Review by Grenadier

Reviewed: 09/10/02 | Updated: 09/10/02

Finally a game with a half-decent main character design!

Let me just get one thing clear before I start singing praises. If you're a parent looking for a game to buy his/her child(ren) as a present, then forget about this game. Don't be fooled by the cartoony box art and screenshots; this is NOT a game for little kids. In fact, no parent in his or her right mind would want his or her children playing a game like this. So, if you fall under said category, stop reading this review now. I wouldn't want to cloud your judgement with praises and then receive complaint e-mails about misleading reviews.

That said, I can safely say that The Mark of Kri is a very entertaining game, albeit some obvious flaws. Its clever mix of action, adventure and strategy combined with an innovative targeting and attack system make it a very unique and enjoyable experience. In addition, the tribal and barbarian portrayal of the main character is somewhat unique in and of itself--it's a lot more engaging than the generic hero design for most action games of today.

GAMEPLAY

If anyone remembers the first ''Greatist Hits'' game on PS2, Onimusha Warlords, one of the most notable features of it was the lock-on target system. This is not to say that the system was new to Onimusha; other notable games it appeared in included Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the other N64 Zelda game, Majora's Mask. On playing Onimusha, I realized that such a targeting system could basically be improved in two ways: a) throwing the entire system into three dimensions (instead of fighting on the ground all the time), and b) allowing players to target more than one enemy at once. Whether these thoughts were a vision of the future or simple coincidence is still beyond me, since both of these improvements have appeared in the recent past. The first improvement appeared in Konami's Zone of the Enders, a very fast-paced action game which allowed players to freely fly around targets instead of strafing on the ground. And for the second, gamers had to wait until the release of The Mark of Kri.

One wonders how a targeting system could account for targeting multiple enemies at once would work. Instead of pressing a single button to aim at a single target (in Onimusha, R1), the targeting system is all based on the right analog stick. Rotating the right analog stick will bring up the ''Focus Beam'', and passing it over enemies will target them. The length and width of this beam, as well as how many enemies can be targeted, depends on the weapon currently equipped. Once targeted, each enemy will be assigned a button on the controller--either X, Square or Circle. From here, pressing the button of an enemy will attack in that enemy's direction, and the attack will vary based on distance. In addition, depending on your currently equipped weapon, you can target three, six or nine enemies at once by assigning multiple enemies to one button and hitting them all with one fell swoop.

You have several different weapons at your disposal. You start with the simple Sword, a plain one-handed sword that can can target three enemies at once. Then you get the bow and arrow, an excellent weapon for taking down targets with stealth (more on that later). Then there's the Taiaha, a large spear and staff combination that can both smash and stab enemies. And finally, there's the gigantic Axe--enough said.

But even with these gigantic weapons at your command, you can still use stealth for silent takedowns that don't alert enemies to your presence. With no weapon equipped, you can move around silently, sneak up on enemies and stealth kill them. These stealth kills are very violent--the most simple of them is a brutal strangling maneuver that grabs the target and crushes his neck. You can even prop your back against a wall, MGS2 style, and jump around for a stealth kill. These are extremely graphic; one of these moves involves planting the unfortunate target against a wall and pinning him to it with your sword. You can even stealth kill two enemies at a time by targeting them both and pressing a quick button sequence, or jump down from a roof on top of your misfated target.

There are also combo attacks that often end in single-hit instant kills, some of the most graphic attacks ever seen in video games. When not all available buttons are assigned to enemies, the remaining buttons can be used to form attack combos, which will make Rau scream curses in his own barbarian language and do some very violent and well-animated attacks. One particular Taiaha attack involves grabbing the unfortunate target by the neck, tossing the Taiaha up into the air, catching it and impaling the target's neck. Then, you will violently squeeze hard and then hurl the lifeless body off to the side. Doing attacks like this will actually cause other enemies that witness it to shrink back nervously and fearfully scream at each other.

You have a companion who comes with you for your journey--the wise old crow, Kuzo. Kuzo can fly according to the players control to well marked Perches. From a Perch, you can look through Kuzo's eyes to plan your attack strategies. You'll need his help--lots of it--if you intend to stealthily sneak through a fortress, which you'll be doing often. Kuzo can also decipher ancient writings on walls and press switches, as well as disturb flocks of birds to distract enemies. Considering that being seen by a hornblower will cause armies of guards to come after you, it would be wise to use stealth against them. Not to mention the fact that archers will devastate you if you don't see them first.

MoK's gameplay reaches a level of innovation that hasn't been seen in many games yet. As well as a level of violence that surpasses most other games to date. In spite of it all, however, it's still hindered by the dreaded action game killer: repetition. Don't worry; it isn't a very serious case of it. But make no mistake, MoK will seem somewhat repetitive by the end of the game. At least there's lots of stuff to unlock.

