Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Retrospective: Kessen II (Ps2)

With the news from the Tokyo Game Show starting to dissipate, It allows for calmer days here so today Im gonna take it easy a little n post a retrospective. Tonight when I get home from work I may be firing up the Dreamcast and playing a few games so I may have another, more nostalgic, retrospective tomorrow. So what's today? I decided to delve back a generation and have a look at a game that saw release on Ps2 back in 2002: Kessen II.

Story Intro excerpt (Koei Wiki)
"All things are Yin or Yang, created from two essences. The world of man is ruled by the Mandate of Heaven's Will. When the Mandate is absent, kingdoms collapse and a turbulent age begins. Calming this disharmony is the mission of the one who is chosen by the Mandate. The sun is setting on the Han Empire, which has reveled for 400 years of prosperity. Throughout the land, catastrophes abound, rebellions multiply; the divine rule falls. Thus begins the turbulent age of rival warlords. The child emperor, lacking both the power and the experience to manage royal affairs, entrusts the Imperial seal, the symbol of the Mandate, to one woman. Fate now calls forth a new hero..." 

The story for Kessen II is a heavily fantasized version of the Three Kingdoms novel.  The last of the Han dynasty family, Liu Bei, begins a rebellion against the kingdom of Wei led by Cao Cao, with much of the game's events being based on the novel with alterations due to the different storylines. A significant change to the story involves a romance between Liu Bei and the character Diao Chan, being a significant factor behind Liu Bei's decision to go to war. At the time there was a bit of an uproar within Kessen's fanbase due to this, but personally I didnt mind. Once Liu Bei's story is completed, Cao Cao is unlocked and you have another, obviously different, story to complete. The 2 story campaigns are lengthly and interesting enough to play through multiple times. Completing both of these unlocks a 'Hard' mode.
 The game plays out as a strategy title. Before each battle, 3 of your generals will each give you a battle plan that you have to decide on which to use. Once the battle begins the AI will follow out the battle plan unless you directly take control of the unit or change their orders. There are 2 ways to do this. One is using the tactical map which shows all your units & enemies, allowing full tactical control. The other is to take direct control of the general for a single unit. The camera zooms all the way to the general and you directly control them with the 'L' stick to direct your unit. Once you engage an enemy unit, the game stays zoomed in to the action. Even in these unit skirmishes you can control the general, riding around the battle hacking lowly footsoldiers or gathering a squad to charge the line. Yes the amount of control is basic, but its a nice addition to a strategy title. Generals also have special abilities than can be accessed during a battle. These range from duel challenges all the way to conjuring a tornado! Sorcery was another addition that devided opinion but only a few generals are capable of doing the more powerful spells like Tornado's so it deosn't effect the battles in a way to ruin things tactically. These special abailities also leave any surrounding troops not killed by it 'confused'. In this state troops don't attack or defend and losses will mount. Luckily, If your on the recieving end of an ability, quickly tapping the 'X' button brings your comrades out of the confused state quicker. The abilities that aren't based around magic tend to effect Morale more than troop count. In Kessen II there are 2 ways to defeat a unit, destruction of troops or crippling morale. Managing the morale of your troops is just as important as a superbly executed tactic. Some generals have abilities that can boost your troops morale and a well timed usage of these can turn the tide of any battle. There are numerous other ways to effect the battles like destroying supply depots & winning duels. To be honest there's quite a lot of options open to the player with regards to winning the battle. Most of the battles in-game are like this and the title turns out to be a far more tactical affair than you first realise.
Graphically the game isn't too bad. The pre-rendered cutscenes are still flat-out gorgeous even today, Koei having somehow managed to build a first-rate team of 3D artists at the time of its release. When the game gets going properly and battles ensue, it still manages to look good. The game touts its 500 on-screen character count at every oppurtunity but you wont see this come into play till later in the game when the battles are on a grander scale. Character models are well detailed with an average polygon count except for the generals. As you would expect, the general designs can be quite lavish in terms of detail compared to the footsoldiers. One area that pulls the game down somewhat is the level detail. While not as bad as Kessen, It still seems to lack texture detail, plus there aren't many trees/buildings etc in the levels either, and even the slightly more colourful design can't hide that fact. The special effects from the magic abilities are reason enough to give the game a try. Later in the game when your abilities are better, the magical attacks are even more grand. The first time you pulverise an enemy unit with a lightening will no doubt leave you grinning from ear to ear. It really does show off some of the Ps2's legendary particle pushing prowess. All this does have a somewhat minor hit on the overall framrate of the game. It only tends to hit most of the time just after a magic attack as it quite clearly strains the engine with the amount of characters on-screen too. I still think it holds up well enough even today.
Personally I still like the game. Its a great strategy game and it still looks decent enough, although Id say a little rough around the edges too with regards to certain areas. Luckily its not as difficult to find these days as it used to be (Ive even seen it around for as little as £1!) While the storyline of the game deosn't follow the Three Kingdoms novel to the letter, I still found it enjoyable, but as more of a spin-off to Dynasty Warriors than a part of the overall lore. If you happen to pass a copy of the game & its relatively cheap, give it a go. Theres a good 20+ hours worth of content to keep you occupied and is easily one of the better eastern Strategy games Ive played.

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