I recently stumbled upon a game that surprised me with its presentation, cultural flavor, and overall fun. Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble
for the Sony PSP was the perfect game to play after finishing Yakuza 5
, as there are similarities between the two games, although Kenka Bancho
is distinct in many ways. Though there are many entries in this series, this is the only one we've gotten in North America. Let's check it out!
In Kenka Bancho
players take the role of a young delinquent named Takashi Sakamoto (he can be given a custom name as well) who is attending a school field trip under the threat of failing school if he doesn't. While on the trip, Sakamoto distracts himself by finding other ruffians and beating them down to prove himself the biggest Bancho (Badass) in Japan. The events that unfold are up to the player to decide, including attending class events which develop the story. The game follows a seven day schedule, and the goal is collect itineraries from random encounters which will tell you where the Banchos are. You then plan to meet up with each of the 47 Banchos for a cutscene and what amounts to a boss fight. Defeated Banchos then become your "peons" and can be summoned (one at a time) with a phone call at any time for assistance in fights. I'm not sure if it is possible to defeat all 47 Banchos in one playthrough, but the game is clearly designed for multiple playthroughs. Later, the game introduces the concept of Unions, which are basically spread out teams of Banchos with a leader. If the Union Bancho is defeated, the entire union is eliminated.
The game takes place in a segmented open-world version of modern day Japan, and like Yakuza
, it wears Japanese culture on its sleeve. Japanese slang and catchphrases are used freely by characters and defined and elaborated on in loading screens. Class destinations include temples and festivals that are distinctly Japanese. My inner Otaku really appreciated all the Japanese flavor in this game.
Sakamoto travels on foot within each small area of the game, but can ride buses, trains, and subways to travel from area to area. Traveling costs both money and time. Money and time are the two things you'll need to monitor closely as you play the game. Like something out of the more recent Persona
games, the game's clock progresses whether you're being productive or not. The game ends in seven in-game days whether you're ready or not. As you can imagine, there are multiple endings for the game with a new game plus option where the player can keep their stats from the previous playthrough. There are some story decisions as well, including a basic romance element. Money can be used to buy healing items as well as outfits and hairstyles. It is worth noting that there is only one place to buy clothes and one place to get a haircut in the entire game. Though traveling is pretty easy, I found this to be a very small, missed opportunity within the game.
The game seems simple at first, but there is a lot going on under the hood, especially for a portable game. The fighting can seem a little clunky at first, but the classic brawler style will grow on you over time. Sakamoto can string together combos with punches, kicks, and use a variety of weapons. There are charge moves and a type of rage meter that can be filled up for a powerful special move as well. Each fight gains the player experience which levels the character up and earns him special moves which can be customized during travel sequences. There is also a skill point system known as Bancho Soul which is very helpful for beefing up HP, strength, and other attributes permanently.
Fights themselves can be initiated with a piercing gaze known as the "Mechi Beam" which lets an NPC know the player means business. If the NPC reciprocates the gaze, an mini-game starts where the player must put together a stinging insult via quick-time event button presses. Get the insult right and the player will land the first blow. Getting it wrong can result in hilarious, but painful results as it gives the enemy the first strike. In a Bancho battle, it can be very important to get this right to start the fight with an advantage.
The presentation of Kenka Bancho
is above average in general. Though there is some pop-in, the draw distance is pretty decent and the graphics are detailed where they need to be. A few of the environments don't have much going on, but never seem too bland or empty. Where the game's presentation truly shines is in its sound design. The sound effects while fighting have true impact, the menu and item pick-up jingles are pleasing, and the music is great. During down time, the music is a sort of upbeat jazz, but once the fighting starts, you'll be treated to some hot, energetic guitar licks to get you going. Headphones are a must when playing this game.
Even if you're not a huge Japanophile like me, the hilarious and immensely fun Kenka Bancho
is a great choice for anyone who enjoys the open world action games of the sixth generation such as the original 3D Grand Theft Auto
games or Total Overdose
(which I have previously reviewed). The great sound design and bite-sized areas and battles make this a perfect portable experience on the PSP. While we never got an English version of any of the PSP Yakuza
games, I feel like this is the next best thing. Despite being published by Atlus, a physical copy of the game is still pretty affordable, running about twenty dollars at the time of this writing. The game is also currently available for download on the PlayStation Store for play on the PSP or Vita. Give it a try!