Nothing is Sacred.
This is especially true in the world of video gaming, where great ideas are borrowed, distorted or outright stolen to help turn a profit. The masterpieces of gaming inevitably lead to a slew of small-minded rip-offs that serve little more than to help stock the shelves and perhaps sucker the unsuspecting consumer into thinking it was a different game. Can you spell Tomb Raider 3?
Konami's fighter Kensei: Sacred Fist is about as original as a UPN sitcom (or a Hasbro Interactive game...take your pick). Though the action is decent, the game is about as unspectacular as they come.
Let me stress here that this is not Tekken 4, though the designers would like you to believe so. The game menus, graphics, character design, and interface are a blatant rip-off of Tekken 3. Of course, none of these elements are done nearly as well. Kensei is Tekken on welfare.
Oddly, there is no discernable plot in Kensei. While normally I think that fighting game plots are useless and mundane, I found myself wishing for something - anything - to tie the characters together. But alas, there is no FMV (aside from a very brief intro) to flesh out the character bios or overall story. There is no background in the manual to set the stage. We have no idea why these people are fighting or what they are fighting for. Guess they just needed to blow off some steam.
The design of the characters is very bland. One guy is the karate master, this girl is the drunken master, some other guy is the pro wrestler, blah, blah, blah. Almost exactly like all the Tekken fighters. There are absolutely no surprises here. I'm saddened that the developers didn't spend a bit more time on this area. It seems that they just didn't want to think very hard or use their imagination. Too bad.
Graphically, the game isn't bad. The characters have a high polygon count and are textured seamlessly. You'll find very smooth looking fighters. The high frame rate (60 fps) is also quite nice. However, the collision detection is pretty bad. More than a few times I lost/won by punching thin air. This is inexcusable in a fighting game, which is all about collision.
There are a couple of ways to play, including normal mode, survival mode, vs. mode, and the pointless 'watch' mode, where you watch the PlayStation beat itself up. You can choose from 9 starting fighters, though you can eventually open up 13 more. Like in Tekken 3, each standard fighter has an alternate bonus character. Unfortunately, there isn't much difference between the standard characters and the extra ones, aside from a few moves.
Speaking of moves, Kensei again borrows heavily from Tekken 3 with the assortment of kicks, punches and combos specific to each fighter. The ninja Hyoma's wheel kick looks exactly like Law's from Tekken. Heinz (the misunderstood German) fights eerily like Tekken's Germanic biker Paul. The move sets are just completely uninteresting and unoriginal.
The general gameplay is fine. Fans of fighting games will find that this pretty much fits the bill, albeit a bit bland. You can sit down and play Kensei with a friend and be adequately entertained.
Playing solo in any fighting game is rarely as fun as fighting friends, but in Kensei it takes on a whole new level of tedium. There is absolutley no FMV reward for beating the game. You don't get to see some sort of cool cut-scene. You don't get to discover what happens to your fighter after winning. You don't get squat, aside from the *yawn* list of credits, and opening up yet another dull bonus character. This is just lame - any fighting game fan will tell you that if they beat the game, they want to see something interesting.
In all fairness, Kensei does do a few cool things. For one, blocking is transformed graphically into a series of dodges and evasions. You don't just stand there holding your hands up and mysteriously avoiding damage. This leads to a very cool and realistic looking fight, sort of like watching a choreographed sequence from a kung-fu flick.
Additionally, Kensei employs a reversal system. Most characters have some sort of move that, when timed correctly, will 'catch' an opponent's strike in mid-motion and reverse it. This comes in handy and leads to some pretty nice comebacks.
But even these two minor innovations are not enough to raise Kensei above mediocrity. It's astounding to me that games like this are still made, particularly by a company like Konami, who is responsible for the groundbreaking Metal Gear Solid. Kensei is a weekend rental at best.