With a name like Rise of the Kasai (the Kasai being the group that wishes to harness the power of Mark of Kri), the sequel to the ambitious and fairly impressive 2002 game, suggests that this will be the Empire Strikes Back of the series. The story is indeed darker with Tati, Rau's younger sister who merely played the role of the kidnapped in the first game, now a playable character pissed off that she had to be burdened with The Mark of Kri, who channels her aggression by squirreling back and forth between enemies with duel daggers, striking with eye-twirling agility and speed. The story also jumps back and forth (beginning with Rau and Tati storming a Kasai compound to consult an oracle tree about the Mark of Kri), through past and present, and through the fractures Kuzo, Rau's spirit guide and friend from the first game, strongly suggested that Rau will die before the end of the game. What's going to come next? Kuzo is revealed to be Rau's father?
This kind of storytelling, virtually never before done in a high-profile video game, is exactly the kind of thing the game needs to rejuvenate interest in the series, especially since Rise of the Kasai is nearly identical to The Mark of Kri in every way: the menu layout, the sound effects, the sneaking around and stealth kills, and the innovative battle system of the original, where you apply button assignments to the enemies around you, allowing for free-form dynamic battles. The game's logo remains permanently fixed in the bottom-right corner of the screen (we'll see if it's still there in the full version), like the logo of the TV channel you're watching, reminding the player that, no, this is not a rerun. Another way to differentiate between the two is that Rise of the Kasai does look quite as good as the original. The technical groundwork of the game is impressive, with the two huge city levels playable in the demo free of slowdown and pop-up, even in open eras. This seems to come at the cost of graphical sheen because, while the Rau and Tati models are fluid and detailed, the enemies look like blue pirate mannequins. Their blood spurts out in hilarious-looking spurts of pink motes and the blood that pools from underneath their body look like they fell on a bag of melted Crayolas. For a game that relies on the brute and relentless force of their protagonists, the destruction they leave behind is unimpressive.
The demo levels do rely a bit much on the bow and arrow. When you're spotted, the enemies come out in droves and they do require a significant amount of effort to deal away with, and because killing enemies with the bow and arrow is just so easy (one-hit kill chances often come up and are simple to execute), it makes it even more frustrating over the chance you just lost to not deal with a large group of enemies. The game gives multiple weapons and your choice on how to deal with any give situation, but when one way is just so much easier, it makes a missed opportunity that much more frustrating and annoying.
Yet, the efficiency and strength Rau or Tati can display to clear a room is what makes the game stand out. The two characters are just plain physically larger and they tower over the opposition as they strike and charge from enemy to enemy. Even without the story behind them, these characters are the protagonists of the game simply because their presence demands it. Despite its graphical shortcomings (which hopefully are fixed for the final version), fans of the original who can recall the strength and originality that Rau displayed to plow through the original game with should check out Rise of the Kasai, if only to see how cruel a fate could befall on someone like him.