Review by Otokam
"Impressive technical innovations cancelled by a few steps in the wrong direction"
I'm not sure exactly what to make of this game. It is technically better in every respect when compared to the original Kessen; the gameplay, for one is much more interactive (you can not only control generals, but also 'aim' special maneuvers for maximum damage), and the battle dynamics are much improved (unit movement AI and the battle map format are much smarter and intuitive).
Of course, the expected graphic improvements are definitely impressive. More soldiers, better character models, better terrain, cool magic, etc. The sound effects were, though recycled, put to better use than in the original, and the music set the tone of the game incredibly well.
While Kessen II gives you more control and options while in the field of battle, the new, simplified war council forces you to choose from three (sometimes only one or two) strategies. That's right, the game doesn't offer you the option of setting your own initial position or objectives, let alone change the unit composition of your commanders, which was one of the original Kessen's few strategic liberties. This wouldn't be such a big deal if your options were good, but more often than not, your commanders have incredibly ambitious and unrealistic plans that seriously put you at a disadvantage, especially on the expert difficulty levels. It's also very frustrating when your mage (or a general with 'Raid') is at the head of an archer squadron and you can't do a thing about it.
Moreover, since the war council doesn't let you even look at the composition of the forces of your individual commanders, it makes it very difficult to gauge exactly what unit should be where. To make things even worse, the squadron leaders and troop composition of most units change with each passing battle, so you never really know what to expect.
Although the game's focus on the conflict between Liu Bei and Cao Cao over Diao Chan makes for a decent storyline, a lot of the dramatic emphasis is taken off of your individual generals as well. There are a few cutscenes and battle moments when you are shown how much (or how little) a certain general feels for your cause, they are nothing compared to the torn loyalties of Fukushima, Kuroda Nagamasa, and Kobayakawa, the pressure of fatherly expectation on Tokugawa Hidetada, or the burning vengeance of Hosokawa and Sanada Yukimura. I guess in this respect history proves to be a better storyteller than Shibusawa Kou. Finally (sorry to dwell on the generals so much), but where did the biographies go? I was very disappointed to search through every entry in the game dictionary to find not a trace of a character bio. It would be nice to know, for example, why Li Dian and Xue Jin suck so much, why Himiko seems fixated on Hu Zhi, and to whom Jiang Wei apologizes each time he is forced to retreat. These ommisions make Kessen II seem more like a rabble of stereotyped characters rather than the army of diverse personalities that the makers of the game intended to create.
Overall, Kessen II is somewhat of an improvement over the original, and it is definitely fun to play. Naval battles, sieges, and archers who actually shoot arrows in battle add new depth to the game, and the technical improvements certainly stand out. The lack of depth in strategic planning and in the storyline does take a lot of potential greatness out of the game, but Kessen II is still a lot of fun, and worth the current price of roughly $50 US (it's a better buy than a lot of the other overpriced PS2 games out there).
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 10/07/01, Updated 10/07/01
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