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1995-2000
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by EA / Koei

screenshot01-01.jpg (3638 bytes)In this PS2 line-up of questionable quality, two of the best have come from the little know (in America) company called Koei. Dynasty Warriors 2 took you arcade-style across and straight through the battlefields of China. Kessen takes you to the fields of Japan’s greatest battles. Fought in real time, Kessen differs from traditional RTS because there is no resource management and no troop production.

screenshot02-01.jpg (4437 bytes)Each battle is entered with an army of predetermined strength, although you do have some flexibility in deciding which officers you want to accompany you into battle. Troops can also be outfitted before the battle, and formations can also be chosen, which affect everything from how fast troops move, to how effective their rifle squads are. While the cinematic cut scenes are exciting and the pre-battle strategy meetings are entertaining, the focus of each battle is simple and clear: destroy the enemy commander. Sometimes this has to be done with a defensive stand, sometimes with a stall tactic while waiting for reinforcements, and sometimes with an offensive storm.

screenshot03-01.jpg (3728 bytes)Once the battle begins, commands can be sent to either the entire army or to individual commanders. The army commands are too broad and so imprecise to be used terribly often. You very rarely need to order the entire army to retreat or attack. Instead, by commanding each unit toward a specific task the enemy can be vanquished with relative ease. While billed as a strategy game, Kessen is far more tactical. As the battle unfolds before you, units can enter into melee combat, and each troop type can also perform special maneuvers. For example, calvary can be directed to charge the flanks of your opponent, rifle squads ordered to unleash a barrage, or spearmen to erect a spear wall. Learning when and where to unleash these attacks is of the utmost importance. Watching the battles closely is even more important because enemy units can be isolated and surrounded for an easy victory, but if you get caught out in the open against a bigger force you’re toast.

screenshot04-01.jpg (4630 bytes)The battlefields of Kessen are historical, and in general the troop types and strategies are designed to reflect the warring armies of pre-Tokugawa Japan. With the rise of gunpowder, rifle squads dominate the bowman. Calvary is very effective at hit and run tactics, especially when carrying rifles. A well-timed charge can take you through the enemy, which is of course a tactical bonus. Spearmen, while rather mundane, are well prepared for stopping mounted assaults, and they drag cannons around with them to boot. The devastating power of the cannon shreds enemy units, and a well placed squad of cannons can devastate an enemy squad before they even get to fire back. The only thing more devastating than a cannon barrage is facing the wrath of an army of female ninjas. While not the most durable of troops, the female ninjas unleash smoke bomb tossing, throat slicing, weapon throwing, ass-whipping special attacks. Having seen a lot of anime, I can verify that this is basically historical.

screenshot05-01.jpg (2222 bytes)During the course of a battle, troops become fatigued and may request time to rest. Tired troops don’t fight as well, but fortunately they rest quickly. Zeal is also measured, and special maneuvers cost various amounts of zeal to perform. Zeal is constantly rising, but routing enemies or receiving a command they requested or really liked hearing can raze zeal significantly.

screenshot06-01.jpg (3740 bytes)There are a few things I don’t really understand about Kessen, such as when an army disengages from combat and executes an organized retreat they can’t be engaged in combat. This makes the retreat of the utmost importance because it provides your troops with temporary invulnerability, although on the downside they will not accept commands while retreating. I’m not sure what this is intended to represent, and so can only assume that commanders are abiding by a code of ethics requiring them to allow their opponents to retreat and reform their troops. I guess this sounds honorable and all, but there are times when all you really want to do is butcher the evil bastard who killed your ninjas. In any event the invulnerability phenomenon could have been better explained. Conversely, when an enemy force breaks and just flees from battle they can be persued and massacred to the last troop, and it is particularly cool to watch your mounted troops ride down the fleeing enemy army.

screenshot07-01.jpg (4975 bytes)Beautiful cut scenes are engaged whenever a special maneuver is preformed by one of your generals. These add both excitement and flavor to the battle scene as, for example, hundreds of rifle men line up, fire, and drop swaths of baddies. The problem is that there is only one animation sequence for each special maneuver. As a result, after playing for about an hour I was skipping the cut scene for all the troops except the cannon and the previously mentioned and thoroughly rad female ninjas.

screenshot08-01.jpg (5180 bytes)Once the original mission branch of Kessen is completed and you have led the Tokugawa forces to victory, the alternate side is unlocked. You can then attempt to rewrite the history of Japan by leading Mitsunari Ishida to victory. I found the Ishida forces to be more interesting than those of Tokugawa, but both have a lot to offer. After both mission branches are completed, a freeplay mode is unlocked. In addition to the historical battle sites, various other battles can be fought if you lose certain battles.

screenshot10-01.jpg (3632 bytes)Other than the repetitive cut scenes, my only real complaint with Kessen is its lack of difficulty. The learning curve represents the first real challenge, but an excellent tutorial puts you in the action right away. Once I got the hang of things, there were only a few battles that posed a real challenge. There were lots of tense moments, but as a general rule I won most battles by huge margins, and would have appreciated more difficulty options.

screenshot11-01.jpg (3653 bytes)Kessen isn’t for those with short attention spans, but strategy fans and history buffs should have a blast. More to the point, gamers who don’t fall into either of those categories but are hungry for some variety in their games should give Kessen a try. You don’t see games like this very often, especially on consoles, and this kind of creativity is one of Kessen's strongest points. That, and the fact that you get to be a Samurai Shogun, which is pretty much reason enough to buy any game.

Jeff Luther

Snapshot

Ups: Excellent graphics of giant battles; deep strategy; historical setting; great tutorial.

Downs: Repetitive cutscenes; needs more difficulty levels

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2

 

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