Sorry, no theme song for this game on Youtube. Who'da thought that one, huh.
I honestly didn't figure I was going to be doing a review for this game, but when I sat down to write up the Impressions post for it, I realized "Well, I ran through it completely twice as well as just randomly playing around with it, so I pretty much know what it has to offer". That is...pretty much the requirement I have on myself for a game that I review: ensuring that I know it pretty well so that I can sufficiently put it on display for what it is. And saying that I believe I can do that with Kenka Bancho is pretty much a statement on the game itself, all things considered, especially when I start to lay it out as to what kind of game it is. Not to be cryptic or anything, I just like to have something of a preface up front to work through for the rest of the post which includes something of a hook, ala the previous statement. Maybe it loses something when I then go on to explain it but whatever, the absurdity matches the mood of the game for better or worse.
I'll say this upfront: Honestly, they could've called the game "Way of the Bancho" and it would have made so much more sense going into it. The game basically revolves around a school trip to Kyouto which is certainly not Kyoto, get that out of your mind right now, okay? The main character, Sakamoto Takashi (Or Takashi Sakamoto, I never know anymore) is the Bancho or head badass (delinquent) of his school and, upon arriving in Kyouto, learns that the school trip plays host to a big unwritten Bancho Tournament every year. He quickly decides to participate in the festivities, which basically means finding the other Banchos and punching them until you win in a fight with them, whereupon they become your 'Peon', signifying that you have 'conquered' that territory. Really, it's almost like a Conquering game, something you all know I want, only it involves punching people a lot, which again you all know I love. So this should be the perfect game for me, right? I should love this game to death by definition.
I don't. I want to love it, so badly, but I just do not. Don't get me wrong, I like the game, I really do, but I can't hold it aloft and claim it to be wonderful, I can't say it does everything I want is amazing for it. Because it simply doesn't. Clearly, I am going to pick the game apart and say what works and doesn't work and it will be glorious I assure you, but I also talk of games sometimes being more than their parts as well. When that happens, it's wonderful and I would've liked that to happen with Kenka Bancho, but it simply didn't. Which is probably the only disappointment I had with the game in that, once I learned of its intentions, I expected to be wowed and was not; which some could rightly argue is simply my own problem. Indeed, if you keep your expectations down, you could walk away from Bancho with a pretty good overall opinion (like I did) without it being hampered by a nagging let-down.
I would like to highlight what makes the game pretty damn badass first, of course, before going in and picking my nits, since what Kenka Bancho does well is entertaining, which in most cases should be top priority. First, let me simply point out that the game has fucking eye lasers.
I don't think anybody would think that I made that up. I don't think I really have to prove the fact that the game does, indeed, include fucking eye lasers. But that image is less 'proof' that the game has them and more simply touting that fact. Because it is awesome despite the fact that they are not lasers in the common sense, despite how it may appear in the above screenshot. You see, the Laser Eyes is actually your 'Menchi Beam" which is basically just a tangible representation of staring someone down which is what is used to initiate fights or, in some instances, cause potential foes to simply soil themselves and run in fear. As only a true badass can make happen. Indeed, if you see someone who appears to be a Shabazo (basically someone who you can fight who is -not- a Bancho, but simply a weaker delinquent) you can use your Menchi Beam to 'challenge' them to a fight. Upon doing so and fighting them, they sometimes drop their Itineraries, which shows where they will be on certain days, thus allowing you to plan where you have to go to take down a Bancho.
Something else about the whole set-up to a fight that is amusing in small doses is that cutting a menchi beam (indeed, this is how the game refers to it) at someone and having that challenge accepted initiates a 'smash talk' sequence. You are given a statement (one of the ones I remember is "It'll rain your blood!") which is then cut up into three pieces and you have to do something of a QTE to assemble it. Going step-by-step, you'll get prompts that correspond to the four face buttons (for stronger encounters, L and R will be included as well) that have parts of your statement on them, as well as three other starting phrases that are sometimes intentionally put there to try and confuse you, given that you have a few seconds to hit each part. So using the example "It'll Rain Your Blood!", the first batch of four could be "Square: It'll stain", "Triangle: It'll Rain", "Circle: I'll pay", "Cross: This Game's" or something to that effect. To match the Smash talk, obviously you hit Triangle, then the next four pop up, etc. etc. Using this method, you can assemble the correct Smash Talk statement which gets you the first shot, and should you mess it up, obviously they get the first shot.
