Kaze Kiri


Review by Rob "Dire 51"

Naxat Soft


Graphics: 9

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 8

It seems that ever since the Second Coming of gaming brought about by the NES, ninjas have become a staple of video and computer games, ranging from quest/adventure games (System 3's The Last Ninja series), to action games (Irem's Ninja Spirit, Natsume's Shadow Of The Ninja, Capcom's Strider series), to games that emphasize using actual ninja skills to complete your mission (Acquire's Tenchu series). Of course, the twin gods of the gaming ninja pantheon are none other than Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden series and Sega's Shinobi series. Ninjas have shown up in all sorts of games (a lot of times where they don't belong, like in Capcom's Gun.Smoke) as playable characters, enemies and god knows what else.

One ninja game that almost completely slipped under the radar was Kaze Kiri, by Naxat Soft for the PC Engine. I first saw a review of it in GameFan magazine, back in 1994 (you know, before the mag went downhill). I thought it looked extremely cool, but since I really wasn't into importing games at the time, I filed it away in the back of my mind and promptly forgot about it. It seems that just about everyone else did too - only recently has it become a very sought-after game. Once I started getting into importing games, I tried to see if I could track down a copy of Kaze Kiri, and only now - seven years later - have I finally succeeded in getting one.

The story of Kaze Kiri is presented in a great anime cinema sequence when you start the game. What's unusual, considering that this is a CD game, is the complete and total lack of voice during the sequence (there's no voice during the ending either, for that matter). The kidnapping of Shizuhime by a group of evil ninja led by Genbu and Hiei is set to nothing but the sound of drums, with the occasional sound effect punctuating what's going on. Kaze is then summoned before Yoshikage (presumably Shizuhime's father), and he sets out to infiltrate the fortress of the evil ninja and get Shizuhime back. You then see Kaze starting his mission, running at top speed and leaving a slew of dead ninja in his wake.

On the surface, Kaze Kiri looks like a traditional action platformer. However, all of the action is set on a totally level plain in each board - there are no pitfalls, no stairs to climb, and most importantly, no powerups. As each stage takes place on one floor of the fortress, the lack of pitfalls and such is understandable - and frankly, you'll be having so much fun wailing on enemies that you'll barely even notice their absence. Rather than being a straight shot to the boss, you have to kill a specific number of enemies in each board, represented by the ENEMY bar in the upper right hand side of the screen. Once that bar has been reduced to nothing, you must go to the end of the stage and fight the boss. In a way, it's like an extremely souped-up version of the old Irem game Kung Fu Master (and about ten thousand times better than KFM ever was or could ever hope to be).

The controls in Kaze Kiri are extremely easy to use. Button I jumps, button II attacks, and hitting select causes Kaze to vanish in a whirlwind of leaves, only to reappear a few seconds later. Tapping the directional button twice in either direction will make Kaze do a sliding attack. Holding diagonally upper left or upper right will make Kaze run. Pushing up and button I or down and button I will make Kaze do either a forward or backward somersault (depending on which direction you pushed). If you get up next to an enemy, you can get them in a hold, and pressing down and button II will let you slam them into the ground. Alternately, you can hit button I and press in the opposite direction, and Kaze will throw them over his shoulder. You can jump, then press down and button II to do a downward flying kick.

Kaze has two main methods of attack - his sword and shurikens. if you're far away from an enemy and attack, Kaze will hurl a shuriken at them. When they're up close, he uses his sword. Interestingly, every time you throw a shuriken, Kaze's life bar goes down a notch. Of course, if you get into a spot where there are no enemies, or if you can avoid being hit or avoid throwing shurikens, Kaze's life will regenerate on its own. Thrown shurikens can also be used to deflect enemy throwing stars, as can Kaze's sword. It's not uncommon to be in the middle of a pitched battle with a group of enemies and hear multiple deflections. Speaking of which, these aren't your usual, stupid brainless automatons that you're up against. These guys - and I mean everyone, including the bosses (which are all unique and all really badass) - will block Kaze's strikes and shurikens. This can make them difficult to knock down sometimes.

The music and sound effects are also top-notch. The sound of throwing stars being deflected and sword thrusts sound fantastic. The music is on a par with some of the best PCE CD games in existence. In fact, several pieces of music are reminiscent of Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo. Additionally, much like ADX, there's a second character that you can unlock and use! Once you complete the game as Kaze (by getting either the good or bad ending, it doesn't matter which), you can select the female ninja Suzu in the Option screen. Suzu controls exactly like Kaze, and she replaces him during the cutscenes. You also unlock a Stage Select mode once you finish a level, like you do in ADX.

I'll take this opportunity to warn you about one thing - once you've reached Takanobu, the guy that's holding Shizuhime hostage, you'll see that he's carrying her. When you go to fight him, you'll see her standing there. Whatever you do, don't even get close to her once you're fighting Takanobu. If you accidentally hit her with your sword, she'll die, and you'll get the bad ending. Try not to send any shurikens her way either - she can take a little bit of damage from them, but not too much. At least Shizuhime has the good sense to stay out of the way during the final battle with Hiei.

To sum everything up, Kaze Kiri is a fantastic game. It's been called "the best PC Engine game ever" by some, and while I don't think it's quite deserving of that title, it definitely ranks as one of the best PC Engine games ever made. For those of you that enjoy a good ninja game or just want a fantastic action game for your PC Engine or Turbografx-16, I recommend tracking a copy of Kaze Kiri down. Just be prepared to spend quite a bit for it, because as I said before, it's very much in demand these days.


front cover
Screenshots courtesy of Universo PC Engine

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Last updated: Friday, December 26, 2003 09:19 PM