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by Crave

Crossed-Swords-copy.jpg (3259 bytes)When I first tossed Kengo into my PS2, I naturally went to check out the game options. I found the setting for "gore", and of course turned it on, and didn’t think anymore about it. I moved on through the beginning of the game, which consists mainly of sparring battles using wooden swords to train with members of your dojo, and to challenge members of other dojos. The combat was pretty deep, though I wasn’t very good yet, and sparring with wooden swords was pretty cool because the sound is great whether it’s the wood on wood crash of a parried blow or the satisfying thunk of wood stick meets rib cage. During one of training battles with another dojo, I accidentally killed the head master. This didn’t sit too well with all his students, so as I strolled back to my dojo to put up my wooden stick and grab a cup of tea, five pissed off Samurai jumped out of the bushes. They were holding real steel katanas instead of wooden ones, and I watched my character slowly draw the shiny steel katana I had forgotten he was carrying. Fortunately for me, the five samurai decided to take turns. Gone was the dull thud of wooden sticks, my living room was filled with the sound of ringing steel, tearing flesh, and the occasional scream of pain. Blood was flying everywhere, squirting out of slashed necks, backs, stomachs, arms, and pretty much every other body part that can be damaged by three feet of razor sharp steel. In a few seconds my opponent’s clothes were saturated with the same blood that was squirting out of his neck like a geyser. In a few more seconds I was on my way back to hang in my dojo, the badass samurai that I am, leaving five mangled corpse lying in the street.

I was in love.

Waterfall-copy.jpg (2503 bytes)Kengo: Master of Bushindo, while not officially related to the Bushido series, is clearly in the same vain. The multiple weapons available in Bushido have been removed, which is too bad, but the dueling system with katanas has been given a serious upgrade. Each different dojo teaches a variety of different stances and techniques. Each stance is capable of different combos. New stances and moves are learned by fighting against them. You can then customize your combos within any given stance, based on the moves you have learned. This creates an interesting new dimension to the game as you struggle to get the best combos you can, and this is always changing as you learn new moves. For example, from the move "Parting the mist", you could choose to go into either a sidestep slash or a multi thrust, and from both of those into several more moves. Simply pick your four favorite stances, and customize the combos most suited to your fighting style. It’s really cool. Especially since in a multi-player game several people may use the same character, choose the same stances, and still have totally different move lists.

Game-Screen-copy.jpg (2793 bytes)The beginning of the game consists of challenging the other dojos. In doing so you learn new moves, improve your stats, and can earn special swords by defeating the entire dojo. Once all the local dojo’s have been defeated you will receive an invitation to the imperial tournament. Don’t bother bringing your wooden stick to the imperial tournament; this is the big leagues, and it’s all about steel and turning your opponent into a twitching blood fountain. After the imperial tournament has been beaten, it’s back to the dojo. Your goal is basically to keep training, and to kick a lot of ass. There will be ample opportunity for both. Young upstarts will come to challenge your dojo, and there’s also an imperial tournament every weak or so. This is where the one-player game begins to top out, which is too bad because it could have gone in a lot of really cool directions. A quest mode to go defeat a mysterious evil dude, or even just walking the earth looking for worthy opponents would have been better than the rather vauge direction you’re given later in the game.

Edit-Forms2-copy.jpg (3001 bytes)Combat is preformed with three buttons: block, parry, and strike. Block is self-explanatory; parry is basically a counter that puts you in a good position for a strike. Strikes are preformed with one button combined with a direction movement, and the results depend on your stance. Another button is used to give a yell that raises your ki strength, and when your ki is full you can launch a badass attack. Combat is geared toward lightning fast strikes and excellent blocking technique. Not every hit will draw blood, but when one does, you’ll know it. The one-hit-kills of Bushido Blade have been abandoned, so combat is longer and more intense because there’s always the possibility of a dramatic come from behind victory. While technically this is a less realistic system, it’s also a lot more fun. While the single-blow kills are out, some effort has been made to replace them. Certain hits can reach vital areas, causing intense bleeding that continues to deplete the characters life total, so it’s possible to get a good strike in early and play defense and avoid your opponent until they bleed to death. I found this to be vastly preferable to the Bushido Blade system, but in the future I would like to see bleeding wounds cause damage faster. The current system, while cool and innovative, causes loss of life at such a slow rate that it is rarely a factor in determining the eventual winner.

Meditation17-copy.jpg (3077 bytes)When you’re not swatting people with sticks or slicing them with swords, it’s time to train. Training is done by a series of mini games. Successful completion raises the maximum parameters for a given skill, while actual stats can only be improved in combat. The mini games are pretty basic, although substantially better than training modes in other fighting games, such as Ready 2 Rumble. Some of them are actually fun, though others grow a little repetitious after a while. The concept behind each is pretty cool. In one you stand in the center of a circle composed of lit candles. You have to draw your sword and extinguish all the candles with one blow. In another you have to chop down a field of bamboo, while the most innovative one has to be the zen meditation, in which you have to keep from falling asleep while you meditate. If you succeed you gain valuable insight, but if you fail then the old man standing behind you whacks you with a board. There are six training modes in all.

Bamboo-copy.jpg (2677 bytes)Graphically, Kengo is pretty solid, although perhaps the character faces are a bit angular most of the time. The color is mostly earth tones, but it gives the game a sedate, meditating samurai feel. The aforementioned gore is masterful, although for the benefit of the younger and/or queasier gamer, the default mode for gore is off-- although in all honesty it never occurred to me to see what the game was like without gore. The sound is excellent, which is surprising given the almost complete absence of music. I think this really worked with the feel of the game; a soundtrack would have detracted from the epic sword fights. Instead the fight sounds are excellent, the ring of steel is particularly impressive, as is the thud of wood and the frequent slashing of foes. The sound of the dojo is filled with the sounds of combat and with sandals running across the wooden floor, accentuated by the sound of birds chirping and other natural but subtle interjections.

Tree6-copy.jpg (2890 bytes)In future installments, and Kengo certainly warrants them, I would like to see the combat system expanded to include more combos in each stance. This will most likely require the addition of another attack button. I’d also like to see the single player mode expanded to include more of a quest feel to it—even if it’s something as simple as dots on a map like Soul Calibur. More variety in weapon selection would also be nice. Finally, while I enjoyed the training mini games, future installments should start characters more developed. The first hour or so of the game is the least fun because the characters and their diminutive stats move so blasted slow and only know a couple of moves. As it stands now, Kengo is still a masterful fighting game that falls just short of the five star mark. While its fighting system isn’t for everybody, the audience it finds will be delighted and impressed. It’s worth mentioning that Kengo is much more user friendly than Bushido Blade, but still requires more timing and precision than your average fighter. The bottom line is, if you love fighting games and you own a PS2 then you have to play this game. I mean it. Go do it right now. Don’t make me draw my katana. I’ve been practicing.

Jeff Luther


Ups: Great graphics; excellent sound; deep fighting system; actually fun training; nice gore.

Downs: Single player mode fades out after completion; combo systems could be a little deeper.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2


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