Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ninja Gaiden II - Review

Player(s): 1
Memory: 144KB
Extra Features: Content Download, Leaderboards

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 (Elizeb├ęt) 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.

Graphics: 8.5
Controls: 9.0
Sound: 9.0
Gameplay: 10.0

The Good:

+ 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

The Bad:

- 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.


Brian said...

I agree pretty much 100% with everything you've said. I don't know why, but for some reason after playing through this game only to the 11th chapter I feel like I've accomplished a hell of a lot more than in DMC, which kind of makes me sad because that was the series that redefined how I like and play action games. One of the things that bugged me about both DMC4, and to an extent NG1, was that the strategies for various enemies required specific weapons. Like Blitz, for example; though there are quite a few ways to take him out, it feels like the strategies were decided for me. Awakened Alma was pretty much impossible for me without the Dragon Sword, and I never really knew anyone who used otherwise.

However, with Ninja Gaiden 2, the freedom and versatility offered by each weapon reminds me more of how DMC3 worked, in that every style, weapon and firearm could be used to clear the game from beginning to end on its lonesome, fitting your preferred style. In my opinion that is where Ninja Gaiden 2 excels, and to be honest I'm more excited to beat the game once and then just try and do single-weapon runs because they all seem so dynamic, and the freedom to be able to stick to a weapon and not be punished is incredibly refreshing. I think that's the biggest reason why we feel that rush of accomplishment, because we did it our own way, not some prescribed way by the design or limitation of the game.

Berserker said...

Yep, I feel the same way. There is no real right or wrong way to fight enemies in Ninja Gaiden II - just use whatever weapon you're most comfortable with. Every now and then, some weapons have a certain move that allows you to defeat enemies faster, but overall all the weapons have their uses.

I felt the same way with DMC3 as well. Beowulf's Real Impact didn't quite own every enemy like Gilgamesh's Real Impact does. It was harder to perform a Real Impact on an enemy in DMC3 from what I remember of it. Every weapon, even Nevan was fun to use if you knew how to handle the weapon.

You bring up some really good points with your comparisons of action games. :)

Brian said...

Haha, thanks. I try to look at it from how much I want to keep playing the game for the sake of the challenge and how much I end up being able to do. My first time through, I really used Lunar as my go-to for a lot of the enemies (ditching the DS for it almost immediately), but switched to Falcon's Talons for the werewolves and the scythe for some of the bigger enemies. Staying with the Dragon Sword on my second playthrough though I realize I can still manage the same amount of destruction, with just a couple tweaks in positioning and style.

With DMC4 I realized that I used pretty much the exact same strategies on all three difficulty levels that I have done, with the exception of using EX-Calibur(?) a bit more often in my air combos. At the same time I noticed that whenever I tried to do anything else, it became ridiculously hard or just not right, like trying to use Royal Guard to speed up Gilgamesh. The biggest thing is that changing up your tactics from the tried and true doesn't net you nearly the same amount of style points, so there really isn't a point. I agree too that Real Impact is rather ridiculous in its ability.

I think that's something I really want to see in the next Prince of Persia. I don't know if you've kept up with it, but the first major bit of news is that they're really focusing on making one-on-one battles; the devs want to really capture the essence and drama of a boss fight in every fight, so I'm curious to see how that works out. I only played The Warrior Within, which I learned quickly was the weakest entry of the series, but the combat system was at least fairly flexible. Between that and God of War, it makes me hope that more people will learn from DMC and NG and make more action games with similar combat systems.

Berserker said...

I always enjoyed Warrior Within's combat system. It had a unique feel to it once I became familar with the controls for it - it's one of the first PoP games that I instantly replayed after the first time through just because I enjoyed the fighting.

Another type of combat system that I'd like to see a return of is the one from Shadow of Rome. It basically took the combat system from the Onimusha games to a whole new level. The combat system felt very rewarding once you became familiar with it much like a DMC game. It had a unique arena setup where you had to constantly find new weapons and please the crowd through the use of certain attacks in order to get more points. Shadow of Rome had a lot of unlockables also that kept you striving forward throughout each difficulty, much like DMC. Obtaining each SALVO (or performing each attack variety) took much dedication.

Dead Rising used a few of the ideas from Shadow of Rome for its attacks and bloodshed, but I'd still like to see another action game with as good of a combat system that was found in Shadow of Rome. I've read that Dead Rising actually started out as Shadow of Rome 2 in its early stages.

Brian said...

You know, I still haven't picked up Dead Rising, primarily because I thought that as fun as it is to slaughter zombies, that it would stick to one-button combat. That, and because other games keep popping up to play. This year has been pretty good with the releases :)

And going through Acolyte I finally realized my first death, at the hands of hands of those dang werewolves. I've noticed that the Tests of Valor aren't quite the same as the ol' hundred enemy challenges. Maybe because it's on Acolyte, or I've gotten better endurance, haha.

