IGN Review of Kengo: Legend of the 9
I really like swords. Who doesn't, really? Videogames with swords, movies with swords, books about swords.... Yes, before today, I found it difficult to imagine that anything to do with swordplay could possibly be terrible. Before today. In a bold and nearly successful attempt to crush my love of swordplay, Genki and Majesco have crafted Kengo: Legend of the 9, a game that seems to go out of its way to make impaling and illegal dissecting as mind-numbingly boring as possible.
Combat in Kengo primarily consists of stringing attacks together into combos. Experience earned in every level can be used to purchase new moves--if players don't use all experience points earned in Level X, those experience points are permanently lost--that sometimes look cool, but always feel stiff and unwieldy in execution. Players needn't bother learning too many fancy moves due to Kengo's A.I. patterns being almost as difficult to memorize as those of a dead cat. Most mobs will simply rush forward to surround the player, then just stand around, content to sometimes block, but most of the time content to take a sword thrust through the gut. Each character has three different stances that can be switched on the fly, but that, too, is irrelevant. Actual strategy need not apply here.
In instances where enemies decide that it might be worthwhile to attack, Kengo's usually simplistic control scheme begins to crumble. Maneuvering the camera is left entirely up to the player, which is hard to do when attempting to both attack and block incoming attacks. Because the camera doesn't adjust itself when necessary, players will sometimes receive an up-close view of their character while enemies attack off-screen from all sides. This problem also occurs when fighting close to buildings. An in-depth inspection of the side of a shack is the last thing I need when getting stabbed and sliced. Should players attempt to strike an enemy at the same time they're being attacked, their tactic will almost always be overridden, and in many instances, the player's sword will pass right through the enemy's character model.
Environment kills, which is Kengo's attempt to allow players the ability to quickly end almost any fight, are entertaining to observe, but sometimes not so easy to perform. Players must decrease their opponents' stamina bars by approaching an enemy, pressing and holding X, then guiding the helpless sap to an area such as a wall. Releasing and then quickly pressing X will drain a good portion of the enemy's stamina, with complete drainage signified by the enemy's arrow indicator turning from yellow to orange. Pressing Y or B at this moment will perform an environment kill.
Stab an opponent pinned against a building, slice them in two next to certain objects that will also split in half from the strength of the player's blow, send them flying over barriers, watch as they attempt to stab the player, miss, and catch their sword in something, struggling with it before the player cuts them down.... There are different animations depending on where the player places the enemy, and environment kills thankfully provide a quick way to get through the throngs of mindless grunts that make up every level's bad guy population.
Retracting from the enjoyment gleaned from environment kills is, yet again, the game's control structure. Steering opponents is bafflingly impossible at times, as the avatar will sometimes head to the right when directed to go straight, or straight when instructed to go backward. The formula seems to boil down to, "After receiving the desired direction, A, send player in either X, Y, or Z." Sorry to recall bad memories from Algebra class, but no high school exam could possibly have been as horrific as the "control" players will have over their samurai.
To its credit, Legend of the 9 does attempt to provide players with quite a few ways to play. As discussed, the Main Mode features storylines for nine different characters, and while the gameplay is the same for everyone, gamers who have actually deemed this game worthy of purchase will be glad to know that several storylines await them. Unfortunately, each level's script is essentially the same for every available samurai: enter the level, unsuccessfully communicate with bloodthirsty bandits, kill them, wait for the boss to show up, then kill him. Same thing, over and over. I was able to run through one character's story in less than an hour's time by performing one combo.
Optimists will probably argue that the game's campaign could be considered nine hours long, which is a respectable length for a game, but since the gameplay is exactly the same boring pattern for all nine samurais, I will argue that this is a one, maybe a two hour game, since players will only need to play through Main Mode with two samurais at most in order to be completely burned out on the game's repetitiveness.
Mission mode serves up different objectives that the player must complete within a certain amount of time, which is used as a score to beat on subsequent attempts. The missions all revolve around killing a certain number of enemies in some capacity. Street Rumble sends the player into a rainy village to hunt down 18 thugs that have been terrorizing citizenry. Kill them as quickly as possible to set a high score--and that's really as hard as it gets.
Combat Mode, which pits two samurais against each other in a battle to the death, is somewhat entertaining. Players can choose from any of the game's available warriors, who each boast impressive stats and come with all of their combos and maneuvers intact, or save data can be loaded to use a samurai from the Main Mode's campaign. The controls remain solid throughout, as rotating the camera and maneuvering around foes is a non-issue. Fights can grow to exciting levels of intensity, as environmental tactics are available for all players, complete with counters. The available stages, some recognizable from the campaign, boast beautiful detail, as do the character models.
While Kengo's broken control mechanics steer clear of Combat Made, the blatantly stupid A.I. seemed unable to stay away. I was able to button mash my way to victory time and time again, as my A.I. opponents would stand in one place and block, causing their stamina to drain away and thus allowing me to initiate an environment move.
Succinctly put, Combat Mode is fun, probably the best way to enjoy Kengo, but only with human opponents. Unfortunately, unless a friend is invited over to play on the same console, playing against other opponents is not possible. Instead, players earn A.I. traits for their samurais as they play through the campaign mode. Boost as many stats as possible, then take samurais online where it is controlled by the A.I. against another A.I. opponent.
Wait, what? Spectator modes in fighting games are good for distractions, but I'm sure most players would prefer to actually play the characters they spent so much--or, in Kengo's case, so little--time they spent upgrading. I was impressed that the A.I. representation of the character I uploaded fought similarly to how I used him in the Main Mode (lots of button mashing and no defense!), but even so, watching battles should have been a side option, not the only option in terms of online competition.
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