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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Bottlerocket Entertainment
GENRE: Action
April 05, 2005
The Mark of Kri

 Written by Chris Reiter  on May 02, 2005

Review: "So Garth, let's break it down. Before Tati was a Cub Babe. Cute, but undobable according to laws abided by such great cities as Milwaukee. Now Tati's become this evolved Babezilla." "Yeah Wayne. I give Tati a 50 million on the Schwing-o-Meter!"

However odd it may seem that many of Sony's first-party games don't get much?recognition as?some other titles under their logo does, there is an upside to the matter. It may not be great for business, but there is quite a nice?selection of hidden gems in the Sony basket. Bright... Shiny... Gems... These are the games that are considered decisively sleeper hits for their brilliance and for the lack of attention gotten from the masses. In years to come, gamers will reflect back on the past times with regret for missing the opportunity to experience these forgotten greats like they always do. They'll find out there was a gorgeous adventure game known as ICO that they passed on because Grand Theft Auto 3 was the only thing on their mind at the time. They'll uncover the history of Okage: Shadow King and ask themselves why they never gave this unique RPG a shot. They'll discover the fascination of the Disney-like, murderous stealth adventure in The Mark of Kri and cry out in their hearts when video game retailers nationwide?describe this title as a?hard-to-find "rarity"?in their books. Or in other words: they don't have it and never know if anyone will ever trade in a copy. Yeah exactly, stupid head.?To this traditional process then, Sony?is again challenging the market that oftentimes ignores their less-promoted titles. The loved and yet sparsely?played 2002 action release, The Mark of Kri, sees its sequel, Rise of the Kasai, and says as a first born son to its newborn sister, "Let's play."
Heroes don't die. Well, they do actually. But nothing can strip away the immortality heroes possess through the recollections of others'. In this case, the one whose mind being probed by an outside mystical source is the loyal spirit guardian, Kuzo, the black raven. The one whose past is being revived for actuators to?discover how or why this?hero is now dead is Rau, the muscular warrior. You remember Rau and Kuzo. Rau, one of the last of Raku people, is a protector of those who?carry the burden of?ancient spells that were?stolen from an evil sect eons ago.?Rau's last journey led him to a meeting with a leader of this organization,?known as?the Kasai. Their purpose then was to enslave the world?by setting?these spells into motion. Rau managed to destroy one of the Kasai's brotherly priests whose?intent was to take back from the Raku family the incantations. This time, the remaining Kasai doesn't just want their spells back:?they want revenge. It's been ten years since Rau's victory. Tati, Rau's younger sister and one who's been tattooed with the mark on her back all her life, is now grown up. Evolved into a fierce warrior like her brother, this once?small tale is getting bigger?with?a story no longer belonging to just one man anymore. Now he's got a sister.
Over the years it's become sort of the trend for many of Sony's games to feature two playable characters. ICO had done it with Yorda, Jak with Daxter, Ratchet with Clank, Jen and Scree in Primal, and even Rau had Kuzo to watch out for dangers ahead in The Mark of Kri. Rise of the Kasai's developer, Bottlerocket Entertainment (made up from the majority of Sony's San Diego Studios members, the former team behind The Mark of Kri) takes Rau to the next level by providing him with a human partner by his side. Someone he can trust and depend on. Someone known as family. Together, Rau and his now full-grown sister Tati are able to encounter dangers together. The truth of the matter is, Rise of the Kasai is a four-player game, in that four playable characters are stocked and ready to be chosen. Not as in together with Rau and Tati, Rau's former master Baumusu and Tati's Uncle Griz come along for the ride as they complete missions side by side when the game dives twenty years into the past where these two combatants were in their prime. The gameplay levels (all 10 of them) of Rise of the Kasai are compiled into a small myriad of stages. Before setting sail into any of these bloody battlegrounds, you're now asked which character you want to control between Rau and Tati, or at a few points Baumusu or Griz. When it comes time to choosing either one, the selection made doesn't really matter too much as you're going to play an important role in every mission set one way or the other.
The difference being: there are areas of the game that tasks Rau and Tati with killing dragon bosses at the end of a composition of levels. Since Rau is equipped with a bow weapon and Tati is not, Rau is charged as the one that will have to defeat these flying beasts while Tati gets busy with all grounded enemies attempting to slow down the dragon slaying process. In each distinctive set of level areas, there are also optional mission challenges that ask you to perform certain tasks while in control of your character pick. Generally this list includes defeating specific enemy types in an exact order. Amongst these sidequests include silently killing archers with Rau's bow weapon, killing enemy groups by attaching Tati's puffer mushrooms to enemy bodies or on the ground (which are green mushrooms that explode in harmful gaseous clouds when touched), knocking out enemies quietly from atop high walls, or exacting all combos in the stage's entirety. Just general goals such as that, which involve being quiet as a mouse and lethal as a rattle snake. Completing this list rewards players with unlockable bonus material like character costumes and cheat codes. Obviously, only those who are patient and skillful enough will be granted access to these extras.
