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|[ 11/11/08 ] = WTF|
I had originally planned on doing an article on the Japan-only Kenka Banchou two years ago (when I was first introduced to it), but there were other, more important things to tend to. In fact, the only reason I dug this article up is because I was going through my games, found it, and went to trade it. Why would I trade any side-scrolling fighter? Because the guy who introduced the game to me ended up stabbing me in the fucking back. This was one of the games that sell-out claimed he liked; at least until he was around other people. You know, what some might call a "closet gamer." The shallow type that refuses to admit they like games in front of other people. In fact, he's such a cheap bastard that he gave me his copy of the game for my birthday because he was too fucking tight to go out and actually buy a copy for me (even though I put down sixty clams to get him a new game that he ended-up trading a week later)! Fucking cheap. Anyway, on with what I thought of this game when I had it (since this might be the only site covering this game in English)...
New beat 'em-ups were rare for a time, but lately the genre is making a comeback, and one of the games that helped this was Kenka Banchou. Unreleased in America, KB was a huge hit in Japan for both casual and long-time fans of the genre. With gameplay similar to Sega's epic Shenmue series, KB tells the story of rival high school. Not to be confused with the kind of gangs in American schools (mostly wanna-be pieces of shit who beat up old ladies and anyone smaller than them), the gangs in Japanese high schools fight each other (rather than trying to prove they're hard by starting shit with people who aren't even in rival gangs). In this game you fight rival gangs and even side /with/ rivals (like in Beatdown) to chase other rivals out of town.
It cannot be ignored that the fighting in KB isn't very deep. There are attack buttons, but there really aren't any crazy combos or anything like that. I don't like to use the term, "button-mashing," but in this game it really is the way to victory. Typical street weapon fare is in the game, too. KB is more about variety than it is about depth; open-ended, branching paths to the end, and other parts (that are like bonus stages in a way). The most notable of these would be the staring contest parts where you see who's better at shittalking. Words are assigned to buttons, and you have to press them quickly, in the right order to win. For these parts, understanding Japanese would help. Basically, you just go through the game helping people and beating up your "rivals."
In this case, your rivals are one of the tackiest, most pathetic, motliest crews the genre has ever seen. Even with stilted animation, the graphics are actually pretty good, but goddamn the character design is downright ridiculous (tacky hairdos and all). One could argue that this is staying true to the way real "Yankees" or Japanese high school gangsters look(ed), but still. Compared to the characters in Crimson Tears, the cast in Kenka Banchou is no dream team, and barely inspired. Most of them are ugly as hell and look like they got beat within an inch of their miserable existence by the ugly stick. Just plain despicable. You're talking dirty little bastards who you'd instinctively punch if you saw them in real life.
Speaking of Crimson Tears, it's only fair to judge Kenka Banchou off of it (since it is one of developer Spike's other efforts in the same genre). The highly underrated Crimson Tears was pure, unadultured fighting goodness, and even though some say it had RPG elements, it wasn't so obvious. But with this game it plays so slow and drawn-out that the RPG elements shine (or should I say stink) right through. Crimson Tears also has way cooler character design; the tacky, school-uniform-clad, surgical mask-veiled nitwits and dumb-asses in Kenka Banchou have nothing on the hot, futuristic fashion chicks and gas-mask toughguys in Crimson Tears. Spike did a better job with the visuals in their joint Capcom effort Crimson Tears, but in Kenka Banchou it gets the job done for the target (casual) audience.
The story parts are slow and boring, though, and the good shit doesn't really happen until the end (when it's already too late because you've already been skipping the boring cinematic sequences for so long). Sure, it may be a tale of youth aggression and "teen spirit." You know, "young, dumb, and full of cum" and all those other shit sayings they have for teen angst. There are parts where you see the characters as youngsters, but then when you see some of the things they do, you're like, "damn, kids really do that shit?" This game could be seen as a sort of portrayal of Japanese teen life, but I'm no specialist. I'll just say that the game has several awkward moments that could be shocking and/or hard to grasp for the non-Japanese. In one part, you're bashing a fool's face in, and in the next you're lying side-by-side with him in the grass, happily gazing at the sky together. I'm a Westerner (so my cultural view could be different), but still, it just seems odd; I'd never be side-by-side lying in a field with any of the motherfuckers I fought with in high school. The game is confusing as it graduates from these awkward moments to the more serious future-Yakuza-in-training parts. Thankfully, non-sense like this is absent in Crimson Tears, though (which is a superior game).
The vocals and sound are one of the strongest points of the game, though, from the snazzy music to the hillarious voices. All the stupid shit they say is actually pretty entertaining! If you like bull, there's plenty of it in KB's dialogue. The audio really fits the visual style and theme of the game.
Think about what would happen if you mixed some shitty RPG with a side-scrolling fighter, and you have this game. KB became one of many in the long line of Sony's "Best" series (in Japan), but its charm really seems to lie in its cultural value (more than how good of a game it is). If you prefer your action slow and dumb, with lots of reading and awkward moments, then this might be worth your time. If you're into the whole Japanese motorcycle gang thing, then for you this may be one of the best games ever made. If you're into importing as a hobby (hey Ramon!), then this game is recommended simply because it made waves in Japan when it was released. The game also doubles as a cultural window into a side of Japanese youth that the West is rarely shown, and the environments are also accurate re-ceations of Japanese neighborhoods and areas. To answer an important question ahead of time, yes, the hairstyles you see in the game are all real; visit the Japanese "countryside" and you'll see them, too!
On a last side-note, it's great to hear they are bringing the third Kenka Banchou game only to the PSP (which is exactly what more developers should be doing with sequels)!