One thing I really am hoping though is that the Weapon Challenge is lenient in regards to projectiles. So many fights are geared towards the bow that I don't think it's possible to win on just melee alone. Otherwise I'm doing a DS run for no reason :(

Berserker said...

No Dead Rising? You should really give that game a try. I can understand with all the current release though. I just got an older game and can't really bring myself to play it with what I already have at the moment.

And with the weapon challenges, I have read that you can use any of your projectile weapons and Ninpo attacks without having to worry about screwing up the weapon challenge. There were some people that claimed that you could switch weapons during boss fights as long as you landed the killing blow with the main weapon that you were going for, but I have heard that is untrue and that some people actually screwed themselves out of the weapon challenge for trying that, which makes sense.

Hopefully, you started a new game while trying that - that's the only way to upload your score to the leaderboard. You have to start with all weapons at level 1 to upload your score. I learned that about halfway through my complete game run and restarted. >_<

Brian said...

Actually, I started a completely new game on Acolyte, so I dunno how that will change the challenge. I noticed that going backwards in difficulty doesn't let you upload your score either, which I realize now I'm doing it all for no reason. However I'm on Chapter 9, and I feel like I'd be going back on my pride if I just left that undone :P

BTW how have you handled those dinosaur flying mechs? I do okay with them, but they get damn annoying when you have to deal with them and soldiers at the same time. I usually try to ignore it and take out the grunts first. Fighting it can be aggravating it because nearly every attack it throws is a guard break >_>

Berserker said...

The only real difference between the difficulties for the leaderboards is that you'll gain more karma on a higher difficulties (more enemies I think). The reason why you can't upload is because your Warrior karma score is greater than your Acolyte score - it will most likely remain that way as well. The moment that one surpasses the other, it will let you upload the new score.

Are you talking about those red flying dinosaurs that you fight around the beginning of the Demon World? I hate those enemies. I just keep spamming magic and the Eclipse Scythe's air Y attack against them. You can probably beat them easy once you learn their attacks (avoid the attack then hit them while they recover), much like the red and black dinos from the first Ninja Gaiden. From what I have seen, some of their attacks resebles those enemies. They're not really fought enough on Acolyte and Warrior to understand their way of attacking though.

You might want to search the leaderboards for a video of that stage area. You can learn some pretty good techniques from some players on there.

Brian said...

Yeah, I should try to check out some of the videos. Iberian's already got some from 3 contributors already, so that should be helpful... but I was talking more the mechanical ones that you fight on the Daedalus and in the city. I do agree that the red dragons are really annoying though, and my strategy was kind of the same. I think the biggest thing about fighting a lot of the bigger enemies is using Block to cancel your current combo string, and then dashing once you notice they don't go into hitstun anymore.

Berserker said...

For those enemies, I use the Eclipse Scythe's UT on them then just OT them while they are damaged. The UT will always damage them to where you can finish them immediately even with a level 1 UT.

The only problem is fighting them in groups with other enemies though, you just have to find the right moment to use a UT then a OT.

Anonymous said...

Hey, sorry to comment with something off-topic. Just wanted to say thanks for the Dead Rising guide which is how I found this blog.
I didn't want to play through just to get the other endings!

Berserker said...

No problem. Thanks for posting. :)

Brian said...

Hey Berserker, didja get Alone in the Dark? I played halfway through chapter 2 so far, and I can see both why some people said it was pretty cool and some people said it was horrible. There are lots of clipping problems and Edward uses an awkward tank movement. On the other hand the gameplay innovation and the ability to switch between first and third person based on the task at hand makes the way you play really flexible.

Thing is, I get the feeling that the game isn't going to last. I'm torn between picking up Dead Rising and Tomb Raider Legend as just something to play once AitD runs its course. Any suggestions on which stuck with you more? I'm leaning towards Legend (partly because Underworld looks so good) but I'm still hesitant as always :P Bad memories of the older Tomb Raiders haunt me.

Berserker said...

Sorry, didn't notice your comment until today. You can post up stuff under my other newer post if you ever want to talk - mainly so I'll see it. ;p I don't mind. I don't get cranky when someone goes off topic in a post. :)

I had thought about picking up AitD this weekend - still deciding. I'm still too wrapped up in MGS4 tell you the truth.

You haven't played either of the new Tomb Raiders have you? Both of them have all new controls making the levels play very smoothly. Tomb Raider Legend is really good but it is really easy. The game basically holds your hand through most of it. It's still a great game by all means though. I'd recommend Tomb Raider Anniversary over Legend if you want a game with the difficulty of the original Tomb Raiders. It still has the new control setup from Legend that makes it all less frustrating.

Dead Rising is a really fun sandbox type game that will last you for quite a while if you go for all the achievements. It's like a demented party game. Dead Rising will last you longer than Tomb Raider Legend. It's easy to blow through Tomb Raider Legend very quickly, even if you're going for all unlockables in TRL.