Monday, June 16, 2008

Blood, Sweat, and Tears... The Ninja Gaiden II Review

There are games that you feel you can get away from any situation unscathed. Then there are games that just wants to kick your ass at any instant. Ninja Gaiden II is that such game that where lots of skill and luck matters. The first one on the Xbox is one of my top five favorite games of all-time and I have high hopes that the sequel will push it further. Team Ninja has gone through two remakes, Black and Sigma, to finally put together a full fledged sequel fixing any problems that prevented the first game from perfection even though some problems are still present. The combat is still is the best in the action genre with its amazing depth and having that emotion of being a badass ninja. On the other hand, Ninja Gaiden II is a technical nightmare at times and it is not the monetary leap some have expected to be as a complete package.

Ryu Hayabusa is back again in Ninja Gaiden II and the storyline is as old-school as it gets while making no sense at all in certain moments. Basically, the Black Spider Ninja Clan and the Greater Fiends have joined forces to resurrect the Archfiend to cause chaos in the Earth while it is up to Ryu to prevent this from happening. A CIA agent named Sonia warns Ryu of their events and while she helps you in certain moments of the game, she still feels like a damsel of distress being the main female character of the game. The game takes place all over the world from the skyscrapers of Tokyo, a deserted New York City, and various spots at Europe. One chapter you be at Tokyo taking down enemy ninjas and pop up at New York for almost no reason at all other than a Greater Fiend lurks there. Genshin leads the Black Spider Ninja Clan in a rivalry against the Hayabusa clan while Elizabet leads the Greater Fiends in hopes of getting the Demon Statue to bring back the Archfiend. As with most action games from Japanese developers, the story is never really the main focus as it just gives the player a reason to slice and dice towards victory.

Ninja Gaiden II's combat is still as deep and satisfying as ever being compared to a fighting game in terms of a movelist for Ryu. You can get away from just using certain moves like Izuna Drops, Flying Swallows, and Guillotine Throws for certain weapons throughout the fourteen chapters, but using the whole movelist makes the game as deep and fun as the first one. Speaking of the weapons, they are truly the stars of Ninja Gaiden II than just Ryu. Team Ninja wanted to make the weapons as fun and satisfying that you can play the whole game using just one specific weapon and they delivered on that front. The Dragon Sword is still the go-to weapon especially in tough situations while returning weapons from the first game and its remakes such as the Lunar Staff, Vigoorian Flails, and the twin katanas, Dragon's Claw and Tiger's Fang, still being great weapons in Ryu's arsenal. The new weapons pushes the combat to a new level with Falcon's Talons, claws on Ryu's hands and feet doing his best Wolverine impression, the Kusari-gama, a sickle chain-like weapon that is perfect against crowds of enemies, the Tonfa, which is similar to the Vigoorian Fiail, and the Eclipse Scythe, a big scythe that can deal huge amounts of damage. All of the melee weapons in Ninja Gaiden II invokes different play-styles as some of them are perfect in one-on-one situations while others are perfect against crowds. Other than the melee weapons, the projectiles and Ninpo are more of a priority and more used in certain situations than the first game. The bow and arrow's usage has increased by a lot as there are more bosses and long-range enemies. The Ninpo is pretty useful to get out of jams with Ryu launching fireballs and wind blades against the opposition. Ryu's arsenal is truly something special as they offer different experiences for the player to witness.

Ninja Gaiden II is pretty linear compared to the backtracking seen in the first game. It is simply point A to point B of slicing through anything that gets in Ryu's way, which reminds me of the early 90s beat-em-ups structure. The Halo-like rechargeable health system gives even the casual players a chance to beat this game as Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox was one of the hardest games of that console generation. While Ninja Gaiden II is not as hard as the first game on the normal difficulty, it gets to be that hard and borderline cheap on harder difficulties (Mentor and Master Ninja), but still doable pending on lots of skill and luck. It retains the rewarding challenge like the first game in which it is an accomplishment of beating a game like this. At least there two difficulties to start with (Acolyte and Warrior) in this new one compared to the original. The normal enemies are just aggressive as they were previously as they want to kick your ass at any cost whether by throwing you around or even committing suicide to take you out. The bosses, on the other hand, are a little easier especially against the Greater Fiends, while other bosses can be a pain at times. The best relief in this game is getting to a save point with barely no health after a tough onslaught of enemies since they fill your health to full the first time you use them. It is also forgiving when you die against bosses, as the game will start you at that same boss battle.

