There’s an odd dichotomy in Rise of the Kasai, the action-packed sequel to the 2002 sleeper hit The Mark of the Kri.
The brightly colored, beautifully drawn animation evokes a kid-friendly Disney feel, especially the Asian-flavored saga Mulan. But the bulk of the gameplay consists of an R-rated hackfest full of enough bloody stabbings, decapitations, and brutal death blows to make Quentin Tarantino proud. The Magic Kingdom-meets-Mortal Kombat end result is a little disconcerting, and you get the feeling the makers of the game were not quite sure who they were trying to appeal to—kids or adults.
The rest of the game also shows signs of an identity crisis. The plot, for example, is complex to the point of being nonsensical. In the original game, the storyline was focused on Rau, a Samurai-like warrior, and his efforts to fight off the dreaded Kasai (a cult attempting to gather evil spells). Now a decade later, those darn stubborn evil priests are back and it’s time for another showdown, and it’s up to Rau and his sister Tati (who was a child in the previous game) to fight them back. However, several of the levels take place before the events in The Mark of Kri and this second storyline follows two other marked warriors, Baumusu (Rau’s mentor) and Griz. Confused yet?
The two pairs of characters theoretically tie in to an overall story that takes place over a period of 20 years. But Rise of the Kasai‘s time-bending storyline can be extremely difficult to follow, simply because the timeline is not straightforward. The entire narrative hops, skips, and jumps in between characters and timelines all willy-nilly. To make matters worse, the explanation is done through the dual narration of a mysterious oracle and Rau’s spirit guide, a raven named Kuzo. Though it’s dramatic and moody, the narration and script sacrifice clarity for stylishness and some gamers will inevitably be lost.
But if the story is headachingly complicated, the combat on the other hand, is a bit on the simplistic side. Though there are four different characters, each with their own weapons, there really isn’t much variety between them save an occasional bow and arrow and the character Tati, who has the specialty of stealthy attacks and poisonous mushrooms.
The combat targeting system is intuitive but annoying. Button icons appear over the heads of the enemies and you have to press the corresponding button to attack them. What it all boils down to is an elaborate Whac-A-Mole combat system. There is some semblance of skill involved with trying to pull off a string of combos, but the players are mostly rewarded visually for their efforts with a cool looking staff spin or a jumping axe attack. In other words, random button mashing seems just as viable of a strategy as shrewd tactics. Those who are new to the genre might enjoy the visceral thrills of nonstop hack-n-slash, but if you’ve played games like this before, you might feel a little disappointed with the lack of innovation.
Not that is Rise is totally devoid of fun. The stealth missions involving Tati are extremely satisfying. With Tati you can tiptoe through the back alleys of dusty Arabian Night-ish cities, sneaking behind enemies and using different button combinations to pull off elaborately staged assassinations. However, it doesn’t help that the enemy AI tends to err on the side of awful. Foes come in steady mindless waves with no real variation, and when you are surrounded, only one or two enemies come at you at once, while the others stand around like they might be on a smoke break, waiting patiently for you to hit chop their limps off.
Maybe the biggest problem facing Rise is the God of War factor. Sony’s mythology-driven action game, which was released nearly at the same time as Rise, is so well-executed and brilliantly crafted, Rise pales in comparison. It’s like trying to watch The Matrix on a 13’ inch dorm-style television after experiencing it on a high-definition big screen.
That said, Rise is somewhat of an enjoyable martial arts romp despite its frustrating flaws, especially for casual gamers. The game is fast, furious and accessible, and those who don’t want to spend a ton of time with long, often needlessly difficult games will be happy. Just don’t be fooled by the cartoonish cover art. Rise of the Kasai is more Kill Bill than Aladdin.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/rise-of-the-kasai/