Review: Hokuto Musou: This Blog is Already Dead
Name: Hokuto Musou (Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage)
System reviewed: Playstation 3 (game also on Xbox 360)
Hokuto no Ken is a post-apocalyptic manga centered around Kenshiro (or Ken), who happen to be the successor of an assassination art called Hokuto Shinken which gives him the ability to kill any and all opponents by hitting at their pressure points from outside. He has dedicated his life to protect the innocent and weak from those who threaten them as well as challenging other rival martial artists and his own brothers who also know Hokuto Shinken. Many fans would definitely love to play a game based on Hokuto, and usually it’s not just for Ken but for the many interesting, tragic and memorable cast of the series.
According to a poll months back in Japan on what kind of Musou/Warriors game fans like to see, a Hokuto no Ken/Fist of the North Star Musou game was what the fans wanted to see most. True enough, last year in November, Koei officially announced Hokuto Musou, taking the legend of Hokuto no Ken and combining it with the simple but fun gameplay of the Musou series. Koei has been on a roll recently with the well-received Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce and the long awaited Samurai Warriors 3. How does this fare then? Read on.
First of all, Hokuto Musou plays somewhat like your standard Musou game. The standard face buttons, block, movement and camera are the same as a Musou game would be. With the R2 button, you could do a grab move which…grabs your opponent. R1 is akin to the SW/WO games where you can do a special move. For example, Kenshiro could do an evasive roll while Mamiya can fire her arrows. L2 is assigned for the Touki (Aura) move where you character creates an aura of power around him/her, giving you benefits based on your character types. Also, while your Touki is active, you can unleash a special Musou attack only available to you while in Touki mode. To be able to use Touki in the first place, you must fill a bar next to the health gauge. Each character can level up an increase the amount of Touki they can store, giving them even more powerful Musou finishers to use. Also, each Touki Musou attack instantly destroys all generic enemies and generic bosses, pretty cool eh? I should mention that you can even taunt with L1+L3 just to spite your opponent!
One of the best things about this game, which I honestly hope that Koei implements in future Musou games, is the ability to use multiple Musou attacks in a battle. Each Musou skill is assigned to the d-pad and you can switch between 4 attacks on the fly, so that you don’t get bored using the same Musou. Of course, each skill has different range and damage. Also, each Musou attack take up a different amount of Musou in your Musou gauge. As your character can store up to 10 gauges at one go, though you’ll have to level your character up before being able to access all 10, you don’t need to worry about not being able to use that skill you want. Naturally, skills that take up to 3-4 gauges are more powerful but take a longer time to build up before being able to use while skills that take up to 1-2 gauges are weaker yet they are usable quite fast. Balance is the key here of course.
Character leveling is akin to DW6’s leveling where you start from a point in the leveling chart and branch out in any way you desire. True to Hokuto’s roots, the leveling charts resemble an acupuncture pressure point chart! Through leveling, you unlock new branches to your moveset, Musou attacks, powerups and other skills you can use in battle like cancelling, where you cancel your moves by pressing, triangle and continuing combos. My only gripe here is that each character, no matter how different their paths are split, gets the same powerups as everyone else does. It would be better if everyone had different amount of buffs to different stats or different skills to learn to make them more unique than the cast.
Before you can do (most) everything else in the game, you have to start with Legend Mode, and of course, using Kenshiro. Legend Mode is a retelling of the story of Hokuto no Ken from the beginning of the series to the final battle with Raoh. In game stages are separate to smaller areas on the map that makes the game feel like more of an adventure game than a regular Musou game. Cutscenes are usually shown at the beginning and ending of the stages while the rest of the story is played out as you progress through the stages. Boss fights are really challenging as they get harder with more HP you tear off. Good to see the difficulty is back into these kind of games. You end bosses with a simple QTE event though. Kind of unnecessary but it work I guess. It’s really great how Koei paid attention to the story in this game, but it just strikes me as odd when I notice some of the events from the manga were left out from the game. Some of those scenes were actually quite important to that particular stage/boss in question so it’s somewhat disappointing, and it makes that boss of the stage more vilified than they were supposed to be. Another thing is that you can’t play with a friend in Legend mode. Usually all Koei games allow you to play with a friend in any mode but I guess since this is to keep the feel of the story, it’s somewhat reasonable. Still, it’s a pretty good effort on Koei’s part on keeping the feel of the manga there.
