Any hardcore real-time strategy fan who has played the console versions of such staples as Command & Conquer and Starcraft has probably sworn off using anything other than a hot-keyed interface on a PC for their strategy gaming. Times they are A-changin' though, and as consoles become more versatile, so might gamers. Koei is once again integrating the RTS into the console world, this time on the PS2, and the product is actually quite impressive. With a heavy emphasis on strategy and battle tactics, Kessen looks and feels like a very no-nonsense title that will probably appeal more to the military enthusiast than Blizzard or Westwood fans.
The player controls several battalions of varying size, each headed by an identifying general, under the Tokugawa Shogunate. A well-designed tutorial introduces several of the game's functions, which include selecting and customizing generals, issuing orders to individual units or blanket commands to the whole army, developing battle strategy, and performing special maneuvers. The battle system works something like a real-time Military Madness. Units have relative strengths or weaknesses against each other (riflemen are strong against cavalry, for example), and once a command is given, the game cuts to a cinematic showing the executed order and its effect on the field or opponent. During the action, the player can view engagements from above or focus in on individual units hacking it out. Realistic battle noises and ambient sounds accent the detailed characters and their environments.
Between skirmishes, tons of CG movies show off the gorgeous artwork and the hardware's proficiency at bringing it to life. Troops will react in different ways to orders and battle outcomes, so commands need to be planned rather carefully--generals will protest or even refuse an unwise order. Moreover, the morale of each detachment is influenced by every action and tracked with a zeal meter, which allows the troops to perform special attacks on the field.
Players can expect an absolutely seamless experience from Kessen, but does it have what it takes to win the PC strategist over to the console side? Barring some possible interface gripes, it's tough to see how even the finicky RTS crowd could find a problem in a game with so much visual appeal and immersive action.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Koei's feudal magnum opus strategy sim looked great on paper, but then we saw it in motion a couple months ago and had deep reservations about it. Much of the animation looked stilted and while there were many combatants, none of them moved very convincingly. However, we still look forward to playing Kessen (who wouldn't want to play a Kurosawa movie?). Also keep in mind that some of the Kessen screenshots you've seen were pulled from the game's excellent FMV sequences.