Kengo: Legend of the 9 Review

Kengo: Legend of the 9 is a game whose premise has massive potential, but unfortunately seems to have fallen just short in terms of gameplay. There are some very good ideas here, such as 9 different characters with interweaving stories, counter attacks, environmental kills, a tree of skill upgrades, and a handful of gameplay modes. Unfortunately the final product doesn’t come together as perfectly as all those features might lead you to believe.

Right off the bat, I have to say that the progression through this game is ridiculously derivative. The whole "main mode" goes something like this: read story (narrated in Japanese), watch short dialog scene (in Japanese), fight group of nameless baddies (about 3 different levels of skill for these guys), watch meeting between protagonist and "boss" character, fight boss, upgrade stats and techniques, save, rinse, repeat. If you can get beyond that, the bland presentation, and the initial barrier of adapting to the pace of combat, then you can actually have a bit of fun with Kengo.

Basically, this is a street brawler with katanas, so if that’s not what you’re looking for, quit right now. This is not Ninja Gaiden, and feels stiff and mechanical when your thumbs start to go to work. Deaths might come easily in the beginning, but once you’ve conquered the first two levels, the other 6 are pretty much in the bag. That goes for the other 64 levels, too, because there are 9 different warriors to use, in total. The problem with that, though, is that they reuse all the same stages and enemies — even dialog — in different combinations along the way.

After each level, points are awarded and used to upgrade the samurai’s stats and sword techniques. There is some depth to Kengo’s combat that may not be immediately apparent, though. Using the proper attack against each type of defense makes things go much smoother. When opponents guard high, for example, vertical strikes will be more easily blocked, and horizontal slashes might be a better choice. Ultimately, details like this won’t often mean the difference between success and failure. The various moves available in each of the samurai’s three stances are only truly effective to a master of the game on the highest difficulty level. Otherwise, Kengo is what I would call a "controlled button-masher." Some strategy can be applied to players’ approaches, but combat usually turns into an exercise in pattern recognition. Cut enemies until they block, then grapple and cut them. Or, cut them until they block, then grapple and throw them…then cut them. That’s how winning is done!

The swordplay is admittedly simple (in the guise of complexity), but the game does reward more creative swordsmen with bonus leveling points, so using grapples and environmental kills is preferable (and looks cooler). The environmental kills are one of the better ideas infused into Kengo, allowing players to direct enemies towards walls, cliffs, carts, barrels, statues, etc., and then use those structures as the foundation for particularly bloody, instant executions. The fact that these even work on stamina-drained boss characters is a plus. The lock-on and counter attack systems are also done relatively well.

One thing Kengo could benefit from, however, is a smarter camera, especially in the more confined levels. It can get hung up in the crappiest of positions, and since the player has to focus on blades arcing toward his or her face, it can be difficult to adjust. Also, it’d be nice if there was a way to evade other than just running away. Something like the tumble in Ninja Gaiden would be a perfect fit.

There appear to be a ton of modes available in Kengo, but it’s worth noting that only 3 feature actual gameplay. The others — including all Xbox Live competition — are just a spectator mode for the AI versions of players’ improved characters. What’s more, when you are watching a battle in either Live or Solo mode, there is no way to cut it short. I can’t say I’m a fan of either of those decisions.

As for the playable portions of the game, Mission mode challenges players to satisfy certain winning conditions (like killing X number of enemies) in a set amount of time. Combat mode is a one-on-one showdown for one or two players, and is presented like a semi-3D fighting game. Best of all: no camera issues in this mode!

Kengo features pretty decent graphics and animations, with crisp character models (and shitty water), but the game’s audio is not very friendly to the ears. The background music is insubstantial and unimportant, although era-appropriate. You might not even notice if it was removed completely. Sound effects are empty and generic. Sword slashes sound like they came off of an internet soundboard and enemies’ footsteps are so overdone that, when combined with the whirring of the 360’s DVD drive, could almost convince you that someone is making microwaved popcorn in the room with you. Oh, and the entire game is voiced in Japanese, with English subtitles, just in case you missed that part.

Overall, I had a fairly decent experience with Kengo: Legend of the 9. It isn’t the best of games, but does manage to put a handful of good ideas in one package – even if it wasn’t done as well as it could’ve been. The developers’ hearts were in the right place, and for that, I’d say give Kengo a rent and a little bit of time. (But I wouldn’t recommend buying it)


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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