Illusion Mode is a what-if side-story mode similar to Dynasty Warriors: Gundam’s Original Mode. Unlike Legend Mode, this mode is meant to be the good ol’ Dynasty Warriors hack and slash (or beat em’ up for this game’s case) around an entire stage and beating the boss of the stage to progress. People might be confused with the lack of a free mode in the game but Illusion doubles up as a free mode by pressing the Square button on the stage select screen. You can just choose from any other character’s Illusion mode stage from there and play. Of course, you can play with a friend in this mode for some great butt-kicking. It’s just too bad that some of the characters in the game lack a Legend Mode and only get a story here.
There’s also a Boss Rush mode where you challenge against multiple bosses and get the fastest time possible and upload your best time on the net. I personally have not tried it due to my difficulties being able to access a working PS3 but I have heard it was quite unforgiving. I just wonder if they took Koei’s cheapness and Tecmo’s difficulty and stuff it into the mode…
Tutorial Mode is for beginners to the game (or Musou games in general) which allows one to try out the different characters and character types in the game. Speaking of character types, there are 3 character types in this game: Hokuto Type, Nanto Type and Special Type. Hokuto Types play like basic Musou style with a decent normal string and a few charge strings. Nanto types are similar to DW6 where they have a normal string and one charge move linking to any of the normal moves, but while evading, you can press triangle and go into a special state where your character can unleash stronger combos, and long aerial normal strings with more powerful charge moves. Special types are like Special types in SW series. Decent normal and somewhat longer charge strings and the offensive R1 moves.
There is one tidbit I like to share in regards to in battle compared to other Musou games. Hokuto Musou just has one of the better, if not, best animation I’ve seen in a Koei game. The characters looks really well animated, not just their movements, but the shadows and everything. They feel so much more life like that most Koei ones. I just hope future Koei games can go further into this route and make even better realism to their character models. Graphics too, despite being a gritty post apocalyptic game, is really well done this time round. Although it’s not Uncharted 2 quality graphics, it’s still great and fitting enough for this game. Blood is also included in the game, definitely a plus for a Hokuto game.
Characters wise, this game is disappointing in that area. You are only allowed to play as 8 characters in the game sans DLC. For Hokuto fans and general gamers alike, usually DW games have a large roster; it’s a little weird to see only 8 characters playable. Kenshiro, Raoh, Toki, Rei, Shin, Souther, Jagi, Mamiya. That’s about it. There’s quite a number of unique non-playable characters in the game as bosses, whom are also popular with the fanbase but are not given unique moveset. Those guys end up sharing moves with other similar UNPCs. It would have been better if Koei added a bit of originality to each of them at the very least with one or two moves from the manga.
For the music, again like DW series, metal. It actually fits really well with the game especially with the amount of badassery Kenshiro exudes with every strike. During the Legend Mode, when in quite areas, the music shifts to something more calm and in areas with more enemies, something faster paced which makes you want to clear them out fast. The anime’s popular Ai Wo Torimodose returns too with a metal instrumental version played during the end parts of boss battles, anything with that in is instantly awesome of course.
All in all, Hokuto Musou is a great Koei game and one of the best Koei games, I dare say the best, that they have put out recently. I hope that future Koei titles follow the standards Hokuto Musou have set and continue to make even better Koei games. In future, assuming there is a Hokuto Musou 2, Koei should go the route of DWG2 after DWG: add more scenes and more characters but keep the quality there. It’s definitely a keeper for some good ol’ stress relief and great fun….or else you’re already dead.
Review Score: 8/10