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Game Review: Ninja Gaiden 2

This game is hard. Really hard. In fact, you wouldn’t quite believe just how mind-bogglingly hard it is. Nonetheless, I pride myself on recently finishing it on the first two difficulty settings (‘Acolyte’ and ‘Warrior’) and still enjoyed it enough to know it deserved a review. For those who have gone further than I and completed it on ‘Mentor’ or (God help you) ‘Master Ninja’ – I salute you.

Ninja Gaiden 2 is a 3rd person action/fighting game for the Xbox 360 with a whole lot of bloodshed.  It follows the exploits of ninja Ryu Hayabusa as he makes his way through armies of evil ninjas, demons and dragons and what not, trying to stop ancient devilish creatures called the Fiends re-awakening an enormous evil hell-bent on taking over the world. Some criticise the game for it’s lack of plot, but honestly, what kind of plot does a game like this need? It’s simple: you are ninja. They are ninja. Let’s kill each other.

To reiterate what I started this review with – Ninja Gaiden 2 is a seriously difficult game. You often have dozens of enemies on-screen: these vary from rather generic ninjas, to winged demons,  monstrous spider-like ninja’s and even ninja’s with rocket launchers (yes, I know how insane that sounds). You start off with your trusty Dragon Sword and kick ass by means of light, quick attacks and larger, slightly slower attacks. These two can be combined for effective combos, with the latter kind used to quickly finish your opponents: once you’ve taken off an arm (or head) with a quick attack, you can immediately take out the rest with the bigger attacks. There are, of course, possibilities in the air while jumping and you can charge up your large attacks for an ‘ultimate technique’ (with which Ryu sometimes automatically kicks the crap out of everything in the vicinity). Finally, you’re also armed with ranged items, such as the familiar shurikens but also bow and arrows, and Ninpo: a kind of magic to blast the nastier enemies out of the way. As you go through the game, you can buy and collect other weapons and scrolls with Ninpo enchantments to become even more lethal.

While not all of these are necessary (I’ll get back to that later), you really need to master your weapons and quickly or you don’t stand a chance in hell of ever completing this game.

Ninja Gaiden 2 is not something for the ‘casual gamer’: the action is fast-paced and brutal. In the very first few seconds of the game, you’re tossed into a pile of ninja’s bent on killing you. Even in that very first level, you shouldn’t be using all the health-items you encounter to keep yourself out of trouble, but saving them up for the fights with the bigger foes, where you’ll sorely need them. While the first two of the 14 levels aren’t too difficult, certainly not on the ‘Acolyte’ difficulty-setting, the third and fourth (taking place in a demonised New York City) give a pretty good taste of things to come. It’s here that you’ll encounter the dark angel Alexei, first of the four Greater Fiends that’ll serve as bosses throughout the game. After slaughtering your way through legions of the living and undead, your furious boss fight with this guy on the top of the Statue of Liberty serves as the first big threshold to separate the occasional gamer from the more experienced.

It only gets worse from this point on, as you’ll fight werewolves, security robots, Xenomorph-esque cyber-demons, giant man-eating worms, dragons and the aforementioned (and annoying as hell) ninjas with rocket launchers, who won’t give you a second’s rest. And, of course, there are three more Greater Fiends to kill and you square off with your rival Genshin from time to time too. It all leads to a journey through Hell itself (literally), where you’ll have to kill all the Greater Fiends for a second time and face three major bosses in rapid succession for the finale (each creature more difficult to slay than the last).

All this makes the game a challenge, but also fun for those who find many games now-awadays to be too easy. Unlike those games, you’ll see the ‘Game Over’-screen plenty of times. As is often the case, however, Ninja Gaiden 2’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness as the difficulty makes it rather tiring to play.

Aside from the gameplay, Ninja Gaiden 2 is good, but not exceptional. Most of the areas you go through are rather generic and routes are ceiled off rather sloppily (these days, it feels rather weird that you can’t jump over a knee-high obstacle in some areas while you’re scaling walls in others). The graphics are good enough, but not particularly impressive. The soundtrack is reasonably, but somewhat disappointing; while the tunes are usually okay, you often hear the same one in different levels.

Finally, I also have a smaller pet-peeve. You come across quite a few weapons and Ninpo’s in the game, but out of all these, only a handful are actually useful. For main weapons (all of which you can upgrade), you don’t really need much aside from your Dragon Sword and Eclipse Scythe. Of course, you can buy them if you want to, but why waste your money on them when you need them for health-items? You can’t help but wonder why some weapons and Ninpo were included at all.

