crawl until they make contact with an opposing force, once this happens they will launch into battle until one of the sides chooses to retreat or finds themselves routed. Different characteristics of each unit will usually decide which one will come out victorious, things such as the amount of troops and which kind of warriors they actually are will more than likely give a clue as to the eventual winner, because the different troops actually have different characteristics! The cavalry (the ones up there on the horses) are great for close up fighting but will suffer when attacked from afar whilst those on foot are the complete opposite, finding the right match ups will often give you a quick ascendancy.

There are special attacks at your disposal which bring a new dimension into the fray, these can only be put into action when a unitís morale or ďzealĒ is high and can quickly decimate the ranks of the opposition. Thereís nothing more exciting in this game than watching a gaggle of cannons bowl over tens or even hundreds of horses or seeing a volley of arrows rip into an oncoming flank of soldiers. Much in the style of the summons from the Final Fantasy series these displays of graphical power can get repetitive after a number of views, however these can be skipped, an option which removes a lot of yawning from your mouths. Learning when to use these extended attacks and who on is vital to oneís success, use them well.

The unfortunate thing about Kessen is that despite all of these great little menus and options you have, youíll wind up just being an onlooker for too much of the game time. Because of the planning at the start you can just sit back and often come up with a no handed win. The most stunning and most touted aspect of Kessen was the ability to get up close and personal with the fighters. Youíll probably just be in kill-o-view for the majority of the game; despite how corny and stupid it looks you just wonít be able to turn away from it. Unfortunately itís this lack of player involvement in Kessen that kills the gameplay, it had plenty of potential but winds up decidedly average.

The visuals of Kessen do not share the lacklustre aspects of the gameplay, in all honesty theyíre actually quite stunning at times. There are certain screens during the game that have the ability to just make you drop whatever it is in your hands and stare gobsmacked at the monitor. The top-down battle screen where orders are given is the only real downside of this otherwise fine package. This particular screen is very dull, too little detail and not enough colour to capture the players attention, the units look like little mushroom tops moving around the screen and the buildings look like grey Lego pieces. From here on in though itís nothing but pure brilliance, the remainder of the battle scenes are close to FMV quality and everything outside of them are at least at that level, if not more.

The people that you are treated to are realistically modelled, they run around bent on hell and can often frighten you with their enthusiasm for their cause. Everything they do, every little movement is accurate, I have yet to see people with more realism than this mob of Japanese fighters (although I probably just donít get out enough). The backgrounds that theyíre mapped against are luscious and share the overwhelming detail, all kinds of trees waving in the wind and clouds floating by; look from inside your screen to outside your window and pick the differences!

Generally these Kessen graphics are excellent, if it werenít for that rubbish birds-eye view scene then who knows what kind of far-flung score they may have received. Itís a pity that this screen hogs your attention for so much of the game, for without it Kessen would be so much better off (make sure to keep an eye out for the duels, as these sights of seeing the great leaders going man on man are truly a thing of beauty).

The sound of Kessen is nothing to scream about (although the soldier with a spear in his side seems to think otherwise), itís decent in some sections but doesnít have enough overall quality to keep some ear-plugs away from those drums of yours. The background music is very good at getting on a persons nerves, the whole heroic theme is being attempted and I donít know a single person who can put up with fanfares that are too loud and orchestras that are too sentimental on a loop. Youíll play the game for a little bit, not even noticing the music.....until one day, BAM, youíll suddenly wake up and think to yourself ďI really hate this darn musicĒ. Worth turning down.

The sound effects are pretty good at building up atmosphere, the continual clanging of swords and shouts of fighters on their death throes are surprisingly good at instilling emotion in you. Itís just a pity that there are very few other effects to complement them. One thing that has actually been done very well is the voice acting; the brunt of it is believable and has all the necessary emotions, they help carry a poorly told story along on dying legs to the end. It gives a little bit of credibility to the sound package but there really isnít enough here to make it stand out from the crowd.

Well youíll have to go through the main game three or so times to get all the scenarios available to you, and if you actually make it through to the end then you can play them all again at your own leisure. It doesnít sound like much, and it really isnít! The tedious gameplay and lack of levels will make your stay in Kessenland a rather short one, they just havenít included enough in the game to keep a man occupied beyond a week or so!

The fun factor of Kessen is not so high, there is very little excitement to be found in the game. Take away the confused looking soldiers walking around in circles stabbing at the air and there wouldnít be any at all! Only real history buffs, or those with a morbid interest in the strategy genre will find themselves capable of fighting off an early-nights sleep.

The main section of the game is ridiculously easy to get through, itís not going to cause you any troubles, even on the hardest of levels. Only after the scenario selection option becomes available does a difficulty scale appear, crank it up to its hardest and youíll stand a very good chance of actually losing a fight which is a welcome change after a string of easy victories. Itís all a case of too little, too late in the challenge department. It would have been nice to have the option available when we were actually interested in playing the game.

Kessen has always proved to be a little confusing to me. It is meant to be a history lesson, but itís quite easy to make both armies win the battle, and at no stage during my playing time have I found a hint as to who actually won all those years ago. Despite this, Kessen does have a small amount of novelty value. The whole Braveheart battle thing is appealing to some, and even if it isnít to you there is a slight chance that youíll fall in love with the game anyway. Renting is definitely the best option here, just as a precaution against self-pity due to a big waste of money (and you can finish the game in a rental period anyway). Kessen isnít a bad first generation game by all means, but youíd be blind to miss all that room for improvement.
- Those graphics are just mind boggling
- The close ups are rather fun to watch
- You can learn something at the same time!

- The gameplay gets tedious quickly
- So does the background sound
- Lopsided challenge in main one-player debacle
SOUND - 6/10
OVERALL - 6/10

kingbroccoli's avatar
Community review by kingbroccoli (April 25, 2004)

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