Review by NeoTS

Reviewed: 05/09/04

An Artistic Tale for the Ages

The Mark of Kri is a legend being told in the form of a videogame. It is a legend told in a most artistic and passionate way, so that the game bounces with vibrance and tenacity as it tells a typical story of evil. The story may be typical, but it is told in such a manner that this can be forgiven. The world in which this game takes place seems to be a combination of myths and ancient tribes of people. As I look through the variety of landscapes, architecture and clothing, I'm reminded of Native American tales, early man who lived amongst the snow, feudal Japan, and just about every other ancient culture that once celebrated barbarians as heroes and rewarded their plights. The Mark of Kri tells the tale of one such barbarian, a young man by the name of Rau.

The story begins as one might expect. An ancient evil spell was once shattered, and hidden throughout the land. But now the spells have been rediscovered by an evil force that the inhabitants of this peaceful world could never imagine. Eager and bounding with enthusiasm is the young Rau, a barbarian who yearns to prove himself on the battle field. He will battle through several stages of bloody combat to his final goal, along the spiritual bird Kuzo, which has guarded Rau's family for generations. And with this humble beginning, a great game begins.

As a barbarian, Rau spends most of his time killing other people, and in some of the most gruesome ways possible. Luckily the combat is handled in a nifty way that create some cool looking fights that are genuinely exciting. Melee fights are what most of the game is, and you'll have a Broadsword, Taiaha (spear) and a Battle Axe. By rotating the right analog stick towards your enemies, you can lock onto them. This is called focusing. When you are focused on an enemy, an icon will appear over their head: a circle, square or x. By pressing the corresponding button, Rau will launch an attack towards that enemy. By pressing all the different attack buttons, some vicious combos can be performed, which usually result in your opponents getting beheaded and impaled several times before being flung across the room in a bloody heap. The Broadsword is perfect for taking on small groups of enemies, while the Taiaha and Battle Axe can clear crowds and take enemies down in a hurry. Rau can also take out enemies from a distance, using a Bow. When lining up an enemy in your sights, an icon will appear, and will flash. You can move the arrow up until it becomes solid and go for a headshot, which will of course strike down the enemy immediately. Rau can also go forth barehanded, which results in some of the more brutal deaths.

Sometimes even a barbarian needs to know when to sneak around, and Rau is good at what he does. When he isn't holding a weapon, he crouches down and runs slower, and can even place his back against walls. While in this 'stealth' mode, Rau can take out enemies undetected, which reward the player with little cutscenes like those found in Tenchu. These are funny to watch, if not overly violent. By focusing on two enemies, Rau will take out the nearest enemy, and then move directly to the next one to incapacitate him as well. While he has his back against a wall, Rau can also leap out and surprise enemies, brutally killing them. He can also defend himself he's caught without a weapon. As the enemy tries to hit him, and he disarm them swiftly and turn their weapon against them. This is relatively easy to do, but the game finds a way to correct this. The more enemies you disarm, the more difficult it is to steal their weapon. Rau won't be able to make his way through an entire stage just by disarming.

Kuzo also plays an important part in Rau's quest. He can fly to higher vantage points, to scount locations before Rau moves into them. Kuzo can also hit switches to open doors, retrieve items and read ancient scrolls. He is extremely useful for scouting enemy locations during stealth levels. The game is very simple, but this allows for the gamer to simply pick up the game and have a good time with it. At certain points, the difficulty may seem overwhelming, as enemies will completely surround you, and if you aren't careful, you could end up dead fairly quickly. Blocking stops attacks coming from all directions, which helps, but sometimes it's hard to get off a single attack when in the midst of a battle. The amount of health you have left is also a little hard to figure out, and you'll have to gain a feel for it as your progress through the game.

The graphics are not quite as good as other games that came out that year, but they work for what the game is trying to accomplish. The colors are bright and vibrant, as if the worlds are paintings and the characters are moving through them. The story is told through colorful animation scenes that show a still frame being sketched, as if the story is actually being told by one of the villagers. But the real star of the game is Rau himself, and how he moves during battle. He fights in a most unconventional manner, but watching him fling his sword and throw his spear behind his back before attacking his enemy is a really cool sight, in a day when so many hack and slash game feature the same tired animations over and over again. The sounds of each level don't really change much, with birds chirping, and the weather flowing over you, whether it be a snowstorm or a torrential downpour. The voices fit the characters very well, from the booming voice of the village war veteran to the squeaky and frightened sounding monk who got thrown out of his house by bandits. It's nothing amazing, but in a game where atmosphere is everything, the voices add a lot to the experience.

When it all comes down to it, The Mark of Kri is a fun, simple and short experience. It tries some new things rather than following the norm, and it tells a cool story in a really artistic manner that very few games ever do. This is a rare game already, but if you see it, I highly recommend you pick it up and give it a shot. You won't be disappointed, and you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.

Rating: 8

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