Rise of the Kasai E3 2004 Impressions

At a special showing, we get our first look at the sequel to The Mark of Kri.

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In November of 2002, the creators of SCEA’s The Mark of Kri left the fold of Sony and went out on their own to form a new game studio, Bottlerocket Entertainment. Staffed partially by alums of the animated feature film industry, Bottlerocket sees itself as an “art-centric” studio, crafting games that are as much works of art as they are entertainment. Their first game is Rise of the Kasai, a sequel to the PlayStation 2 title The Mark of Kri. It expands the mythos of the first game to include new characters and new environments, and it spans two generations to tell a tale that includes the origins of the Kasai, the antagonists from the previous game. Whether or not the title will fully realize the developers’ artistic ambitions remains to be seen, but from what we were able to observe of the game in progress, Bottlerocket has made a promising start.

The story of Rise of the Kasai begins 10 years after the conclusion of The Mark of Kri, with Kuzo, the raptor that was the spirit guide of the warrior Rau (whom you controlled in the first game). Kuzo is informed by an oracle that Rau has died under circumstances that have not yet been revealed, causing the guide to then embark on a mission to revisit certain critical points in the warrior’s life prior to his demise in an attempt to prevent his death. You’ll not only assume the role of Rau in these instances, but you’ll also be able to play as a number of characters, including Rau’s younger sister, Tati.

In the original game, Tati was kidnapped by the dark one, an ancient Kasai who wanted to tap the power of the mark that she bore on her back to bring the worlds of light and darkness together. While she survived those events, the Tati of 10 years later is a brutal, bitter 20-year-old woman who at times can barely resist the call of darkness herself. The mark that she bears is actually an evil spell, and it tempts Tati with fell powers that only serve to further ensnare her. She is not the noble, refined fighter that Rau is--bearing her twin daggers and her intense hatred for the Kasai, she kills viciously and without remorse. You’ll be able to choose which character you actively control when you begin a given level, and the second character will default to a support role. Bottlerocket claims that playing as different characters will not affect the overall storyline, but it will affect story progression.

The basic gameplay mechanics from The Mark of Kri will remain intact. You’ll still be sweeping groups of enemies with the right analog stick to target them, and you’ll still be able to perform combination attacks on those foes. Rau will now be able to extend his axe combos near-indefinitely, if you press the correct buttons at precisely the correct moments. He’ll also retain his bow from the first game, and if he’s crouched up against an object, he’ll be able to poke his head over the top and fire arrows in a first-person view. He will also still be able to look through the eyes of his spirit guide, Kuzo, to scout out certain areas. The environments this time around will have interactive elements that can be incorporated into battle by Rau and his companions. In one instance we saw, Rau lured a group of Kasai under a group of crates suspended by a crane and then flipped the switch to release the crates and crush the Kasai.

Tati will have analogous abilities; she’ll have a pair of daggers to wield, as well as a staff with hidden blades and a smaller version of Rau’s axe. Her own “scouting” mechanic is a rather gruesome ability to look through the eyes of corpses, while her ranged weapon is an item called a puffer mushroom. When thrown, the "puffers" serve as mines, exploding with poisonous spores when enemies get too close. Tati can also throw a puffer at an enemy and have it stick--the unsuspecting foe will then carry the deadly item right to his fellows, killing them all when it detonates. In addition, when she backs up against a wall, she’ll effectively disappear, fading into the background.

Rise of the Kasai will support online cooperative multiplayer, and you'll have the added flexibility of being able to do so at any time. For example, you’ll be able to play through the first three levels of the game, hop online to play through the fourth, and then switch back to single-player mode for the remainder, depending on your preference. The multiplayer mode will also support the use of a headset.

What we were able to see of the game included a couple of different environments: a port with ships moving to and fro and a templelike complex--both areas manned by Kasai forces. The graphics looked to be coming along well, retaining the unique art style (and the brutal finishing animations) of the original game. Rise of the Kasai is set to cover both the events that followed The Mark of Kri and some of the events that preceded that game, making Rise of Kasai both a sequel as well as a prequel of sorts. Roughly one-third of the game will occur in the past, and these areas will employ a different visual style than areas set in the future.

Rise of the Kasai certainly looks like it could shape up quite nicely for Bottlerocket’s first stand-alone effort. The game is currently scheduled for release on the PlayStation 2 in the first quarter of 2005.

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