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The Mark of Kri
Review By:  Andrei Alupului
Developer:  SCEA
Publisher:  SCEA
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  9-23-02

Iíve been wondering for a while now about what a more ďadultĒ Disney movie would be like. In Japan, theyíve been making animated films targeted towards older audiences for quite some time, after all. Disney is undoubtedly the most talented American animation studio in existence, so what would a movie of theirs be like if they took a clue from the Japanese animation studios? Iíve become so used to their animation style coupled with sugary sweet kidís tales that seeing something like it used to tell a sort of violent adventure story would no doubt be disorienting. And yet thatís exactly what The Mark of Kri does, and it does it remarkably well.



The Mark of Kri tells the story of a warrior named Rau, the last descendent of a long line of great warriors. He operates as a sort of mercenary, helping people out in whatever ways he can, sometimes for pay and sometimes simply out of kindness. As the game progresses, however, he quickly becomes entangled in the evil plot of a power hungry magician to learn a spell that would give him the ability to conquer the world. This spell is known as the Mark of Kri. Itís divided into 6 runes that only exist as birthmarks on the 6 families on the planet cursed to carry a piece of the Mark in their lineage. As it turns out, this magician is extremely close to fulfilling his wishes and Rau is the only one who can stop him.

Judging by the story, you would expect that The Mark of Kri would play out like a standard fare action game. The action aspects of Kri are good enough that this in and of itself wouldnít be a problem with me, but SCEA-San Diego decided to take it one step further and combined all of the action with a whole lot of quality stealth gameplay. In addition to that, they created an incredibly unique variation on the lock-on combat system pioneered by the Nintendo 64ís first Zelda game, Ocarina of Time. Basically, when you push the right analog stick in any direction, a red targeting bar goes out from Rau in that direction. You can sweep it around Rau and it will target all of the enemies that it passes over until it reaches the maximum amount of targets you can handle at once. A symbol representing one of the controller buttons appears over the heads of the enemies you have targeted. So you have one guy attached to the square button, one to the circle button, etc. The only button not used is the triangle button which functions as your all purpose action button. The nice part of this system is that any unassigned buttons serve as modifier buttons for your attacks, and the more modifier buttons you have available, the more combos you can use. So if youíre only targeting one enemy youíll have more combos available to execute than if you were targeting two or more. At the beginning of the game you can only target 3 enemies with Rauís sword, but as you get further along and receive different weapons, you can target up to 9 people at once with 3 enemies being assigned to one button. Itís an incredibly simple system, which is precisely why it works so well. Additionally, should you not have a weapon drawn, if you push the block button right as an enemy attacks you, you can disarm them of their weapon and get a pretty brutal one hit kill on them.

Speaking of one hit kills, my favorite aspect of this game has to be the element of stealth that SCEA-San Diego added to enhance the play. Lots of the levels have you sneaking up behind unsuspecting enemies, pouncing silently upon them and finishing them off without a sound. These are always instant kills, and they give you a much bigger sense of accomplishment than any head-on attack ever could. You can stealth kill one or two people if their backs are turned, or you can get someone below you by leaping down on them. Additionally, you can also stealth kill enemies from around a corner by waiting for them to approach the corner youíre waiting behind and then nabbing them. Thereís a lot of variety in the ways you can stealthily dispose of your enemies, and a lot of different animations as well. Most of the time, the only reason you would want to perform any of these moves is simply for fun, but at times the game makes it a necessity by including patrolmen with horns. If they spot you, then they sound the horn, calling a multitude of henchmen out from a nearby building to attack you, so in order to stay alive you need to take those guys out first, and you need to take them out quickly and silently.

Itís difficult to do any type of stealth stuff in an action game when you have no way of scoping out the scene ahead of you so that you can make some semblance of a plan before entering a room. After all, even the Metal Gear Solid games give you a radar display to work with. That would have been an unrealistic addition to this game, given the setting, so the developers threw in another unrealistic method of looking ahead thatís a bit less anachronistic to the game, given its fantasy setting: a mystical bird companion named Kuzo. Whenever you see a specially marked perch in the level, you can send Kuzo out to sit on it and, through his eyes, you can look around the room to plan ahead a little bit. At times, Kuzo may even activate a switch or lower a ladder to help you progress in the level. Itís a nice addition to the game that gives it a more fairytale-like atmosphere.

