Review by Garbol Shora

"But it will leave you unsatisfied because that's exactly what 'Kessen 2' is - a movie..."

Synopsis
People who have read a few of my reviews may know that I am a Three Kingdoms fan. I keep track of the diverse personalities of Liu Bei, Cao Cao, Sun Quan and their generals. I am particularly proud to say that Kessen 2 portrays such an extremist presentation of these characters ranging from their tacky yet creative clothing to their bizarrely different personalities.

Please do not judge this game for the fact that the game is historically inaccurate or the fact that this game changes the sex of several of the generals. This game is much like a movie, and in that respect, I have to say it is a great movie. But it will leave you unsatisfied because that's exactly what 'Kessen 2' is - a movie.

Gameplay Elements:
If I have to say something about linearity, I will be repeating the general idea a million times. What am I saying here? I am saying that no matter what area of gaming you look at for Kessen 2, you will be forced into some sort of restriction or linearity.

We have the first scenario, which allows you to decide your political decision. However, the decision is not much of a decision, as you only choose from three pre-determined choices on how you upgrade your army, your supplies or your generals. In truth, there are only a handful of political decisions (I can think of four at the top of my head), and even that restricts you from deciding how that decision will benefit your army. The computer will do this for you! We are then proceeded to the second scenario, which allows you to decide your battle strategy. I was terribly disappointed with this, as you can only choose from at maximum three battle strategies, and even these are pre-determined just like the political decisions! After this, you proceed to the actual 'supposedly' engaging battle. Yes, you get to see five hundred soldiers slashing away at each other, but you have little involvement in this. You can magnify the battle from scanning the entire map, to examining a section of the battle from afar, to examining a section of the battle by using one of the generals. While this sounds fun, your characters are so generic and uninteresting that there really is not reason to continue.

For example, you have skills that are offered to you, ranging from magic to battle skills. While the animations are beautiful, there really is no option to decide which generals get which skills or magic. I was terribly disappointed with the lack of customization you have with your generals. These generals of yours have statistics like every other Three Kingdoms game ranging from Str, Mag, Fame and Experience. However, Kessen 2 makes no attempt to show any inherent importance to these criterion. The control is frustrating as well. You find yourself most often trying to move your stiff general on a horse and trying to shove your way through the many enemies on the battle ground. Worse yet, you begin to wonder how much you can affect the battlefield without performing some insane magic or battle skill which is wasted anyway.

The gameplay is not really gameplay at all. The gameplay is so shallow and mundane that I found myself constantly wishing that there was some way to customize my characters. The game claims that you can control many generals, but what's the use of controlling generals when you can only control them at a superficial level? 3/10

Visual Presentation:
Where the gameplay fails to impress, the visual presentation makes up for... sort of. The FMVs for this game are beautiful and match those of Final Fantasy. They are detailed, bright and vibrant. How about the in-game graphics though? Those are impressive to a certain extent, albeit some minor flaws.

The character designs are very original. I have to say that character costumes like Himiko and Mei Sanniang are beautiful and creatively done. The costumes, while they aren't at all what a general at that time would wear, portray a very artistic way of making theatrical oriental costumes. Again, these costumes are an extremist view, as the likes of Yu Jin and Cao Ren look downright silly, but the creativity is there. While the character designs are original and detailed, I can't say much about the in-game battle scenes. Let's look at the backgrounds for example. There is absolutely no detail to the backgrounds and they look terribly bare and naked. I couldn't help but feel that this battle simulation was rather unbalanced because of this. You have the bottom part of your screen covered with activity, and the upper part of your screen a bare blue sky. The animations are remarkable, however, and I have to hand it to Koei that the spells are a visual to behold. The hurricanes actually look threatening as it towers far and high over the small soldiers. The fissure spell is interesting to watch as a crack breaks open in the middle of the earth consuming everything.

The visuals are impressive, artistic and very beautiful in many aspects, but a little bit of tuning up to create an epic atmosphere would have improved this criteria. 8/10

Audio Presentation:
Short of amazing, Kessen 2 has the epic music of any top-quality orchestrated movie theme. I was truly impressed.

