Bargain Bin Review: Realizing historical Japan with magic, effeminate men, and pointy hats galore.
Spanning three games, Koei's Kessen series has presented its players with a unique take on Asian history by combining the fantastical with reality. From a realistic portrayal of the Tokoguwa Shogunate to a romanticized version of China's the Three Kingdoms period, Kessen has presented players a chance to rewrite history by leading armies to victory during periods of intense historical warfare.
This time around, Nobunaga Oda's life takes center stage and plays out during the course of his life starting in 1560 and ending in 1590. While most games and anime have portrayed him as a villain, Kessen III reveals him in a different light as a tragic character that actually cared for his country. From his marriage to Lady Kicho in 1549 to his tragic death in 1582, Nobunaga's ambition to conquer Japan for the benefit of its people is shown in a new light.
While previous Kessen games relied majorily on strategic placing of units with the use of special abilities, the developers of Kessen III decided to refine the gameplay elements of Kessen in order to make it more of an action/strategy game. Players begin their battle by selecting which units to take with them before choosing a basic marching order. During the planning phase, units can be selected where to go and be issued orders allowing for strategic placing of units across the map. Unlike previous Kessen's however, not all units can be used during every battle as a fatigue system is used in order to help add balance to the overall game.
During actual combat, players are given the opportunity to choose a unit and issuing them orders while having the rest of the army being controlled by the computer. While this allows players to have a bit more direct control over their army, it's almost essential for players to switch between units or risk losing them. Thankfully switching is as simple as pressing the ?L2? button on the controller at anytime.
Battles begin when one friendly unit encounters an enemy unit, and is measured according to how many troops each unit has remaining in its ranks. Every officer can be issued a different type of units prior to battle (ninja, cavalry, spearmen, etc.), each with their own unique set of skills. In order to turn the tide during battle, officers can learn special skills and abilities such as magic and various formations.
One new feature added to Kessen III has been the addition of a ?rampage? skill. Taking a page out of Koei's own Dynasty Warriors series, the action is zoomed into the officer where they can begin to gather items, health, and experience. When the count reaches 100 kills, the enemy officer shows up and if the player can defeat him or her, even more bonus stats are added; turning ?rampage? into an essential move.
When the battle's goal has ended, grades are issued to the player based on the number of officers defeated, the number of troops lost, troop efficiency, etc. Better grades means more items and money for the player to upgrade his/her units.
While the developers tried to find the right mix of ?action? with ?strategy?, the game does tend to get repetitive at times without much strategy involved as well. In order to achieve victory with the best grade possible, most of the time you'll be using your strongest units with the best abilities to cut down your enemies, leaving you without having to use too much brainpower. As such, the action tends to get repetitive as well. You'll be witnessing the same specials over and over?.and over??again.
Though the graphics aren't anything new, the game still looks better than a majority of the PS2 games out there. Rendered in stunning Full Motion Video, the game's cinematics makes the player feel as though they were watching a film based upon Japanese history. However the actual gameplay graphics aren't as pretty. While they provide a decent picture to look at, a lot of the minor officers as well as backgrounds tend to have a very similar aesthetic look. Devoid of any clutter though, the backgrounds provide a pleasant picture to look at without much slowdown which is surprising considering the amount of action occurring on-screen at one time. Additionally, the customization of officers has been greatly enhanced through the inclusion of over 450 different types of weapons, armor, and helmets; ensuring, that each of your officers (even the minor ones) has his/her own unique look. Though they typically range from ridiculous to appalling. Not much room for improvement, eh?
Adding to the game's historical presence is a soundtrack by composer Reijiro Koroku. The soundtrack fits the game just right and helps to provide an epic-feel to every battle. Using a variety of Asian instruments such as taiko drums provides further authenticity to the game's period pieces. Like most Koei games, the English voice actors do an atrocious job through overacting. Thankfully, the inclusion of the Japanese soundtrack means that players will still be able to survive with their ears in tact after the game is over. While the music and voice acting do an excellent job, the sound effects however are another story. Most of the time, all you'll be listening to is the same mass mobbing sound that you've grown accustomed with over the years with games such as Dynasty Warriors, though they do their job just fine.
Though it can be typically tough for a company to mix-and-match various genres, Kessen III does a decent job at creating a strategy game that can be fun to pick up at times, even for the casual gamer. Those who are looking for a Dynasty Warriors-style game with a hint of strategy Kessen III is for you.