Konami Fighting Game #02: Kensei: Sacred Fist
Released in 1998 for the Sony PlayStation, this is Konami’s second attempt to be in the 3D fighting game market to rival Bandai Namco’s own Tekken series, as well as Koei Tecmo’s Dead or Alive series, Sega’s Virtua Fighter series, and Capcom’s Street Fighter series.
Kensei uses a button distribution style, separating them into punch, kick, throw and guard. The system provides the player with a large array of moves and combos, and multi-step throws are available, though both normal and multi-throws can be countered by pressing a button that flashes on the screen. Game speed is rather slow (one of the reasons for it not to become an arcade game), and relies more on timing, strategy and accurate knowledge of attack ranges to land successful combo strings and juggles.
The guard button acts rather as a “dodge” button, as the characters’ animation shows them avoiding the attacks rather than taking them on their guard. Characters may assume rapidly a counter-offensive position or be “bounced back” to dodge, and the recovery time relies on the player’s ability to press the guard button with sufficient time. Low attacks must be guarded by pressing Down + Guard Button, while pressing Up + Guard Button may allow the character to sidestep at the end of a combo.
The Arcade game structure of Kensei comprises 10 stages, with the first eight being made up of random opponents. The specific playing character will encounter a sub-boss in the ninth stage while the tenth one will have them facing off against the crime lord Leimeng and the eleventh (and final) one will have the playing character battle against Leimeng’s bodyguard Kaiya. Along with the classical Survival, Training, and Time Attack modes, a special mini-game can be activated once all characters have been unlocked: it’s a “racing” mode (which is called “Running Bugi”) where the player controls a character and makes it run through a circuit, using button mashing to gain speed.
The game features 9 initial playable fighters from around the world with their own varied fighting styles and 14 hidden characters that can be unlocked through the completion of the game.
- Yugo Sangunji (Karate, Japan, v.b. Masaaki Okura): Yugo was forced into fighting his brother Akira as a result of their parents’ disagreement over training methodologies. Now, he finds himself leaving home and embarking on a journey in a bid to test his own strength. His surname is actually 三軍司 (“Sanguuji”) in the original Japanese version.
- Akira Sangunji (Karate, Japan): The older brother and sub-boss to Yugo Sangunji.
- Hong Yuli (Drunken Fist, China, v.b. Klonoa): Yuli became curious about the true art of Drunken Fist Fighting while training under a Drunken Kung-Fu master called Su Qingtao. She is determined to prove herself as a first-class Drunken Kung-Fu artist.
- Su Qingtao (Drunken Fist, China): A master of Drunken Fist and sub-boss to Hong Yuli.
- Douglas Anderson (Jeet Kune Do/Koppo, USA): Douglas has spent years trying to hunt down a global crime syndicate. After a major breakthrough in the case, his partner Jim was gunned down in cold blood. Douglas is looking for a little payback… (Note: Douglas’ character design is strongly based on real-life actor and martial artist Steven Seagal.)
- Yoko Cindy Matsudaira (Koppo, USA, v.b. Kimberly Forsythe): The sub-boss (and ex-girlfriend) to Douglas Anderson.
- Allen (Muay Thai, raised in Asia): Parentless since infancy and raised in an orphanage, Allen’s Muay Thai expertise was acquired to defend himself against a dangerous and pitiless world. He fights only for survival, one day at a time.
- Steve Laettner (Kickboxing, USA): The sub-boss to Allen.
- Ann Griffith (Amateur wrestling, Great Britain (“UK”), v.b. Sara Selleri): Ann loves amateur wrestling and plans to expand public interest in it by staging a street fight event.
- Arthur Stewart (Amateur wrestling, Great Britain): The sub-boss to Ann Griffith.
- Hyoma Tsukikage (Ninjutsu, Japan): Left as an infant at Oomiwa Temple, along with his older sister Kazane, by their parents who subsequently disappeared. Hyoma has been training at the temple since that day. But one day, he comes across a clue to his parent’s possible whereabouts and decides to search for them.
- Sessue Kanoh (Ninjutsu, Japan, v.b. Koji Ishii): The ninjutsu master who is a guardian to both Hyoma and Kazane Tsukikage. The sub-boss to Hyoma.
- Heinz Streit (Pit fighting, Germany): Heinz was born into a family of known aristocratic ancestry but quickly grew tired of his wealthy and pampered life. Now he spends his days picking and joining fights. He enjoys the status of being the black sheep of the family.
- Natsuki Kornelia (Pit fighting, Germany, v.b. Kimberly Forsythe): The sub-boss to Heinz Streit.
- David Human (Professional wrestling, USA): A popular pro wrestler, David hears rumors that his friend and rival Mark has joined forces with an underground organization, and decides to find out the truth.
- Mark Galeon (Professional wrestling, USA, v.b. LESS TALK, MORE ACTION!): The sub-boss to David Human.
- Saya Tsubaki (Kenpo, Japan, v.b. Sig from Puyo Puyo series): Saya has a father who walked out five years ago, and a family who avoids answering her questions about him. Tired of the evasions, she decides to search for him herself, despite her grandfather Genya’s attempts to stop her.
- Genya Tsubaki (Kenpo, Japan): The father of Kaiya Tsubaki and the grandfather to Saya. The sub-boss to Saya.
Other unlockable characters are:
- Zhou Leimeng (“Original Style”, Hong Kong): The first boss of the game. A Hong Kong Chinese man dressed in a business suit who rules an evil crime corporation. He is far shorter than the other characters in the game, therefore moves that target at his head’s height usually fail against him.
- Kaiya Tsubaki (Kenpo, Japan): The second and final boss of the game. The father of Saya and son of Genya, the manual implies that Kaiya serves as Zhou’s bodyguard. Kaiya is essentially Konami’s version of Heihachi Mishima.
- Jelly Thomas/Billy Thomas (“Original Style”, USA): Two American brothers who wear animal masks over their heads: Jelly (presumably “Jerry”) wears a parrot mask while Billy wears a penguin mask. The two of them share the same character slot, much like Kuma/Panda in the Tekken series.
- Kazane Tsukikage (Ninjutsu, Japan, v.b. Saeko Shimazu): Kazane is the older sister of Hyoma. Her name was mistranslated as “Fuune” in the American manual, and entirely changed to “Kimiko” in the European manual.
The game did not have the approval of the press nor the players, as it got average to unfavorable reviews, due to the fact it looked too much like Tekken and Dead or Alive.