Sometimes I wonder how or why certain games were ever localized. For every Castlevania or Mega Man, the types of games a publisher would be fools to leave in Japan (yes I’m aware of Rondo of Blood, but let’s be real, Konami would have lost money on that) there are a number of titles like Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom or M.U.S.C.L.E that let you know they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Kendo Rage kind of falls into that second category. Don’t get me wrong this is far from a bad game but it isn’t great either. I will give publisher Seta points for taking a chance on a game this weird. You do get the feeling it’s because they couldn’t buy the rights to something better.
Someone in the localization department definitely had way too much fun coming up with the plot for this one. Anyone familiar with the magical girl genre will recognize this as a very loose parody of Sailor Moon. The protagonist Jo is sent to Japan to study kendo for the summer. No sooner does she arrive Jo is told she has magical powers and must use them to defeat evil. Her instructor Bob, the world’s greatest kendo expert, gives her an amulet that transforms her into a Sailor Moon style hero and must kill demons while making it to summer school on time. In its original release Jo fought evil with the help of spirit detective Osaki Yoritomo which would explain his complexion and elf ears. They did the bare minimum to “Americanize” the game and honestly it would have been better off left intact.
Kendo Rage is a strange one. With its female protagonist and semi high school setting it’s easy to make the comparison to Valis. But that is about all the two have in common. Where Valis is pretty serious and plays it straight Kendo Rage is downright silly. Its pretty funny to see the bus pick you up no matter the location not to mention Bob dropping SNK level Engrish quotes. There is nothing wrong with that of course but I do wish the game’s mechanics were tighter so that you can appreciate the wacky tone more. I enjoyed my time with it but would still recommend something like Valis IV over it.
Jo is armed with a kendo stick which has decent range. This is augmented by the Psy meter which produces different effects depending on its charge. A full meter produces a triple blast while a half charge sends a fiery blast in a straight line. There are three power-ups that alter your attack; my personal favorite is the green orb which allows a rapid swing that hits multiple times. The blue orb unleashes ice beams while the red orb is a stream of fire. There is a powerful dash attack but it uses health limiting its use. Personally I rarely bothered with it.
Time is a critical factor in deciding the ending. The game starts at 4:00 and Jo must reach the end by 9 in order to see the true ending. The clock is a bit generous in that regard but the game’s hurried pacing also highlights one of its flaws, brevity. Despite packing 7 stages each is pretty short with some lasting less than five minutes before reaching the end level boss. The levels could stand to be a little bit longer in my opinion as the game’s best moments are all too brief. As a result the level design is pretty poor. The weird assortment of enemies isn’t enough to carry it though I suppose the short quest is supposed to be an incentive to replay the game if you don’t make it in time but that only works for truly exceptional and fun games which this is not.
The high difficulty is also a factor as well. Despite its silly exterior Kendo Rage is far more challenging than it appears. Your life bar may seem pretty long but in actuality you can take five or six hits at most. For the most part it isn’t much of an issue until you reach the end level bosses. Some of these bastards are really simple such as the imposter Jo. But then you come across real bullshit like the triple fish fight that will burn through your limited continues. It also ends in a cruel boss rush, one of my least favorite gaming mechanics. I wish I could say it is all worth it but the end is not at all satisfying.
This is a tough one to put a number on. There are various things I like about it and it is fun while it lasts. However if its mechanics were a bit tighter I would have no trouble recommending it. Kendo Rage is a decent game but there are better alternatives in the genre such as Valis IV.