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game: Kuon
three star
posted by: Laurie Taylor
publisher: Agetec
developer: FromSoftware
ESRB rating: M (Mature)
date posted: 12:00 AM Sat Feb 12th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Sat Feb 12th, 2005

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Click to read.For horror game and Japanese horror film lovers, Kuon fills a void left while waiting for the next Fatal Frame or the next film like or Inugami. Kuon is hardly the best game in the horror genre, but it provides a solid entry from a relatively new game developer. If you're interested in Japanese horror films or horror games, then Kuon is worth the time. Otherwise, your money and time would be better spent playing, and re-playing Fatal Frame and Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly.

Kuon is a thriller set in a haunted mansion and adjacent shrine, just like the original Fatal Frame. Unlike the superbly rendered Fatal Frame game graphics, Kuon's graphics are reminiscent of excellent PS1 games instead of the PS2 quality images it should be sporting. Also unlike the Fatal Frame games, which are set in quasi-historical periods (early to late 1800s) of Japanese history, Kuon is set in the Heiankyo period (late 1100s).  Like the exact historical setting, Kuon is very exact in its presentation as a Japanese game translated for an English-speaking audience. Unfortunately, not quite enough time was spent on localization, so players are faced with puzzles to put blocks in the correct order of the Chinese zodiac and to spin wheels to align Japanese letters. These puzzles, and the other puzzles in the game, are actually quite easy. While easy, the puzzles simply don't seem to make any sense when they first appear. This is indicative of the biggest problem in the game - it simply doesn't seem to fully gel into a coherent story and gameplay experience because of the odd puzzles, repetitive gameplay, and inferior graphics. That said, if you're willing to overlook these problems Kuon makes for a rather enjoyable game.

Kuon translates to 9 Grudges.? If you haven't seen Ju-On or the Americanized remake called the Grudge, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, grudges are basically curses or evil spells that cannot be undone. In Kuon, the grudges are made by people dying, merging with a living creature inside a wicker box, and then emerging as a new creature. If the dead ones are unable to do so, then the creatures die. The half-dead, and other cursed undead, form the majority of the game enemies. The undead and half-dead have been allowed into the world of the living through two evil mulberry trees, which even exist as phantom twin girls. An unknown person has removed spirit spikes from the trees, which weaken the tree spirits, and so now all hell has broken loose on the mansion and shrine.

Kuon begins with the spikes removed and with the exorcist Doman called in to investigate the problems at Lord Fujiwara's mansion. To start, you can choose to play as one of two young women, Utsuki (Ying Phase) and Sakuya (Yang Phase). [As a note, in English the phases are Yin and Yang, but the game book labels them Ying and Yang.] Both missions begin at the mansion. Utsuki goes to the mansion with her sister Kureha in search of Doman, who is their father. Sakuya travels to the mansion to investigate and cleanse the mansion. Sakuya is a young exorcist training under Doman, who's one of the few people that accepted Sakuya as an exorcist because she's female. In order to beat the game, you'll play as both Utsuki and Sakuya, and then as another character in the short, final Kuon phase where players play with Seimei, a female professional exorcist. While dividing the game into two sections for the different characters seems rather similar to other survival horror games, Kuon differs because the Ying and the Yang phases repeat many of the exact same sequences and because each phase requires only around three hours of slow-paced gameplay to complete.

Like many survival horror games, Kuon has fixed camera angles and a difficult fighting system; it's also more of a thriller because it has brief scares, relatively easy enemies, and an abundance of supplies. Kuon has a fairly traditional fighting system with characters using either stock weapons (knife, fan, or naginata) or magic cards (with different cards for different attacks). All of the weapons are useful enough, although some enemies can quickly corner and kill characters despite the effectiveness of the weapons. However, this cornering and quick death is due more to poor game design than any lack of fighting power.

While the fighting system is traditional, Kuon offers several innovations in terms of healing, saving, and fleeing. In the game, players can run, but doing so increases character heart rate and makes the character vulnerable to attack. This is much like the way fear weakens and can kill the character in Clock Tower 3. In addition to attacks, running creates additional noise and draws enemies. Running can also awaken tempests - where evil spirits surge out and attack - or cause vertigo, which makes the character extremely vulnerable and difficult to control (think Eternal Darkness' insanity effect). By allowing players to run, and then sometimes punishing players for doing so, Kuon attempts to create greater tension by forcing players to take risks or to play slowly. This isn't terribly effective, but the concept is certainly interesting and could be useful. Another interesting concept is that players can heal by meditating. Players can meditate at any point, but are vulnerable to attack when doing so. Since meditating heals all wounds and vertigo, players only require healing items during fights, which is an interesting and successful addition to survival horror and horror games in general.

In many ways Kuon's biggest flaw is its status as a minor, rather than a major, release. As a minor release Kuon won't be available for rent for most, and for most players this is a renter. Short of some dedicated searching, Kuon could still be difficult to find even for survival horror buffs.  I pre-ordered Kuon, but I was only recently able to get a copy (after canceling my first pre-order with another store, and being told that no gaming stores in my town expected to stock it). Even after acquiring the game, players will most likely have some difficulty because the puzzles are confusing and because there are no current walkthroughs to help ease the oddly translated segments.  Overall, most players would be better off playing Fatal Frame, Fatal Frame 2, or Eternal Darkness, but if you're interested in Japanese mythology, or you're a survival horror addict like me, and if you can get ahold of it, then Kuon will make for a great  few days of gaming.

Note: A walkthrough is now available on GameFaqs.com. A walkthrough would  be  an immense help to anyone playing this game because of some of the issues covered in this review, so definitely check out the walkthrough if you play Kuon.

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