OVERALL GAMEPLAY RATING: 8/10

GRAPHICS

On reviewing a lot of the other action game heroes of modern video games, I see most heroes designed to look cool--and in the process, their realism and the feeling that the scene could actually happen is lost in the process. In Onimusha, the hero was supposedly a samurai. But any history expert knows that samurai didn't wear metal armor, much less painted armor. Not to mention the fact that they wore helms, often decorated as an animal of some sort. In Devil May Cry, Dante looks about as much like a warrior as my mom. Sure, he looks cool enough to put most modern rock stars to shame, but honestly--a trench coat!? There's no way anyone could ever move as quickly as Dante does in a trench coat like that; he'd be tripping over it! Sure, we've all seen movies like The Matrix and their trench coat-clad heroes, but was Keanu Reeves wearing one during his fights with Morpheus and Agent Smith? (I'm not saying that these games/movies are unenjoyable because of this; I'd be one of the first to say that Onimusha and DMC are great games. It's just that it gets tedious to see such crazy warrior designs.)

To save me from all this unrealism in character designs, along comes The Mark of Kri. Rau, the hero, is a very large and burly warrior--probably half again my own height--and with biceps that he probably couldn't fit his entire hand around. C'mon, people--while Rau's size might be just a bit exaggerated, he's still a lot more realistic then characters like Samanosuke or Ryudo. Rau's portrayed as a gigantic barbarian warrior whose combination of unnatural strength and cunning wit will allow him to chop and stab his way through any difficult situation. And considering his formidable appearance, it's believable. He is adorned with tattoos on his chest and face, and carries a large fur sheath for his weapons on his back. He wears furs--to reinforce the barbarian idea--and except for the fact that his chest and face are devoid of any hair, it's believable that this man was a barbarian. I can just picture him screaming curses in an unknown language at a Roman army while carrying his large axe and then brutally chopping his way through their ranks, with PS2 button symbols floating above the legionnaires' heads (as unrealistic as it may be to chop your way through the ranks of Roman legionnaires). If he only had a beard, he'd be a perfect savage. But alas--he looks so much cooler without one, doesn't he?

OK, enough about the character design. But the point is, a design like that is something seldom seen in a game. It actually puts some realism into a very unrealistic game. Even the most diehard and experienced veterans of the RP/FF board would never create so realistic a savage.

OK. Enough. On to the engine itself. The engine's style bears a lot of resemblance to the styles of popular hand-drawn films. The game's story scenes are presented in actual hand-drawn art format with narration; an impressive feat is the transition from the loading screens to the actual game itself. The game shows a hand-drawn image of the starting point with Rau; and then, once loading is finished, the in-game render replaces the drawing perfectly.

Um, I guess you have to see it to believe it.

About the game's in-game viewpoint. When following battles, the camera will follow one of two modes, changeable through the options menu: cinematic or side. In cinematic mode, the camera will sway around Rau and the target, following the action perfectly. This is truly enhancing to the action. If the game had widescreen support for a smaller aspect ratio (16:9), that'd be great. The other camera option is side, which will always position the camera halfway between Rau and the target he's currently facing. Either camera system works great; the only problem is that the camera will sometimes, however rarely, get caught on stuff in the environment. Take out the little icons and health meters, buff up the rendering engine a bit, and maybe you'd have movie material.

The rendering quality is pretty good. There's some minor slowdown during the very large battles, but it's nothing serious.

OVERALL GRAPHICS RATING: 8/10

SOUND

The sounds consist of some very well done voice overs for the hand-drawn story sequences, many pleasing sound effects of attacks and weapon collisions, and the music. The music is normally calm and quiet outside of battles, but once you're seen, the music will often become a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon heavy drumbeat that sets the mood very well. Rau's savage battle cries will bring warmth to any gamer's heart; the satisfying crash when you smash through enemy armor will make any gamer feel proud of themselves; the chattering of nervous enemies when you preform a powerful kill will make any gamer grin. Very well done sounds.

OVERALL SOUND RATING: 9/10

STORY

There isn't much in the way of story to MoK. A young warrior named Rau (described in the Graphics section), fresh from being trained by Baumusu, sets out with Kuzo to clear the path to an inn in the forest of bandits. His success leads him to many different places, from a misty forest to an arctic fortress to a musty necropolis full of zombies.

But perhaps the background should be explained. Long ago, a spell was cast with six parts, called the Marks of Kri. The spell was very powerful--probably powerful enough to destroy the world. To protect the world from this spell, it was split into six parts, which were given to six families to protect. Rau's quest is to protect the Mark of Kri from the hands of those who wish to destroy the world.

It's not a very engaging story, but it's enough to justify the player's actions.

OVERALL STORY RATING: 4/10

REPLAY VALUE

There's plenty of stuff to unlock, including the arenas and the alternate costumes. You also get some cheats. Unlocking all this stuff could take a very long time. There are only six areas total, but they're entertaining enough to go through more than once. Considering all the ways there are to dispatch an enemy. . .

There is, however, a repetition problem. There are six very large areas, and the gameplay does start to seem repetitive after awhile. But it's a blast until then.

OVERALL REPLAY VALUE RATING: 7/10

OVERALL SCORES:
GAMEPLAY: 8/10
GRAPHICS: 8/10
SOUND: 9/10
STORY: 4/10
REPLAY VALUE: 7/10


FINAL SCORE: 8/10

Rating: 8

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