Kessen III review

LOTR-esque strategy, but set in Japan with less orcs and more sexy ladies. PSM2 investigates...

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A game should make you feel something.

From the closing moments of Silent Hill 2 when James is forced to confront his past to Samanosuke and Jacques' final battle against Nobunaga in Onimusha 3, these are moments so perfectly designed, so memorable, so steeped in atmosphere, that they've become the benchmark towards which all games must endeavour.

Now, what Kessen III lacks in technical prowess it more than makes up for in content and execution. Watching swathes of troops pile into each other as the rousing orchestral score blares in the background... well, it's just brilliant.

There's a real sense of scale and the battlefield feels alive with movement and conflict. It'll leave you mentally exhausted and we hold it with as much esteem as any of the aforementioned games.

Better yet, even if you don't give a fiddler's pluck about style or atmosphere, you'll still enjoy the game's hearty blend of thinking and fighting.

Well, providing you can stomach cold, hard strategy - there's just as much pointing and clicking as there is hacking and slashing.

But it's all remarkably simple. It's like a halfway house between the bloated pomposity of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dynasty Warriors' relentless combat.

You can plan, customise and fiddle with almost every aspect of your army and tactics, which should appeal to RPG fans (it's almost as detailed and flexible as something like Final Fantasy X), but if you can't be bothered, simply hit 'auto assign' and proceed to battle.

You move across each level in realtime, commanding your team via an intuitive top-down map of the area, and attack by issuing special attacks and hitting the square button. It's very easy-going and brilliantly simple.

You can also go solo with one of your commanders, taking part in a Samurai Warriors-style minigame wherein your goal is to waste as many opponents as possible. You can even unleash Dynasty Warriors-style 'musou' magic attacks, which all look fantastic.

But even if we do appreciate the scale and overall 'feel' of the game, that doesn't stop it from being a little limited and largely impenetrable to anyone but Koei fans.

That doesn't mean it isn't good. You just need to be a certain type of person to appreciate it - some would say a meticulous thinker, others an anal stat-obsessed nutjob - and the action has a habit of repeating itself.

But that's only after a very enjoyable six hours or so. The plot's enthralling and the customisation potential is huge.

If you're an armchair general who likes thinking yourself mental and watching hundreds of tiny men batter each other to bits - or you always wanted to control the final battle from Lord of the Rings and felt swindled by The Third Age - Kessen III is the obvious choice.

Just don't touch it if you can't abide strategy.

Kessen III awaits your command on PS2 now

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