Of course, in true fashion for these types of games, there is a -third- option for the outcome of this sort of thing. Most, if not all, Smash Talk sequences have a 'Hidden Smash' statement that will constitute as a win for you despite not being the right statement. The pieces of a Hidden Smash appears much as the regular and decoy ones, and you just have to go out on a limb and experiment to find them. I don't know if they give you more of an edge than simply the correct smash, but I can imagine there's a title in it for you if you use them enough times. One that I remember, having run into it already is "This Game's Really Awesome!" or something to that effect which is clearly just a wink from Atlus and/or Spike or whomever (wiki lists the developer as 'Bullets'...who don't have a page of course), but other Hidden Smashes have proven to be more along the lines of the general Smash Talk statements. It's a neat layer of depth that may, in fact, be wholly unnecessary, but I have to acknowledge the fact that it's there, if just because it suggests that the game as a whole isn't wholly rigid in every element.
It may seem like I have talked about every element about the fighting except the fighting itself, since I devoted three paragraphs to -starting- a fight and this is indeed a correct statement. That is because the fighting gameplay is....pretty simple. This works for and against it in fairly obvious ways and while it allows you to completely customize every move (by switching it out with others that you learn by leveling up and defeating banchos) it's all held back by a combat system that's just a little bit too slow. Speeding up the animations by like even a second probably would have made a world of difference, because it simply causes a disjoint with me while I'm playing with it. I punch and it doesn't immediately slam a fist into someone's face, but rather takes an instant just -beyond- immediately to do so. It may seem like I'm picking at something really small, but trust me, it shines through when you're actually playing the game. It prevents the combat system from being great, but it is still fairly good for the mentioned reasons, as well as for being fairly simple to master in a way that will get you the best results.
Now, harking back to something I said towards the start of the review, I can finally really clarify just what I meant by calling the game "Way of the Bancho". The reason is fairly obvious; the trip covers seven days which, upon completing, you can restart from the first day in classic New Game+ sense to redo events, try and fight new banchos, etc. So much as in the Way of the Samurai games, the game is meant to be played several times to get the whole scope of the game which flows quite a bit beyond the basic "defeat all of the Banchos!" goal that the game sets as the 'over-arching' goal of the game. Even with my two and so plays, I haven't seen even more than half of all the events that the game has to offer, which certainly inspires replaying as much as the seemingly impossible goal of defeating all the Banchos (47 in all) in a single run-through of the game proper. It's a basic and fairly effective approach to designing a game, if the four Way of the Samurai games are any proof of that and when it's done well, it's quite a bit engaging. To that end, I should say that Kenka Bancho does justify its cost, provided you take what it tasks you with as a challenge that you -want- to complete, and not merely one you feel compelled to do so.
As is probably quite a bit obvious by the above screenshot, a good bit of the events in the game revolve around the three ladies that Sakamoto comes into contact with during the trip. The one on the left-most is Manami, a class-mate of Sakamoto who is a close friend and clearly has a thing for him and he doesn't realize it and blah, blah, you all know this one without me saying so. She doesn't like Sakamoto devoting his life to fighting people and generally being a jerk which isn't entirely unreasonable, but she doesn't do a whole lot to stop you aside from asking. Sometimes. She's....about as compelling as you could assume from her by-the-book backstory and while I haven't quite won her heart over (haven't won any of them just yet, actually) I could imagine just how that would work out. I'm not sure if it'll actually impact the ending or anything like that, but I imagine I'll find out sometime.
Kotone and Aya (middle and right respectively) are two girls that you meet via an unskippable event in which Kotone gets accosted for being a geisha-esque girl and Sakamoto runs to her rescue because it means getting to beat people up. I'm not kidding. After said dudes are beat up, Kotone starts thanking Sakamoto who promptly gets dropkicked out of fucking nowhere, no I am not kidding. This is done by Aya, of course, who is basically the antithesis of Manami, as is required by japanese law or something. (I poke fun, obviously, but come on.) Where Manami is studious and polite, Aya is loud, obnoxious and skips school fairly regularly because why not. (She attends Ikeda High, the school of Kyouto which is totally not a plot point or anything, no spoilers here.) And Aya is clearly no delicate flower if the goddamn dropkick did not tip you off in some fashion. She fills out the requisite trope list quite well enough and, in my experience, does just as you would expect romance-wise on said list as well. I suppose what I am saying is that the story and such isn't anything new, nor is it something that you -have- to experience, but it's capable enough to carry a game about punching dudes.