For example, while the narrator is narrating a dire sequence Liu Bei will have to undergo, you'll hear a very grandioso brass, grating of the strings and an occasional trill of the flutes. I just loved it! If you wanted something more epic, the in-game battle music was amazing. I just sat back and took a listen for three minutes, just awing at how epic and grand the music theme was. The grand blare of the brass as it tries to depict melodrama and hope was something to behold, and I just love the way Koei has an uncanny ability to do this so often! If not for a downfall in another part of the audio presentation, I would have straight off slammed a 10 in this criteria's face! This downfall is the voice acting. While Koei manages to make great music, they also manage to cast people off the streets. You saw bad acting in Dynasty Warriors and you'll see bad acting here. Zhang Fei, a rugged bearded man sounds like he's trying to boast his masculinity, and while we can see that he is very manly, he is also really irritating when he talks with his gruff and overly hoarse voice. That was one that came to mind, but there are many more, including the artificial voices of Zhang Fei's fake daughters and the similarly annoying Kuai Yue Ling (or something of that sort). I got a chuckle out of the very colourful Yu Jin, however.

The audio presentation would've been so great if not for the awful voice acting. While it isn't as bad as Dynasty Warriors, it IS bad. It wasn't acceptable and it is at these times I wish subtitles were the only option. 9/10

Story and Composition:
Kessen 2 is very cliched as story goes as it involves saving a damsel in distress. I can't help but emphasize how annoying Liu Bei becomes when he says 'All I want now is Diao Chan'. And how robotic he says Diao Chan too! It's appalling and a disgrace to Liu Bei's character.

Yes, this game is historically inaccurate. Diao Chan and Liu Bei did not fall in love, Xun Yu is a man along with Zhou Yu and a select other cast members and Yu Jin did not giggle and dance around like he did. There are non-existent characters like the Xuanfeng sisters, Li Li, Mei Mei, Luo Luo and many more. But this is not a reason I would deduct marks on Story, as a good story may require some sex changes and an addition of versatile characters.

The execution of this cliched story, however, was done rather well. You have a conversation between Diao Chan and Liu Bei and the additional Cao Cao game mode offers more insight on the character's persona. I don't know if it was the epic music, but I seriously felt attached to the situation, not the characters, but the situation. It is cliched however and the story does not do anything to try to stand out, but the overall situation in this Chinese romance had me hooked. Don't ask why, it just did. 7/10

Replayability and Extras:
Ugh. The linearity of the gameplay gave very little replay at all. Fortunately, Koei offers a second scenario to play, the Wei scenario. This is a bit interesting, as you understand the story of Cao Cao and his harsh upbringing, his motives and some secret love affections he too has. However, this doesn't last no longer than Liu Bei's scenario.

Eventually, the whole game really has no more reason to play on after enjoying the Liu Bei scenario, the Cao Cao scenario and the secret additional quest on Hard Mode for Cao Cao. I can't help but say that this was a disappointment. 5/10

Conclusion
Kessen 2 is a rent. It's a fine rent, at that. If you want to watch a good movie while playing a game simultaneously, get good 'ol Kessen. The presentation is top-notch, for the most part, beautiful and I loved the creativity in the character design. People will gripe constantly about how historically unaccurate the game is, but I really don't see how this has any bearings to ones dislike of Kessen 2. Kessen 2 has shallow gameplay and an unbelievable linearity to it, and this is why people should dislike Kessen. The additional historically unaccurate characters made the game all the more interesting, and if Yu Jin wasn't as silly as he was, the game would not have as much a humor in it. Kessen 2 needs to get more in-depth with customization of the characters to have any true substance... this was Kessen 2's biggest flaw.

How it stacks up!
(Average is determined through the importance of the criteria. In this case, gameplay is the most important, followed by the presentation and story, ending with replay)
Gameplay Elements: 3/10
Visual Presentation: 8/10
Audio Presentation: 9/10
Story and Composition: 7/10
Replayability and Extras: 5/10
Final Score: 6


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/09/03, Updated 02/09/03


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