Ninja Gaiden II is the 2008 sequel to the original Ninja Gaiden reboot released on the Xbox in Febuary 2004. I had a great deal of anticipation for this game. The original advertised itself as the ultimate action game, and as I became more skilled at its amazing innovative combat system, I definitely understand Gaiden's claim to the title. The sequel promises deeper gameplay, more blood and other side effects of being a ninja. Does it fulfill its promises?
The story in Ninja Gaiden II is rather over-the-top, and when it tries to be serious or sentimental, it usually comes off as a weak effort. This is much like the original. But still, the story in NG II is far more compelling than the revenge-fest Shinobi rip-off that was NG Xbox. This is as such because it is similar to the NES sequel: Ninja Gaiden II:The Dark Sword of Chaos. The evil forces that stand opposed to one Ryu Hayabusa are powerful and evil, and it is very satisfying to see a Super Ninja give them their comeuppance. You get a true sense of their malevolence and malice and you can't wait to tear them apart, especially the woman Elizabet.
Besides that, the CIA is looking for Ryu due to a threat to the world that only he is seemingly capable of handling. Fuck whole armies or laser-guided Predator drones, Ryu is the only weapon the CIA needs!
Ninja Gaiden II's graphics are expressive and gory, especially the many gruesome ways that Ryu can finish his enemies off with this game's new techniques. It is a bloody good display of arterial carnage. Another neat bit is that if Ryu is left standing still for a few moments, he will clean his weapon of blood, awesome! Ryu looks more or less the same from the first game, albeit in high-resolution display. Sonia's boobs definitely have the trademark graphical attention placed on them...
Aside from the visceral display, the environments are a mixed bag. While the variety of scenery is much improved from the first game, we now have forests, villages, cities, canals, and more, this very scenery sometimes lacking expressiveness. Backgrounds are dull, lifeless, and un-interactive. Simply there. I don't know if this type of game should care about backgrounds, but such an obvious visual weakness cannot be ignored, especially when you aim to improve the first game's graphical innovation. Not everything should be covered in just PR statements.
This game's music is appropriately epic yet somber at times. Nothing approaches the return to the village theme of the first Ninja Gaiden though. I did like the many action-based pieces in NG II, almost makes it feel like a God of War game. The best of these pieces is present on Level 10 and has great ominous energy to it. NG II's score is functional for in game listening, but you will not see me buying the original score if it comes out.
Wow, not much to say about music, so let's talk about sound effects. Audio clues are a big part of learning this game's advanced fighting skills from recognizing enemies' footsteps to being able to find them within a room and not having the time to adjust the camera. Sound effects also play well into the gory gameplay, with enemies yelping and screaming as limbs fly everywhere. There are immensely satisfying sounds for the breaking of bones and shattering of limbs with obliteration techniques. And the Izuna Drop is fun as ever, with many more ways to execute it, thankfully. Lastly, it can be a fun audio treat to let one of the delimbed enemies try and get to you before you put them out of their misery. They hobble and stagger; you almost feel their pain...
Much of the gameplay is an expansion of the system of Ninja Gaiden. Given that NG's system redefined action games, why change it? The biggest difference is a new evasive maneuver that takes some time to adjust to, Ryu now quickly dodges to the side rather than doing a roll for evasion.
As above, this game features a new dismemberment system, with Ryu being able to hack off enemies' limbs, which not only is great fun, it also affects their attacks. Take out an archer's hand and they can't fire arrows anymore. This is coupled with new obliteration techniques designed to finish off weakened enemies. Oh, and this game doesn't allow you to be a sadist. If an enemy loses more than one limb, they are dead. Sorry, potential torture enthusiasts!
These next paragraphs are more for fans of the first game. The combat in this game is far less meticulous than before, requiring quick input to succeed. Enemy encounters also come in far greater numbers, no more fighting 3 or 4 enemies then moving on the next group! Sometimes, several waves come at you in rapid succession, so you'd best be on your toes. Because of this, slow cumbersome weapons like the Dabilahro have been taken out. Itagaki said that they would not have worked with the much faster gameplay, and I am inclined to agree. In exchange, we get many new and awesome weapons along with several returning favorites.
NG II's system is ultimately more fulfilling than NG due to increased ways in which you can fight these enemies. The Dragon Sword was too strong in the original, almost overshadowing the other weapons. There are stronger weapons in this game to be sure, but each weapon just feels more capable, due to the limb mechanics and suchlike.
Challenge in Ninja Gaiden II is hard to gauge. It is probably overall more difficult for first time players than the original, mostly due to the relentless enemies. As you learn the game's nuances, it becomes easier than the original. That is, if you are willing to invest the time necessary. The fact that button mashing will not get you very far (even on the lowest difficulty) is well known, but I feel the need to reiterate it anyway.
The more frustrating aspects of Ninja Gaiden's challenge have been toned down. The retarded platforming of the underground areas has been mostly eliminated. The original's were horribly designed and one of the few times that a camera truly hurt you more than helped.
Lastly for challenge, I feel that due to the increased number of enemies, Ninja Gaiden II feels like it forces you to become a better player, even if you don't want to. Or at least you have to use more than just flying swallows, as more enemies equals more opportunities to take advantage of your landing vulnerability.
Replay value is a total 180 from Ninja Gaiden. Once you complete a set difficulty, you can start over with increased life and all your weapons. Being able to play the early stages and killing the first boss in two hits is a truly awesome experience. This was sadly missing from Ninja Gaiden Xbox. Itagaki was quoted as saying that he did not believe in new game + because he wanted the player to be constantly challenged. Even back in 2004 this was a backward attitude, as new game plus is not meant to decrease challenge, but rather increase replayability. Consequently, I find myself replaying NG II far more than the original, though I have played that over 10 times.
In summation, Ninja Gaiden is a great sequel to the ultimate action game. It is not a total improvement from the original, but more than stands on its own. Lots of replay, weapons, techniques, enemies, and the divine feeling of getting to play a Super Ninja make this game a must play! Check it out and don't puss out on the difficulty! Itagaki was right when he said that given enough patience and skill, any player can beat Ninja Gaiden, this is just as true for the sequel!
- Ugly Bob