Ninja Gaiden II pushes dismemberment of body parts to a whole new level as well. Body parts will be flying around as you slice and dice your foes to their death. The new Obliteration Technique is a finishing blow to an enemy of cutting someone's head off. There are loads of different finishing blows against normal enemies and some bosses with the amount of weapons in the game and increases the amount of blood to staggering heights. In this current generation of consoles, it is one of the bloodiest games and perhaps the bloodiest game ever. Ultimate Techniques make a return as well with a combo-like sequence of Ryu tearing someone apart. The variety of enemies and bosses in Ninja Gaiden II are not much with ninjas with swords, claws, guns, missile launchers, and those cheap grenade launchers along with various fiends, demons, and beasts. Even the infamous ghost fish are back, but they are not as cheap as they used to be. The overall gameplay is still as deep and fun as ever, but even Ninja Gaiden II's technical issues hamper that fact.

Ninja Gaiden II is a technical nightmare as if it felt rushed and incomplete at times. Graphically, it is a good looking game, but the Team Ninja engine is starting to show its age with the look of the environments and characters. Their signature boobage as seen in the Dead or Alive games is still here, specifically Sonia. The technical flaws at various points of the game can be even unplayable with huge framerate dips when things get too chaotic, some instances of tearing, mid-level loading (even during combat as well), and the bad camera. The game just goes fast all the time and the camera cannot keep up mostly which leads to pressing the R trigger to center it lots of times. The slowdown is pretty bad in some moments that the game is going ten frames per second, but when the game runs at 60 frames, it flows beautifully. All these technical issues could of have fixed easily, but it signifies the game feels rushed even with some game-ending bugs as well.

Ninja Gaiden II's sound is pretty good following genre standards. The music is very moody at various locales and epic at certain moments as well as if the perfect track kicked in to cut some ninjas up. At least the voice acting is both English and Japanese with the Japanese track being the way to go as long as you have English subtitles on. The sound effects are accurate as well according to the weapons with swords clashing, cutting effects, guns and explosions, and the magic. The fiends and demons themselves have their terrifying screams as well. It can get out of hand when too many things are going on, but it is pretty rare to witness.

With a 10-12 hour campaign, four difficulties, leaderboards of comparing scores with the world, the Ninja Cinema which allows replays of your work, achievements that can be a while to get the full 1000, and downloadable content of alternate costumes in the future, there is a good amount of replay value in Ninja Gaiden II. The combat is as satisfying and gory compared to other action games along with no sense of backtracking. It definitely feels like an old-school beat-em-up of going to an area of defeating enemies, repeat, and then the boss battle to finish the level. Despite maintaining the amazing gameplay, it is a technical disaster filled with camera issues, slowdown, and other bugs. If you're expecting to play this game for a good story, you're not going to find it as if it is like a Saturday morning cartoon. The rewarding challenge is there too, which is rare to see in this generation of consoles filled with easy games. If you like deep combat, an old-school challenge, and that feeling of being a badass ninja, Ninja Gaiden II is worth a playthrough.

Score = 8.5/10

  • The weapons are truly the stars of this game
  • Deep and satisfying combat
  • Rewarding challenge that is also old-school
  • You truly feel like a badass ninja
  • More forgiving to the casual players
  • A technical nightmare (bad camera, slowdown, tearing, etc.)
  • A pointless story if you're expecting something epic
  • Team Ninja's graphics engine showing its age
  • The challenge might be too hard for some
  • Not the monetary leap from the first game some have expected

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