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Rise of the Kasai & the Overbearing Art of the Cutscene

July 23, 2005 By Glenn Turner

Rise of the Kasai is one of those rare sequels to feel like a regression. Its predecessor, The Mark of Kri, had a nuanced combat system that allowed you to quickly toggle from stealth mode to action - no matter which action you were taking you'd target enemies with the right analogue stick, then press the dynamically assigned button to attack them. Swinging the stick around full circle to target, and subsequently dance around, an impending group of enemies was a completely unique experience and felt absolutely empowering. Sadly, Rise of the Kasai takes the same formula, adds a co-operative character (AI controlled only, sorry Mr. Riley), and bungles even that: characters catch on visible and invisible objects, character movement feels slower than Kri, as if you're moving through sludge and the game feels poorly pasted together, as if each plot point was written out on a notecard and pieced together by the whims of a table fan. However, if there's just one facet of Kasai that really hammers the nail of mediocrity on the head, it's the cutscenes.

Rise of the Kasai's cutscenes are beautifully stark and energetic (select 'The Heros' [sic] for an example). The animators take something as simplistic as a sole brush line and turn it into a living beast, a line that almost can't be restrained by something as artificial as a television screen. This black mark on a white background almost takes your breath away with its amazing movement, and when the supplemental details, such as blood red streaks, come into the frame your breath can't help but be stayed.

And then you're thrust back into the drab, blocky world of Kasai's in-game graphics, left wondering what may have been if the game stuck with the same visual style as the cutscenes.

The cutscenes are so splendid, so artfully and stylistically rendered that you wince when the in-game graphics dissolve into view. The game's world looks drab, fuzzy and lackluster. We've seen some fantastic visual work in current generation machines, and by that I don't just mean pixel-pushing and immense polygon counts. I mean visually stunning work - stylistically impressive. Take Viewtiful Joe, with it's hand-drawn look, the upcoming Okami with it's stunning watercolor brushwork, Mojib Ribbon with similar calligraphy strokes, Jet Set Radio Future with it's stark and simple shaded affairs, and even Feel the Magic with it's silhouetted simplicity. These magnificent displays of art design contrast magnificently against the photorealism typically clamored for, or even crass prerendered visuals of games such as Tecmo's current envisioning of Ninja Gaiden. And while Kasai's world is more influenced by animated films (as many of the designers are ex-Disney and Bluth alums) as opposed to cookie-cutter photorealism, the dichotomy between the two styles is jarring to say the least.

Sure, cutscenes are often intended more as eye-candy than a necessary component for the progression of the game (especially prerendered scenes, which often feel like nothing more than fodder assembled for future television ads), but rarely do you encounter a game where these vignettes take such stylistic liberties from the in-game visuals. And sadly, these deviations often left me feeling saddened to have to return to the in-game world, that this world didn't look or feel like the hyper-stylized action I had just encountered. To be brought back into the 'real' world of Kasai was always a let down, and gradually beat down on my desire to see the game to the very end. This didn't occur in Kri, whose cutscenes were static but vibrantly 'drawn-in' images, as if storyboards were being sketched out right in front of you. The cutscenes felt appropriate and gave the story an air of legendary proportions. Kri's vignettes are like lullabies compared to Kasai's kinetic, almost frantic cutscenes.

This isn't to say that had Kasai adopted the visual style show in their little narrative expositions that I would have mustered up the enthusiasm to complete the game. The braindead AI of both the enemies and your partner (whose duties cannot be fulfilled by the presence of another human) cause much frustration, as does the problematic and ever-distracted camera that had a hard time following my character up a simple set of stairs. Lines of dialogue such as "amassing a library of evil!" wasn't much of a positive either.

Ultimately, Rise of the Kasai's brilliantly executed cutscenes overshadow the entire actual gaming experience. Whether it's because of the lackluster gameplay or because of the amazing quality of the cinematics, it ultimately doesn't matter. The cutscenes hinted at a much more exquisite experience, one that I found myself desiring in place of the game that was currently in my control. It's a bit of a shame, considering how much I enjoyed The Mark of Kri but sometimes a second outing just isn't what I want.

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#1 ausnos Dec 2, 2005 05:26am

Tati is an ultimate babe! I hope they make figurines or dolls of the characters from that game.