Reviewed: November 8, 2007
Released: September 11, 2007
The Kengo series has always enjoyed a small but dedicated niche following for its unique samurai sword fighting adventuring. Whereas most gamers have quickly passed off the series for its clumsy and cumbersome controls, sluggish and deliberate block-and-attack gameplay, and less-than-stellar production values – there has been an persistent underground of hardcore samurai gamers who relish in mastering the finer nuances of the complex move sets and special kill moves.
And as action games have evolved over the past few years – with the likes of Ninja Gaiden, Onimusha, and God of War – high speed action has become much more the emphasis over the slow, calculated play of games like Kengo (and Tenchu for that matter). But, since there will always be a market for the games like Kengo, Majesco and Genki have released Kengo: Legend of the 9.
Have you ever been in the position to watch a fighting game master get his ass handed to him by a ten-year-old kid playing the game for the first time? I have. I have witnessed friends pull off some of the most amazing moves ever seen in Virtua Fighter, only to go down to a flurry of punches dealt by fifth grade button masher.
The point being, sometimes a gamer can learn all of the special moves he wants to when simply pounding the buttons works wonders. Generally, this can be the result of poor AI routines, slow pacing, and/or move sets that are way to complex, and in those cases, the gamer has to make the conscious decision of how to play the game; take the easy way, or give yourself a challenge.
Kengo: Legend of the 9 fits this bill rather solidly; it features a rather complex move set, slow and deliberate pacing, and gameplay which puts an equal emphasis on blocking as it does on attacking. But while gamers could take the time to study and master the game for its relatively high level of “realism,” most gamers will simply plow through the game mashing their controller buttons into oblivion. Why? Because it is incredibly effective, of course!
The “9” of the Legend of the 9 refers to nine samurai character storylines than can be played throughout the course of the game. Each character sports a slightly different fighting style, a vaguely unique move set, and a somewhat modified storyline and environment.
Other than that, most of the nine characters’ actual gameplay is virtually identical. Each level has the gamer fighting through three or four waves of incredibly cordial minion characters (cordial, in that they circle and wait patiently for their chance to attack), on the way to an unfairly overpowered level boss. None of the characters are all that challenging, but the boss character can pose a problem if the gamer has even the slightest hiccup in timing. If you lose, the game starts over back at the beginning of the level, which annoying simply because you have to trudge through the same boring scenarios over and over.
As mentioned earlier, while the game tries to emphasize blocking and calculated attacking it is most effective to simply slam on the buttons and hacking and whacking everything in reach. Button mashing seems to catch the AI off guard, leaving them frozen and defenseless, whereas actually squaring off against challengers generally ends up in stalemate blocking sequences and sword locking animations.
The game does offer something new in the form of environmental attacks, which allow the gamer to grapple enemies into specific areas of the level and then trigger (with a slash) parts of the environment to collapse on the enemy, performing an environment kill. While this is interesting the first few times, watching the canned animations over and over gets old quickly.
Visually, Kengo: Legend of the 9 really has nothing to brag about. With the same recycled character models, stiff and stilted animations, generic environments, and grainy pre-rendered-looking backgrounds, the game looks no better than it did on the old Xbox – even (or, especially so) in HD, which only helps to enhance the poor visual quality.
The playable characters do at least offer a bit of uniqueness; each sporting a varied appearance, and a distinctive and detailed costume. They still fall victim to the sketchy animation sequences, and even the environment kills animations are hardly of the production values we would expect on our Xbox 360.
Kengo does offer a solid package in the audio department, at least in terms of the ambient sound effects and the traditional Japanese soundtrack; both of which give the proceedings a sense of authenticity.
The voice acting, however, is quite sad; generally consisting of poorly translated English and/or overused yelps and cries. While we can usually find at least a slight amount of humor in bad translation – Kengo’s fare is just plain boring.
Much like your traditional arena-based fighting game, each of Kengo’s character storylines can be completed in about a half an hour. Multiply that by nine, and you get about four and one-half hours of gameplay in the single player Story mode.
There is an additional Mission mode, in which players are thrust into the Story mode levels and tasked with timed challenges to kill a certain amount of enemies. The mission really serves no function other than to augment the shortness of the Story mode.
The game does feature a solid multiplayer Combat mode, which is played more like a typical arena-based fighting game. Players can challenge AI opponents (significantly more intelligent than the standard minions) as will as local multiplayer.
The weirdest aspect of Kengo is its bizarre Online Combat mode, which for some reason does not allow gamers to directly fight each other. Yes, gamers can go online and pit their best character up against a challengers’ best character – but for some reason, neither gamer can actually control his or her character in battle, and must simply sit back and watch the virtual fight play itself out. This strange concept is almost like a grown-up adaptation of taking a Pokemon into battle, a cockfight if you will. The difference is, instead of being scary, creepy, and highly illegal like cock fighting, the Online Combat mode is downright boring.
All in all, gamers can tie a lot of time up into Kengo: Legend of the 9, but so little of it is of any appreciable quality. With all of the other A-List games coming out this holiday season, Kengo: Legend of the 9 just doesn’t make the grade. Long-time Kengo fans might want to pick this one up, but most gamers would be better off waiting for the next Ninja Gaiden to get their swordplay.