Otherwise, Rise of the Kasai is about the same game as its predecessor was. That in fact, this game is big on both action and exploring. If you're one of the initiated to The Mark of Kri and its formula, you've already got an idea for how this one is going to roll. Sneaking around levels and tactically defeating "whistle blowers" who are quick to alert enemies to your presence, whilst also sometimes searching for levers to gain access through doorways, is usually the basic idea of the game. Of course there is tons of battling moments you'll get swamped into here too. However, since there's a computer-controlled ally computed into the game's calculative mechanics, this additional aspect of Rise of the Kasai shines on the series more of an interesting approach sometimes. But one that's ultimately a little more problematic too. You won't be playing with a real friend in Rise of the Kasai. The computer is now in control of your collective fate here. Rise of the Kasai's computer companions tend to think they know everything sometimes. And that's the problem. If say you want to use Kuzo to gain an advantage in learning about the schematics for what the territorial patrol patterns enemies conduct (so as to stealthily remove only a handful of them instead of a barrel full of opponents), the computer partner instead might decide to rush into a situation and get the job done quickly, although more painfully. Drawing your weapon and noisily offering yourself to a couple of sentries can cause then a dozen more or so evil guys with swords, axes, or bows all clamoring for a piece of the pie: you and your trigger-happy AI buddy.
Then again, Rise's battle system isn't all that bad. The introduction of the extra team member does have its upsides too. For example, imagine sneaking up along a wall and having one guard standing around the corner. Another guard is ahead in the distance on a rooftop position with this nearby watch in its sights. If you wanted to, you could easily dispatch of the guard closest to you. But then, that second guy would notice your deed. This is where if you wait a bit, you'll spot your helper getting a little sneak action of their own. When he's done and dead, then comes your turn to shine. It's cool how Rau and Tati or Baumusu and Griz can operate as one and tear these enemies apart -- dropping off of rooftops together and cutting off the foe supply by driving their blades into them, smashing them into the wall, and the like. Traveling unheard, unnoticed?isn't the only?element in Rise of the Kasai, though. Combat scenarios?will arise. When they do, then?expect for some?fun to begin. In these instances, enemies will circle around the double death dealers. Some wait their turn to strike, while a few usually plow around attempting to brandish their swords or axes while you're unguarded and sandwich in a bloodbath. The battle commands are easy to learn, just like they were in The Mark of Kri. Simply, you can block with R1, select another weapon with R2, or select an enemy by painting a light beam cursor over them using the right analog stick. When this happens, either an X, square, or a circle icon will hover over the surrounding heads of enemies, giving you an idea of which enemies are already marked and what button you'll need inputted. Doing so locks your fighter onto targets pinpointing amongst them the ones you want to finish off next and where they are located.
Granted, this same system for offensive predicaments from three years ago didn't exemplify?the greatest method for killing pleasures ever. It was relatively fun though, and it's still decent in Rise of the Kasai (well, except for when the camera shifts into confusing close-up positions). This was because over time,?Rau would?be able to employ a few different maul-centered objects boasting various combinations of death sequences to enact --?from using?a sword, to a spear, to an axe. Those same weapons are available for Rau here and so are the combos, only this time his and each character's arsenal are already stocked with these devices ready in waiting when they need them. With three new playable characters, there are also more weapon types available to equip -- like Griz'a throwing blades or Tati's twin daggers. Sucking in the taste of some appealing looking death animations -- from how the heavier axe that will slice through torsos, to the staff that quickly clobbers enemies into an unconscious state -- is cool stuff to look at. But Rise could've risen to an even better height had Bottlerocket really put more thought into innovating on the combat structure or the game in general, as there isn't really a whole lot of new to see here.
