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About four years ago, a friend of mine kept bugging me to check out the new Ninja Gaiden that was released on Xbox. I eventually got an Xbox around the middle portion of that year but didn't get around to playing Ninja Gaiden until much later since I was involved in other games - my friend literally brought me his copy and insisted that I play it. After a few plays, I did indeed see where all of his excitement for the game was generated from and went out to buy the game myself. The original Ninja Gaiden was easily the most unique action experience that the Xbox had to offer if you ask me and one that required much dedication to fully conquer.
The last Ninja Gaiden dealt with the Vigoor Empire and a treacherous betrayal in the Dragon Clan but this time the story focuses on the Spider Ninja Clan that many may remember from the last game. The clan's leader attacks Hayabusa village and steals the demon statue. The mysterious female villain (Elizebét) along with the Spider Ninja Clan travel the globe and resurrect the Greater Fiends while on their way to revive the ultimate Archfiend.
About half of the game's story is told through the text displayed before each chapter and the other half is shown in cutscene form. The overall story felt weaker than the last game's story and some characters didn't have as much development and screen time as I would have liked to have seen but overall it was decent and it did have its moments. Like the first game, some of the cutscenes stand out very well from the others. The sequel doesn't use FMVs like the first game, all the cutscenes use the in-game graphics and character models.
The story takes a back row seat to the action gameplay and this game serves up that action in great quantities like before. The gameplay in Ninja Gaiden II is absolutely fantastic! The game still uses the same basic gameplay mechanics from the last game but the action has been intensified and the overall game is much more violent. Each battle is filled with tons of bloodshed as Ryu cuts off arms, legs, heads and torsos. With some weapons, you can completely tear your foes apart. Wounded enemies with one arm or one leg can still fight and they are some of most dangerous enemies to have in a battle because of their suicide moves. A new technique known as the "Obliteration Technique" allows Ryu to instantly kill any wounded enemy with the tap of the Y button near them. Press the button and Ryu will perform a finishing blow to that enemy.
Ryu can find a big assortment of weapons on this new adventure and all of them feel different and are very fun to use. All of them have quite a variety of attacks that grow as each weapon is upgraded. Even the bigger weapon - the Eclipse Scythe - has a bunch of attack combinations available to it. Many of the weapons also have their own version of a Flying Swallow attack that used to be exclusive to only the Dragon Sword. Each weapon still has an Ultimate Technique that can easily turn the tides of a battle in your favor.
The difficulty can still get just as intense as the last game even on Acolyte difficulty (easiest). Normal enemies attack with extreme aggression and bosses get all up in your face with their hard-hitting blows that will send Ryu flying to the other side of the room if a mistake is made while attempting to dodge. Oh, you'll still be pausing the game or pulling up the item menu to use those health items. The number of healing items that Ryu can carry has been lowered this time (3 small and 3 large).
Ryu's health now regenerates after every battle, but there is a certain amount of red damage on the life meter known as "Permanent Damage" that will remain unless healed with an item or blue essence. Some may complain that this new health regeneration makes the game too easy. To those people, I say, play on an extremely hard mode then get back to me about how much easier the game is with the new health regeneration. There were times where I felt that the game hated me, but in fact the game doesn't hate anyone - it just messes with you until you're willing to get better. Beyond all the hardships in Ninja Gaiden lies an ultimate sense of satisfaction after defeating your greatest nemesis, a satisfaction that not many other games can deliver.
There are altogether four modes of difficulty - acolyte, warrior, mentor and master ninja - and each difficulty feels unique by changing the enemy setup at certain parts much like the first game. You'll be facing the brutal dog enemies much earlier on higher difficulties and some of the bosses will have normal enemies along with them. There are also various challenges that can be engaged in, such as completing the game with a single weapon from your arsenal. There is a "Complete" game option (Clear game file) that allows Ryu to start with all weapons and previously collected power ups once the game has been beaten this time around.
