The Mark of Kri
A melange of contradictions, The Mark of Kri makes its way to Europe some months after its US debut. Kikizo takes a look.
San Diego Studios (SCEA)
By Kikizo Staff
A juxtaposition of seemingly disparate content and presentation, The Mark of Kri is a feral action game veiled by stylistic, hand-drawn animation; an odd, if not unwelcome, amalgam. Much has been made of the title's visuals, as well as its unique combat system, but The Mark of Kri is at its core, a beat-'em-up augmented with a smattering of stealth elements and propelled by an intriguing, well-told narrative.
The tale of an ancient dark spell that if invoked would bridge our world and that of darkness has over the years been relegated to that of mere legend. One that tells of a time of magic, and of a spell so powerful that it could not be destroyed, instead, it was broken apart, entrusted to six different families and scattered throughout the world. Now, millennia later, the spells have resurfaced...
As you'd expect, the title's protagonist, Rau, is inadvertently (destined to be?) embroiled in this 'do or die' conflict, the result of which is that players are afforded the opportunity to traipse through an assemblage of environments, smiting entire factions of enemy bandits, religious sects and other such hindrances. The so-called Focus Beam lies at the center of the title's fighting mechanic: utilizing the right analog stick, players 'mark' specific targets with a beam of light that protrudes outward from Rau, assigning to each enemy a particular face button (always in X, Square and Circle order). Thereafter, each press of that specific button will attack that, and only that enemy, at least until such time as the enemies are remarked with the beam. Up to three enemies can be 'marked' at one time (later on up to nine can be engaged, three per button, depending on the weapon selected), but by marking only one or two enemies, the free combat buttons can be used as modifiers to create some truly devastating and extravagant combinations.
What this system does is enable multi-character fighting without the camera and control issues normally associated with such an endeavor. Thus, players can stave off the attacks of enemies in front, behind and to the sides of Rau, with little more than a button press. It's an elegant system for the most part and despite a few shortcomings manages to create some truly memorable fight sequences. As briefly touched upon above, stealth too plays an important role in the game. Oftentimes Rau will need to infiltrate heavily guarded areas where a direct, frontal attack will only ensure a quick death. With the aid of Kuzo, an ancient bird and Rau's spirit guide, players can gain advance knowledge of an area by sending the bird to scout up ahead and then viewing the area from its eyes.
Having taken notice of enemy patrols and the like, players can then proceed to sneak through specific areas, stealthily killing any hapless guards encountered or distracting more vigilant ones by disturbing the local wildlife (shooting a boar for example, will cause it to run squeeling past enemies, thereby drawing their attention away from a specific area).
As long as he remains undetected by an enemy, Rau can perform a variety of stealth kills, including wall and roof attacks and even killing multiple guards at once, all of which are accompanied by a morbidly satisfying animation of the poor sap's demise. Unlike pure stealth-based titles however, if discovered, Rau is more than capable of fending off the hordes of enemies that will swarm the area. Though armed with a Bow, Broadsword, Taiaha and Battle Axe, Rau can, in a pinch, disarm an enemy and then kill them with their own weapon, a maneuver that, in addition to being highly enjoyable, ensures an instant kill as well.
All is not perfect though, as players will find that changing weapons in the midst of battle is far too cumbersome, as is having to constantly remark enemies; weapon strikes that come into contact with walls will grind the combo to a halt; and swinging your blade near wood will almost assuredly get it stuck, leaving Rau momentarily defenseless. But these are ultimately just minor annoyances, and combat is on the whole an entertaining affair.
Rewards in the form of unlockable items are offered as incentives to complete Baumusu's challenges within each level. These often require the player to perform a set number of specific kills (stealth kills, roof kills, bow kills and so on) or complete certain combination moves. An addition that can sometimes get you into trouble as you endeavor to complete one extravagant combo too many, but something that should be appreciated by those wishing to squeeze every ounce of gameplay out of the title, nevertheless.
Regardless of preference, few can argue against the merits of the game's artistic direction. The hand-drawn animations are exceptionally smooth, filled with nuances and innocuous little details that bring the characters and environments to life in a way that is only possible through traditional animation. Slathered in buckets of color, as though the polygons themselves were painted on, the locales in which players will find themselves are expertly created, marred only by rare graphical oddities and an at times awkward camera system.
Deserving of special mention is the load screen before each level in which a 2D scene is slowly sketched in, before fading into the actual 3D environment players will find themselves in. A wonderful effect, and the best way to disguise load times yet seen on the system.
As far as the aural accompaniment is concerned, The Mark of Kri offers a predictable set of tribal beats, laden with drum thumping, heart-throbbing tempos that it has to be said, complement the on-screen action nicely. It just comes across as a somewhat low-rent selection, instead of going the extra mile as was done with the visual presentation. Characters are voiced well, a significant notch above most of the dreck game players are often forced to listen to.
Only the most jaded of souls will not be impressed by the wonderful cartoon-esque animation and presentation, and although relatively straight-forward once mastered, the combat is far deeper than many similar attempts in the genre, and layered exceptionally well, introducing players to new gameplay elements almost every single level in the early stages of the game. The Mark of Kri is simply put, an action-adventure title more than worth your hard-earned money.