Rise of the Kasai is the sequel to 2002’s The Mark of Kri, which garnered attention for its unique combat system and engaging story. Rise follows events both before and after Mark with a narrative structure that jumps around in time. Rau, the hero from the first game, returns along with his sister Tati and two other Raku warriors (Griz and Baumusu) to prevent the Kasai from getting their hands on the Mark of Kri.
If you’re not familiar with the mythology, The Mark of Kri is a spell inscribed in a circular symbol that is capable of summoning ultimate evil. It was broken and its parts scattered to neutralize its power. Several innocent bloodlines were cursed to carry fragments of the spell, in case an enterprising secret society dedicated to resurrecting evil should ever decide to reassemble the Mark. Enter the Kasai, an enterprising secret society intent on collecting all the pieces of the Mark to resurrect evil. Rau’s sister Tati has been marked by the curse, and is the last piece the Kasai need to complete the spell. Storytelling is one of the few bright spots in Kasai, with excellent narration, voice acting and cut scenes. Unfortunately, gameplay doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.
As one of the four playable characters, your job is to hack your way through level after level of uninteresting, cartoony enemies using repetitive combos and banal stealth skills. At the start of each level, you can choose one of two characters to play. The other character still participates in the action as an AI accomplice (a new feature not found in Mark,) but often you’ll split up to complete separate objectives within the level.
From the get-go, the controls and camera ruin any chance of Rise being fun. As in The Mark of Kri, you move with the left analog stick, and use the right stick to target enemies with your Focus Beam. Multiple enemies can be targeted, and each receives a button assignment. Once targeted, simply mash the corresponding buttons till the bad guys are dead. You can try for a bit more flair with various combos, but most of the time they’re unnecessary and you can get by fine without them.
One of the major problems with the Focus Beam system is that the beam replaces camera control on the right stick. Tapping L1 centers the camera behind you, or you can switch to first-person mode by holding L1 and using the left stick, but you can’t move and look at the same time. This arrangement might be tolerable if the camera moved logically or proceeded through a series of fixed positions, but usually it just bounces around spastically and gets stuck behind set pieces. Even when this happens, you can still win fights because visual input is irrelevant to the focus beam/button mashing combat system. Its tough to enjoy a game when you feel like you’re constantly fighting the camera to see the action. Even when you can see what’s going on, slapdash character models are blocky and bland. The 2D pen-style drawings that make up the cut scenes look great, but most of the 3D work is horrendous. Jagged edges and monotonous textures abound. Clipping is a frequent problem as well, especially during “wall stealth.”
Like so many crucial elements in the game (eg, the combo system), stealth feels like it was added to satisfy a bullet-point in a Power Point presentation rather than to create a satisfying game experience. Tati, who uses stealth maneuvers and instant kills, is a discount reproduction of Demon Stone’s thief Zhai (all the way down to the near-identical assassination animations.) Stealth ultimately ends up being irrelevant as it’s just as easy to walk up to a sentry and button-mash him to death. Enemy AI is none too bright, to put it mildly. The menacing Kasai, who according to the narrator fight with unparalleled passion for the cause of reckless destruction, often simply mill around waiting to be killed by you or your partner (who has his/her own share of frustrating AI moments.)
Rise of the Kasai is plagued by a kind of checklist design mentality that lacks polish and cohesiveness. “Innovative” combat system? Check. Busty female with daggers? Check. Combines action and stealth? Check. Multiple playable characters? Check. Fun to play? Let’s just say that Rise of the Kasai falls flat on its keester.