Of course, the environments themselves need to complement this atmosphere, and thankfully they do just that. The stages in this game all have a sort of far away feel to them. Itís nothing you havenít seen before, but at the same time thereís a really subtle feeling of otherworldliness that gives it a mythical feeling. There are buildings made out of enormous trees and monasteries deep in the mountains. You will see beautiful 5-story waterfalls and the inside of a volcano. Thereís certainly a good variety in the levels featured in this game and, whatís more, theyíre all really pretty. The graphics are bright and colorful, and everything looks natural. So natural that you might almost think this game had some basis in historical fact, were it not for the fantasy story.

Besides being well-designed on an aesthetic level, youíll note that the stages are cleverly designed with consideration to the way the game plays. If you take advantage of Kuzo when youíre given the opportunity, youíll note that all of the enemies are placed within the rooms very thoughtfully. The levels themselves progress in a very linear fashion, which suits The Mark of Kri just fine, as the emphasis in this game isnít as much on exploration as it is on combat and being sneaky. Throughout the levels youíll find yourself given the option to complete various challenges given to you by your master, Baomusu. Most of them involve killing a certain amount of enemies in a specific way, or performing a combo with your weapon. None of them are mandatory in order to complete the game, but if you do them all, you can unlock an arena for the level youíre in that allows you to earn all sorts of extra stuff, like different costumes and cut scenes. Everything on the design end of this game is really well thought out.

Speaking of design, one of the coolest things about this game is the previously mentioned Disney-like art style. In between the levels, the artwork displayed in the loading screens looks straight out of a flick crafted by the house of Walt. The modelers and skinners of the game did a wonderful job transferring this style into the actual game as well. Every character moves as fluidly as any Disney character in the movies. Although generally the characters in the aforementioned movies donít bleed profusely, probably due to the fact that theyíre not being constantly assaulted by swords, arrows, axes, and other weapons of the sort. This game, despite its look, definitely isnít for kids. While the amount of blood in the game doesnít exceed the amount in a game like Grand Theft Auto 3, the death animations themselves are far more brutal in nature, especially when you factor the stealth kills in there.

While youíre racking up all those stealth kills, youíll note that most of the time the game is silent, short of whatever footstep sound effects or ambient environment noises there may be. When you actually engage in a battle, however, the tribal drums kick in and you know itís time to rock. Thereís a certain generic quality to the background music, but thatís not a problem with this game, because youíre paying attention to the battles more than the tunes, anyway.

Whatever problems there may be with the gameís music is more than made up for with the voice acting and writing. Itís something that stood out to me almost immediately upon the first cut sceneís start. The writing in this game is solid. The dialogue and narration are both really well done. The voice acting is also good, if slightly over stylized. All in all, it fits the mood of the game quite well. The story is purely decorative, because the focus in Mark of Kri is definitely on sneaking around and fighting tough guys with swords, but it sort of just draws you in a little and makes you want to keep doing that stuff a bit more.

This little game really just popped up out of nowhere and caught me completely by surprise. After all, youíd expect a game this good to get a little bit more hype. Itís one of the more enjoyable gaming experiences Iíve had in recent years and manages to avoid one of the biggest problems plaguing most beat-Ďem-ups: complete and utter shallowness. With the neat story, awesome art style, and clever stage and combat system design, this game manages to retain a level of sophistication within a pretty simple gameplay concept. Were it not for its short length, about 7 hours, I would unhesitatingly recommend it as a purchase for anyone whoís into the action game genre. However Iíd probably recommend a rental instead. You can play through it once and there wonít be too much motivation to play through again. Fortunately, at the end of the gameís credits, it says ďwatch for more adventures of Rau.Ē Thatís convenient because about midway through this game I found myself constantly saying ďI hope they make a sequel.Ē You really owe it to yourself to check out this game.

HIGHS:

  • Beautiful art style.
  • Great level design.
  • Unique combat system.
  • Fun gameplay and excellent graphics.

LOWS:

  • Mediocre music.
  • Short play duration.
  • Low difficulty.

FINAL VERDICT:

The Mark of Kri is a wonderful game that snuck up on everyone almost as stealthily as the gameís protagonist does throughout its varied environments. With great graphics, a unique battle system, an entertaining story, and, most importantly, fun gameplay, this game is really worth checking out. Were it not for its length, this would be a must buy. As it is, itís definitely worth your time as a high quality rental.

Overall Score: 8.7

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