This is another guest review by Adam G (Gegs) let us know what you think.
Not being a great deal of strategy based games on the PS2 at the moment the Kessen series really has the chance to strike out and be the main title for the genre. Kessen was one of the flagship games for the PS2 and really showed off the capabilities of the machine with its gorgeous graphics and the sheer amount of sprites that were displayed on the screen at one time. Kessen II however pushes these capabilities even further, instead of a hundred sprites that were on screen in the first game Kessen II raises this number five times with five hundred sprites now seen in action at one time. This creates amazing battle scenes with so many troops slashing and hacking at each other.
The game focuses on the Chinese Han Dynasty that has lost their grip on the kingdom. The dynasties child emperor has neither the experience or knowledge to maintain control so rival warlords began battling across the land to gain control and two ally warlords that rise to claim victory is Liu Bei and Cao Cao. Having gained control Cao Cao decides that he wants the kingdom for himself and stabs Liu Bei in the back, being the treacherous dog that he is he also kidnaps Liu Bei's true love Diao Chan which pisses Liu Bei off royally. Liu Bei retreats with depleted troops but vows to gain revenge on Cao Cao by taking back the kingdom and his woman. So it is up to you the player to guide Liu Bei's army through a series of battles and put right the wrong of Cao Cao's treachery.
The game begins with a rather lengthy movie explaining the background of the game, the graphics in this are beautiful and it's very impressive. Here however lies the most annoying part of Kessen II, not content with placing a movie at the beginning and leaving it at that, there are also little cut scenes and movies throughout the game that start to become irritating when you just want to get on with kicking your enemies butt. At one point you get a little movie of Liu Bei storming into his tent in anger when Cao Cao anticipates one of his attacks, why we need to see this when it's blindingly obvious that he's going to be mad I don't know. The movies work between battles to set the story, but it just starts to become ridiculous after a while.
When you do actually get into the action of the game you are presented with a couple of tutorial battles that allow you to get used to the controls of the game. This eases you gently into the game and saves you having to keep scanning the manual to see what the hell your doing. The controls are very well set out and easy to pick up, the scope of play isn't that complicated so you can get straight into the battles and be commanding your men competently after a couple of minutes. The tutorials take you from the most basic moves to more complex objectives in two battles, this means you can get into Kessen II straight away. The screen is well laid out, you can easily see how each unit of troops is fairing in battle with a meter in the top left hand corner and an index of controls pops up on the screen with the push of a button.
The action when fighting on Kessen II is one of the games strongest features, with so much going on at one time on the screen you really feel in the thick of things as you guide your chosen commander through a sea of troops, striking anything that moves in the enemies colours and sometimes accidentally hitting your own in the madness. If you find yourself getting too excited and end up stuck in the middle of the opposing army you can quickly call your men to your side to die honourably for you. From the same stable as Dynasty Warriors the action at ground level is practically the same, the only difference being your character is constantly mounted on a horse. This can make controlling them a little difficult and many times I wished I could leap off the horse but Kessen II simply doesn't give you the option to do this. Storming around pressing the X button can become a little repetitive; once your special moves have been used you find there is little else for you to do, many times I found I became bored and just simply sat back and watched the battle.
As well as laying out objectives and getting your hands dirty within the battle there are also other options available in Kessen II. The most interesting of these is the special powers and elements of magic available in the game. Each set of troops has a character available that can be called upon to lay mass destruction amongst the enemy's troops. On offer are such spells as lightening, boulder storms, fire, ice and hail storms, each containing some impressive footage of the opposing troops being destroyed. One of the most satisfying moments of the game is when one of your spells pays off, one spell makes a huge crack appear in the middle of the battlefield and it's great to watch in sadistic glee as soldiers fall to their death before the ground closes back together again. Special moves have to be used wisely though as they are only available a certain number of times so you have to pick your moment well.
Before battles you are given options of strategy and the ability to build upon the strength of your army and resources. This is done with another cut-scene where your officers present you with choices; these can range from riding a village of a man-eating tiger or simply supplying them with food. Depending on the decision you make you can gain extra men or supplies due to the consequences. The same is done for the type of strategy you take during a battle; you are presented with choices and from these choices you can go with a certain plan of attack or even choose which officer you wish to lead this attack. These objectives however cannot be abandoned once fighting has commenced which can be frustrating if it backfires.
The graphics in Kessen II are very impressive, a lot of detail has gone into the sprites and considering the amount of troops on screen at once there appeared to be very few visible faults when playing the game. The battlefields themselves however rely on less detail and can seem a little bit repetitive after a while, they have been spiced up a little from the original with the new fighting plains such as battles that take place on rafts and missions that involve breaking into the enemies' strong hold before taking their leading officer.
Kessen II is an enjoyable enough game but it really just failed to grab me, I couldn't find myself getting engrossed in it. The graphics were beautiful and the battles themselves were at first exciting because of the shear amount of action unfolding before my eyes, but after a while things began to get repetitive and I just found myself coming back to the game less and less. It has been improved form the original, there are new weapons and even elephants mounted by troops. The size has been greatly improved with a huge thirty levels available compared to the eleven that were available in the first. However as well animated as they are the cut-scenes and story that evolves during the game just begins to get annoying, it wouldn't be so bad if it was just before battles to set the scene but there just seems to be a cut-scene for absolutely everything. The story being developed before you isn't too original either, you do get the feeling that if Cao Cao had just left Liu Bei's girlfriend with him he would have been quite happy to hang up his sword and settled down to raise a family as that is all he seems bothered about.