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Posted on Jul 27th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, PS2, PlayStation 2, Sony, Survival Horror, Japanese, Action, Adventure, From Software, Agetech

Kuon is sort of a notorious game for gamers and collectors.  Known as one of the rarest and most valuable games on the PS2, finding a copy of the game for a reasonable price is easier said than done.  I was lucky enough to snag a copy a few years ago for a great price, but for most people, owning a copy of this elusive title means shelling out big bucks.  As I'm sure we have all experienced, a game's value on the secondary market usually isn't a reflection of how good that game actually is, and Kuon is really no exception.  In fact, prior to actually playing the game, I had heard from a few sources that Kuon was not a good game at all, as opinions typically ranged from mixed to negative.  After hearing so much negative criticism about the game, I finally decided to play it for myself, and I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Kuon is a survival-horror game released in December 2004 in North America exclusively for the PlayStation 2.  It was developed by From Software (you know, those guys that are typically only known for the Dark Souls series these days), and it was published by Agetech in North America.  The game was met with mixed to negative reception upon its release, and due to a limited release and poor sales, it has become one of the most sought after games for the PS2.

Set during Japan's Heian Period of history, Kuon takes place entirely on the grounds of a mansion in Kyoto.  The plot mostly revolves around two main protagonists, Utsuki, a shrine maiden who is searching the manor for her father Doman, and Sakuya, an exorcist and disciple of Doman who is investigating strange occurrences at the manor.  Once inside, they find many large silkworm cocoons that often contain disfigured human corpses and appear to have monsters hatching from them.  It is revealed that Doman himself is responsible for all of these bizarre occurrences in his attempt to perform the forbidden Kuon ritual, which involves fusing a person's corpse with other animal corpses nine times within these giant silkworm cocoons so that person will be reborn.  Crazy, right!?

Who would have thought that this guy would end up being the villain!?

There are three scenarios in the game.  Utsuki's and Sakuya's scenarios are played separately but occur simultaneously, and the two characters cross paths with each other several times.  The third scenario centers around Abe no Seimei, a master exorcist, and occurs after the events of the first two scenarios.  With many games, it often feels satisfactory to complete one character's scenario and then say that you have completed the game, but Kuon really makes it feel as though you need to complete all three scenarios in order to truly complete the game, and it is definitely required to experience the full story.  In fact, the game will not even roll the credits until you have finished all three scenarios, instead prompting you to start the next scenario once the preceding one has been completed.

The story of Kuon is certainly unique and interesting, but I found it to be so poorly executed that it made it difficult to follow what was going on most of the time.  In fact, I didn't even have a decent grasp of the game's plot until the end of the second scenario.  Maybe this is by design, as unfamiliarity and confusion go hand-in-hand with horror, but it ultimately left me feeling disconnected and apathetic towards the story for most of the experience.  While there are cutscenes and dialog that serve to move the plot forward, quite a bit of the story is told through written journal entries that you find throughout the environment.  My only real problem with this is that the journal entries make constant references to other characters, many of whom are never introduced in the game itself.  As a result, I didn't know who the journals were referencing most of the time, which made the plot that much more difficult to follow.  Much of the story is based in Japanese culture and folklore, so it may be easier to grasp for those who have knowledge or special interest in these areas.  Overall, I wouldn't say that this is a particularly story-heavy game anyway, so it probably shouldn't be approached by anyone looking for a story-driven experience.

Abe no Seimei is easily the most capable character but unfortunately has the shortest scenario.

Gameplay in Kuon is a bit of a mixed bag.  In typical survival-horror fashion, you'll find yourself exploring large, creepy environments, finding key items used for progression, solving puzzles, and of course fighting off (or avoiding) hideous enemies.  The combat is one of the primary points of criticism for the game.  The characters' melee attack is slow and has a very limited range which makes repelling enemies fairly difficult.  However, I did find that most enemies have predictable patterns and behavior that can be learned in order to make dispatching them more manageable.  There are also magic attacks in the form of tarot cards that you find scattered throughout the environment, and these can be invaluable for tougher enemy encounters and boss fights.  Magic attacks come in the form of direct fireball attacks, icy shard projectile attacks, and various creatures that you can summon that will fight on your behalf,  among other things.  Overall, the combat in Kuon isn't especially great, but I didn't find it to be especially bad either, and it is definitely better and less aggravating than in certain comparable games such as Rule of Rose.

The exploration elements work as one might expect.  You must scour the environment to find all sorts of keys and other items that will be used to unlock doors and provide other means for progression.  Puzzles in the game are fairly interesting but are not particularly difficult to solve, and some can even be solved by using a bit of trial and error.  Most of the time, journal entries will provide clues or solutions for where key items can be obtained and where they must be used, and they will often provide solutions for puzzles as well.  To make things even easier for the player, these clues will often be highlighted in bright yellow text in the journal entries.  While I would have liked the puzzle solutions to be a tad bit more difficult to figure out, I'm glad that they are not overly obtuse or cryptic to the point of requiring a walkthrough.

This puzzle may look tricky, but it can easily be solved with a little trial-and-error.

For a game released in 2004, Kuon looks great, with an art style and visual fidelity that have aged surprisingly well.  The ancient Japanese decor present throughout the game also helps give the presentation a great unique style that is very appealing.  There is also a suitably creepy atmosphere created by the environments, as well as various things like corpses and trails of blood to enhance the games eerie vibe.  However, this creepy atmosphere does come with a drawback, and that is that everything in the game is extremely dark, and as such it is often difficult to see your surroundings.  Another problem I had was with the camera angles in the game.  The camera angles are fixed, but they will pan around as you move throughout an area.  The problem I had was with the placement of some of the camera angles themselves, as on more than one occasion, I completely failed to see certain doors or corridors because of the viewing angle, although checking the in-game map often can help alleviate this problem.

In the audio department, Kuon is fairly mediocre overall.  Music is extremely minimal, with musical scores usually only used to accompany boss fights.  The music that is there has a distinctly traditional Japanese flair, and while it isn't bad by any means, it is fairly unremarkable.  The lack of music probably works in the game's favor however, as exploring the creepy environments in complete silence is often more unnerving than even an appropriately grim soundtrack would be.  The voice acting in the game is also mediocre.  It's far from the best or worst I've ever heard, but it gets the job done.

Hanging corpses help set the mood.

Kuon is a mixed bag overall.  While I can't call it a great game, I went in to it with low enough expectations that I came away pleasantly surprised and feeling like I enjoyed the game overall.  This isn't a title that I would recommend most people play, however I think that hardcore survival-horror fans and people with a particular interest in ancient Japanese culture and folklore may find it enjoyable enough to warrant a playthrough.  For those curious enough to try this game for themselves, or for collectors who feel the need to own a copy due to its rarity, expect to pay around $150 for a complete copy at the time of this writing.

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Thanks for the copy! Excited to check it out!
@Crabmaster2000:  Thanks for the purchase!  I hope you enjoy the game as much as I did!

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