There were a few battles that seemed unfair because of the way the camera would trail off from Ryu. During boss battles, the camera can now be locked-on to the boss or it can be changed to follow behind Ryu. The camera that follows a boss can sometimes get stuck or it might refuse to show the full view of the boss if Ryu gets too close, which can lead to some mistimed dodging. Thankfully, you can always press RB to switch to the other camera mode in order to fix those problems.
The camera problems also surface during normal gameplay. There were times where the camera would get stuck behind an obstacle or sometimes it would not show me a full view of a platform after jumping to a high platform - basically the camera wouldn't raise up enough to show me what was in front of Ryu, making me have to tilt it upwards as the character walked ahead.
The controls during battle were once again just as precise as they were in the last Ninja Gaiden. Every move and attack was executed with little effort as each area filled with red from my bloody rampages. Jumping to platforms and wall running was never much of a problem. Much like the last game, the slightest wrong movement while jumping can sometimes cause Ryu to run all over the nearby walls however, so some caution still has to be taken while platforming. The controls for swimming still feel sluggish much like the last game.
One of my complaints from the last game was that the bow didn't feel quite right while aiming because of the first person view with a lack of precision aiming but in Ninja Gaiden II we are shown a side view of Ryu as he aims the bow and there is a red dot to help out in aiming this time. There is also a quick weapon change and item menu that can be instantly brought up by tapping on the D-pad. This menu allows a player to quickly switch between weapons and use items much faster than having to go to the pause menu, though you can still change them the old way (through the inventory menu) if you want.
The overall graphical look of Ninja Gaiden II really hasn't changed that much since the last Ninja Gaiden. The character models are slightly better looking (mainly in the face) and there are some noticeable upgrades such as the smoother and more realistic looking water. Every single body part of an enemy now stays on the ground once each enemy has been defeated, so you can retrace your steps to previous room and have fond memories of the great battle therein and the ownage that you dished out and painted the room with.
Ryu's weapons become stained with the blood of his enemies after battles. He can actually swipe his weapon to the side to clean the blood off the blade while standing still and holding the weapon - a cool little extra. The game does have some slowdown in some areas that litter the screen with enemies. Even though Ninja Gaiden can look quite beautiful while moving in slow motion this can still interfere with combat at times but the slowdown only happens during a certain few battles.
Each chapter is usually composed of one linear path that will get you from point A to B. Battles are a lot more frequent this time, which is most welcome for a game with such good combat. The game constantly wants you to press forward and usually bars your entrance path. There is very little backtracking and returning to prior stages unlike the last game. The stages don't connect like they did in the first Ninja Gaiden, so you can't backtrack for an item.
The game has some catchy tunes that play throughout each stage that were quite memorable. The electric guitar music that plays during the outside storm during the castle stage (Volf's castle) is one of my favorites. There are many other good tracks here and there as well. I always played the first Ninja Gaiden with Japanese voices and meant to do the same for the sequel but accidentally started with English voices and I must say that I was very impressed with the English voice work this time. The greater fiend's voices sound just as fitting as their Japanese counterparts. It's hard not to listen to Ryu speak in Japanese though, since I am so used to his DOA voice actor.
Even with the camera flaws and story gripes, Ninja Gaiden II is a very worthy sequel to the first game. Even though the game may not have as many extra as Ninja Gaiden Black, it can last for quite a while with its four modes of difficulty and weapon challenges. With the addition of some extremely useful weapons and the ability to wound your enemies and utterly annihilate them, the gameplay of the second installment has been improved greatly from its predecessor. For any action game fan out there, Ninja Gaiden II is definitely worth a look if you're ready for a challenge.
+ Gameplay that still remains as addicting as the original Ninja Gaiden
+ A variety of different weapons that are all useful and fun to use
+ Tight controls during combat
+ Still as challenging as the last game
- Camera can lose site of your character or get stuck at times
- Story didn't seem as good as the last game
Much like the first game, Ninja Gaiden II will once again pulverize you and kick you while you're down, but I have a feeling you'll be smiling on the inside the whole time.