The story is, of course, completely divorced from the actual writing itself, as the writing is pretty funny when it wants to be, and it wants to be funny often. The more obvious examples in attempts come from the smash talk lines as indicated earlier (I say attempts because "Yo momma" and the like are sometimes interspersed in the attempts) whereas the real executions generally be in the Bancho introductions. The banchos are quite a strange collection of characters, if you hadn't figured, and Sakamoto has no issue with pointing this fact out to them directly. The exchange with the above chicken-esque bancho stands out as one of the particularly humorous ones, but it is by no means the only example, nor the one that really -needs- to be pointed out as the 'staple' example or anything like that. Indeed, I could probably boot up the game and discover a couple other legitimately amusing exchanges, but that's a bit more effort than I need to put in at this moment considering I'm....well, writing this.
I will go ahead and say that between the Bancho events (which is basically the before fight and after fight chatter) and the girl events, there's not a whole lot of other story to the game. At least none that I've found. Usually in the Way of the Samurai type games, you find at least a few stray storylines to entangle yourself in and while you could simply say those are the girlfriend ones in this, it feels like there should be more to it. Or just maybe a story about something else to do in the game besides bancho hunt, if that makes sense. I suspect, however, that this is the part where I just start reaching and hoping for more than the game can sensibly offer, so I won't linger too much on it, simply saying that while novel, it would have been nice for a little -more-. Maybe just a storyline where you constantly bait and escape the main cop going after you or something to that effect. Maybe one where you -join forces- with the cop! Something like that, to which I'm not quite sure (in fact, I would say I doubt) exists in it.
Really, I think I'm not saying anything that you couldn't really glean from a quick look at the game in motion or via review somewhere else. While I may be a touch more in its corner for the mere fact that it allows me to punch things in a portable game, I can't say things about it that aren't true and that I don't really feel for it. Despite how much I would like to, since it would fill a hole that could, but never will be filled by another series in a way that matters. But the game is merely capable at best in most regards, with the highest marks going towards the writing of it. Or at least the localized script, since who knows if it was originally that funny without relying on cheap jokes and the like as is suggested by the smash talk. So all in all, that makes it a 'good' game that you will likely play and enjoy, but immediately forget. I could imagine seeing people letting the whole "need to play it multiple times" slip right over their heads as well, since the game doesn't give you a whole lot of indication about that feature which is....well, a shame, considering it's like a bulk of the game.
- Allows a lot of replayability by following the "Way of the Samurai" gameplay approach
- The writing is pretty hilarious at times, honestly
- You get to punch dudes...
- ...while 'conquering' Japan, in terms of taking out the Banchos for every province
- Two words. Eye. Lasers.
- The screenshot system (using your camera in the map, and hitting select during cutscenes) is fantastic for this purpose exclusively. I took all the screenshots used here.
- Some of the moves you get are quite rad
- Itineraries are one of the things that carry over between games, so you don't have to re-collect them
- Seriously, Eye Lasers
- The combat system is just short of great which is incredibly frustrating
- The OST is about a notch below "Forgettable"
- Story is pretty 'by-the-numbers' stuff
- Not enough branch-points that I could find
- The Smash Talk thing gets really old eventually, even if Hidden Smashes add a little life to it
- Getting around is a pain until you realize the world map is hidden in the Itinerary menu (Hit triangle)
- After finding the world map in the Itinerary menu, time still goes by too fast
- It honestly just needs a little more polish to be -great-
Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble is, as I said, not a -great- game, but it is a good one. If you are just frothing at the mouth for a brawler on your portable, your choices are basically this and, uh.....but that doesn't mean it wins by default, of course. It does almost everything at a level that will not offend, but won't get you really pumped either, while giving you a good laugh here and there. For the sale price of $7.50, you get a lot of game if you want to put in multiple plays (which you probably will) and I can't see a reason for you to regret the purchase unless you pride yourself on only acquiring the best of the best. Still, maybe take a look at videos elsewhere in case you're on the fence before pulling the trigger, since I can safely say this is a very "YMMV" game, even moreso than the usual fare that I enjoy.