Kenseiden Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1988 Also On: None

Normally, as I write these Sega Master System reviews, I tend to mention a bit about the demise of the SMS due to poor handling by Tonka, poor advertising, and, more importantly, some pretty poor games. It always seemed as though the most widely distributed games were also some of the worst for the system. Considering this, one would wonder why better games would be overlooked. The answer to this problem will most likely never be reached and as you think it over, consider why in the world anyone could have missed Kenseiden.

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The title screen comes in, and pow, you’re confronted by a fiery-eyed statue with splendid detailing. Whereas some SMS games were notorious for having incredible title screens and incredibly awful in-game graphics, Kenseiden proves sometimes you can judge a game by its title. The graphics are wonderful, very fitting and well done with no glitches or problems of any kind. The animations are nice and fluid for the most part.

Only one boss was disappointing to me and I thought the programmers could have really done more with him. He’s just an eyeball floating around. Come on, considering the size of the other bosses, make him huge! That’s hardly a problem however, this game does not fail to present well. It really gives a great sense of “old Japan.” Some gamers may find the repetition with backgrounds stale after awhile, but to me it really gave the game a sense of consistency. Besides, they don’t repeat that much. The enemies are finely tuned as well, with great detail.

Now we come to the music and sound. The Master System was known to have a poorer sound chip than the NES, so considering this, they really did a good job with the game. Overall it is very fitting, nice and eerie to fit the whole “samurai attacking demons and the dead” theme. Sometimes it seems a bit cheesy, but the sound effects more than make up for this, they’re quite nice. Great job with the sound, high marks again.

The gameplay in Kenseiden is nothing unique, but fans of games like Castlevania or Shinobi will find themselves right at home with this title. Basically, it’s an action game where you take your character through different levels, defeat bosses, get power-ups and advance your skills. There is actually a non-linear feel to it since you can essentially choose where you want to go, though you do have to defeat every warlock boss no matter what. As you move around the island you go through basic stages with enemies and no boss, smaller stages with a boss, training levels, and then the final castle.

In the training levels you have to pass a test where you run through a room dodging arrows and other traps. Get to the end and you increase your life bar as well as your defense power later on, which helps immensely for the final boss. Every time you defeat a warlock, you get a different attack to use. At first you can only perform simple slash attacks, later on you can run with your sword flailing every which way and jump in the air for a crushing strike. I found the attack upgrades to be a very nice touch. There aren’t any power-ups to speak of save the ones you get from training, life potions, healing bags, and one-ups, but it doesn’t really matter since you are given different attacks while you progress. Still, a few daggers to toss or something would have made the score a bit higher here.

The only real problem I had with the gameplay was that when you continue you lose all of your upgrades save your attacks. This is quite annoying since you could be at the end of the island on the final boss and thus have to go back to each training area again if you want to get your powers back. There is a continue diary integral to the game that allows you to continue once, in addition to a “cheat” mentioned in the manual. With the latter, I could understand losing your upgrades, but with the former no way since it’s something you locate and then hold until you use. Should have given you the chance to keep these skills when you use the diary, but they didn’t. It’s not a big problem, but I guarantee you won’t defeat the final boss the first time through, so it would have been nice to get three more chances while powerful to defeat him. Speaking of which, the difficulty is set perfectly in this game. It’s fairly easy at first, gets harder, and then harder, and then ends powerfully with a monstrous end boss. Very well done overall, with only some minor problems in my opinion. The spooky theme is adapted very well to the run of action.

Kenseiden is a pretty creative game as far as its adaptation of plot and character go. The concept of “run around and kill stuff” isn’t anything new, but it’s not like that’s a bad thing. During this time there weren’t many games like this, so the marks are definitely high in this category. It presents very well and the programmers did such a good job fitting the theme to the type of game, as well as adding some unique features.

I’ll definitely come back to this title in the future. In fact, when I first sat down to play through it, I played it every day for an entire week. The training levels can get tedious and may hinder you from wanting to complete them a second time, but this is mainly due to the difficulty involved in completing them and in no way entails poor development. Kenseiden is definitely something to play into one’s old age. I’ll probably die playing it.

Kenseiden is one of the greatest Master System games ever created, at least for NTSC audiences. It’s really a shame it didn’t see wider distribution or more popularity because it’s a great game that easily competes with the likes of the Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden series for the NES. Throw in that kind of gameplay with some pretty cool features and you have a great title that simply deserves way more attention than it receives. If you decide to purchase an SMS, make this game one of the top five to start your collection.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.4
Written by Stan Review Guide

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