In 2005, Legend of Kay hit the PlayStation 2 to respectable reviews. It told the story of a young cat Kay whose village relied on him to save it from the evil gorillas and rats that have invaded. He’s a martial arts student that believes everything his drunken master says, so his naive nature works against him from time to time. It was one of many 3D platformers with an errand-running mechanic lauded for having a lot of charm and providing enjoyable combat, but it was greatly held back by its camera getting in the way of movement as well as poor voice acting. Now, with a decade of criticism to work with, the game has been revamped and hopefully fixed up.
Legend of Kay Anniversary takes the original game and essentially rebuilds its graphics, but nothing beyond that. The main game is largely spent going around towns and talking to people. You’ll discover some surface-level things about the case, but nothing that makes you care about them. It’s a shame too since the original developers clearly wanted to tell an epic Asian tale using cats and other animals instead of people, but nothing works well enough to make that lofty concept come to fruition.
As Kung Fu Panda showed after this game’s release, that core idea can be done quite well. The story here itself is simply too thin, with Kay being far too abrasive to be likable and the secondary characters being given no real depth at all. We’re supposed to like Kay, but he’s a complete prick to everyone he meets. Your key antagonists are giant apes who rule over the rats, and the rats who serve as their underlings. Fellow cat Shun is aptly-named because he handed the cat village over to the monkeys. Now in theory, you’ve got something slightly like The Lion King after Scar takes over. In execution, you get a collect-a-thon with a lot of bad acting that grates on the ears. The game’s formula revolves around doing fetch quests for characters with long stretches of dialogue at times to get across very simple concepts. None of the acting is good and it makes just attempting to progress in the story a chore.
Fortunately, the core gameplay is diverse and mostly well-executed enough to make the dull portions feel worthwhile in the end. Kay attacks enemies with a mix of defensive blocking, combos with his sword, item usage, and a bit of dodging. Combined with the use of heart containers, parts of the gameplay feel like they’re inspired by Legend of Zelda — but the formula is completely different from it. The structure is far more level-based than dungeon-based and is far more friendly to those needing quick play sessions thanks to frequent save points littered throughout the world. You can spend half an hour on either required or optional missions, and then take a break if you want. Optional missions can drag on, but some are a blast — like an early set of boar races that net you a nice long-term power-up.
Combat is swift and allows you to make use of platforming staples like wall jumps and rope running to get where you need to go while using rolls to avoid enemies and your sword attacks to vanquish them. The camera is a bit troublesome, but doesn’t get in the way too much unless you’re close to either walls or near trees — where the treetops can obscure your view easily. Luckily, this issue doesn’t crop up much in battle. Platforming sections are also pretty easy thanks to logical camera placement and then the ability to swing the camera around with the right stick. The button layout is logical and easy to remember during the game.
Visually, Legend of Kay Anniversary looks like a PS2-to-PS3 remaster instead of something on the PlayStation 4. The environmental textures have received a nice overhaul. They look pretty crisp and are pleasing to the eye. Animation appears to be about the same as it was before, but to the game’s credit, it’s held up nicely and didn’t really need much tweaking to begin with. The character models have been given a big upgrade in terms of polygon count, but they look odd. Their lip syncing is generally off and the mouth movements aren’t very smooth, and they all look like they have Saran wrap on their bodies. They’re shiny and distracting — it isn’t a good look and nothing else in the game has it, so it stands out even more that it otherwise would.
While Legend of Kay‘s acting may be unpleasant, the soundtrack is excellent. The developers went for a mix of melodic Asian music that could get intense when needed, and created some very memorable music. The sound effect work is also fantastic with cartoony jumping and sword-slashing that works well for the kid-friendly story they’re telling. However, some of the language used seems very out of place for the story as well. There’s no need for Kay to call his enemies “bastards” when “jerks” would accomplish the exact same thing. It’s a disconnect from the rest of the game and sticks out badly — I’m surprised it wasn’t taken out in the re-release.
Legend of Kay Anniversary reworks a solid PS2 game onto more modern hardware, but doesn’t do much with the hardware to make the game better. It’s still got a lot of pacing issues and the fetch quests are dull. The core story is too thin and the quests come off as a way to pad the experience instead of a way to make it better. The graphical sheen added to the characters is bizarre, but the soundtrack is genuinely good. The end result is something that might’ve been a slightly recommended purchase a decade ago, but there haven’t been enough updates to warrant a purchase now for those who aren’t fans of the original release.