Being more specific, Rise of the Kasai portrays its main cast of characters as these highly agile or heavyset warriors. When the lighter characters move, they'll produce faster actions. When the heavier ones move, there's a raw power present there. Between Rau, Tati, Baumusu, and Griz, Tati and Griz are the two featherweight champions of the arena, while Rau and Baumusu are the large and in charge bowling balls. As she's thinner and quicker overall, Tati's got on her moves that will see her literally twisting her body a lot and furiously hacking at enemies as she's animated to kill: wrapping her legs around enemies and such. Rau on the other hand acts more like a tree stump. He's the big guy. He's capable of whacking with weapons hastily, but is more prone to react with less of a spark. Just to show how diversely the key motions change, the best example comes in the form of function between the game's switch in weapon types. Pick a sword and your character's onsets will readily speed up, as say Rau will quicken his blows and his body language together. Equip his axe in its stead, and Rau's body will circle around driving a slower yet more crushing blow to foes. Baumusu and Griz follow a same likeness to these attributes -- and just as it should be, it's just natural that these characters with different body matters would react this way. Despite this praise and attention toward the bloodletting oomph Rise's characters give, even fluid the animations can appear a little stilted from time to time (especially while climbing ladders). The game's control falters for this when bodies unnaturally halt when forced to pause briefly in touching up against in-game walls and objects. Decent, yes. Perfect, no.
Not rewritten, one of the leading taglines for The Mark of Kri went along the lines of "Disney meets Conan the Barbarian." The Mark of Kri was, and still is what Rise of the Kasai has now become. Rise of the Kasai's art direction is enveloped in a bloody cartoon world. For The Mark of Kri, this vision worked well. It was a unique design concept then in 2002 to mesh a cartoon game with one of body part dismemberment as a main focus. Fast forward to three years in the future, and the stage's props really haven't moved on since the original debut. In fact, you'll revisit some of the same locations Rau did through his initial quest. One such occurrence has Rau sneaking through the forest level again (with Tati this time), which is set in a darkened woodland where torches light the trail and scaleable broad trees and boulders are present. The point though isn't that Rise of the Kasai reuses levels, but that the game's visual quality hasn't been given an upgraded alteration. There are new territories to explore of course, like a dungeon, a misty pier, and a cavernous, lava-laced enemy stronghold. Where Rise of the Kasai's graphical status remains unchanged is in the now considerable "uncomplicated" proportions. Textures are blurry or smudged. Levels don't feature the strongest attention grabbers. Besides enemies and your team existing in these smallish, split-up, simple spaces, there's quite a bit of empty retail space besides maybe stuff like statues, crates, pillars, walls, and flocks of little birds or monkeys (which are really the only other living things frequenting the game that act as manipulative distractions). More so than?a lack of depth in level design, character models seem to have aged the worst, especially during the game's cut scenes. In-game graphics show that these characters in their 'toony natures are really like non-descriptive lumps of clay. Rounded out, fundamentally colored and shaded cartoons at that. While viewing them in the game itself, their bodies look better from a zoomed out third-person perspective, where the environments engulf these interactive cel-shaded figurines in all the light and dark patches that reflect upon them seamlessly, to the flapping of loose cloths and weaponry swinging around as blood splatters and the bodies of enemies keel over unmercifully.
Combat needs not just to be experienced or seen, but heard as well. In Rise of the Kasai it is, and well enough for that matter. Arrows catapult springily into the air. Metal clings and quakes in contact, whether standing on the defensive or bolting on offensive line. Ambiances even tune in at times, be it with birds or bugs chirping, the river flowing, or the enemy horn alerting reinforcements in the distance as your AI partner slips up yet again. Fitting into all this action is a rightly knit orchestrated score. Exactly like The Mark of Kri before it, Rise of the Kasai embodies a theme of tribal folklore. So with that come mixes of instruments such as maracas shaking, drum beats pounding, and flutes blowing through the course of intensified confrontation and the calmed ease of exploration. Rau is once again a silent man. Not that there's much of a story to tell outside the middle of level narrations spoken averagely by a serious old-timer voice coming from Kuzo, and a mysterious female voice from the oracle too. Rau's sister on the other hand, Tati, produces a rash Brazilian voice in the game's few moments wherever the plot thickens. These unknown talents aren't terrible. They just aren't the most interesting-sounding of character roles, as they do an okay job at filling in the parts that have called their number.

Bottom Line
Five years, maybe ten years from now you might be that certain someone who's got a craving for an obscure game that's considerably tasteful. It's hard to tell why, but Sony's games are dealt with this fate of being played by little but admired by those that do. Nice as it is that we few have our little club of precious sleepers in the Sony pile, it'd be even nicer if others joined in and experienced the wonders with their very own eyes. Certainly, definitely, absolutely Rise of the Kasai isn't a must-have, must-play-it game. It is, however, one of the best unplugged titles of 2005 yet. Given the problems between the lack of originality compared to the first one and the problematic AI, doesn't level out Rise of the Kasai's success with that of its former entry. Thinking about the sustainable merits that the series has held up all this time though (like decent combo-based combat with attention grabbing death animations), Rise of the Kasai is at least worth a rental. Remember: just because a game isn't hyped doesn't mean it's not worth your time.

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