The same goes for some of the characters in the story. While she saves Ryu’s ass from time to time in the story, his ‘sidekick’ Sonia often isn’t much more than a damsel in distress and fanservice.

But all in all, these are minor complaints. Ninja Gaiden 2 is still fun to play and, due to it’s difficulty, finally completing it feels incredibly satisfying. This is not a game for the faint of heart (in fact, it might be one of the goriest games I’ve seen in recent years), but for those who want a challenge and can stand walking the path of the ninja – be sure to give Ninja Gaiden 2 a try. Or the new version that’s coming out for the PS3.

My rating: 4/5

Until next time,

~Celestis Ruthwen

Had a pretty productive weekend. I had a huge rush of inspiration around Friday, so I finally managed to write an outline of the plot I’m working on (for the HP role-playing site I mentioned earlier – check my first post of this blog).  The greatest problem me and my fellow admin faced when coming up with this plot was that it really needed to be different from the stuff we had done before.  To be honest, everything we’ve come up with for the past three years or so was all part of one huge, over-arching story. Since we wrapped that up this summer (leaving only a few elements to continue on), starting up something new is proving to be quite a challenge.

We came up with various scenarios, but nothing really seemed to ‘spark’; if you’re a writer, you’ll know what I mean – that feeling you get when you come up with this one thing that makes all the separate pieces of the plot-puzzle come together. In this case, the answer lay with a good villain: someone far more illusive that what we’ve done before, while at the same time omipresent through his actions.

But wait! There was more than just the plot this weekend. I’m about halfway through ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ by Joseph Campbell – a fascinating book about mythology and storytelling that every writer should give a try. I’ve also finally fixed my keyboard (not the kind I’m typing this post on but the musical instrument-kind) and started playing it again – an old hobby that I recently picked up again a while ago only to have my trusty old keyboard die on me. But most importantly of all, a company has finally responded to one of my applications! Going over there on Tuesday and, hopefully, I’ll have a much busier week.

Finally, I have something to read for fans of ‘The Legend of Zelda’ series (and others who are interested). For those who don’t know, the Zelda videogames from Nintendo is one of THE best and most popular series of games on the planet. Naturally, there’s a huge fandom for it, which also consist of the more analytic kind of people. It’s a long read, but check out these two articles by Hylian Dan and prepare to be amazed. If you only have time for one, check out the second (Immortal Childhood).

http://www.zeldainformer.com/2008/05/the-message-of-majoras-mask.php

http://www.zeldauniverse.net/articles/the-missing-link/immortal-childhood/

While some people may scoff at the amount of geekiness necessary to come up with these editorials, I think it’s brilliantly written and a great way to expose some of the themes throughout the Zelda series – a better way to understand why so many people connect so strongly with the stories presented in them. These two articles ( ‘Immortal Childhood’ in particular) left a very strong impression upon me when I first read them a few months back and I can honestly say they changed my life.

Don’t believe me? Read them both to the end yourself. And with that ~

Until next time,

Celestis Ruthwen

Here we go, guys: an anime review by yours truly, just as promised. And I’ll immediately start with a big one: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. WARNING: I’ll try to keep the spoilers in this review to a minimum, but if you really want to view this series completely fresh, then you might want to stop here.

Honestly, as I looked through my list of a hundred-or-so anime’s, I had no idea which one to start with to review, so I simply ended up picking the one I had re-watched recently. So without any further meandering, let’s get to the review itself.

I feel I should start by saying this: Gurren Lagann is absolutely RIDICULOUS – but then why does it work so well?!

The story takes place in the far off future. The first episode reveals that, for unknown reasons, humanity has withdrawn to living under the surface of the Earth (think Zion from ‘The Matrix’, except a lot smaller and with mole-pigs). The focus is Simon: a young digger from an underground village who works tirelessly with his drill to try and expand the place. However, as Simon tells us, the people live in constant fear of earthquakes, as it’s only a matter of time before the entire cave collapses and they all die.

Simon is quickly introduced as an unlikely protagonist: he is young, an orphan, has no confidence in himself at all, liked by the village elder for his obedience but shunned by most of his peers and, by all accounts, kind of a weakling. His only comrade is revealed to be an older teen named Kamina, who is almost the exact opposite: ridiculously macho, charismatic and not only full of belief in himself, but also constantly encouraging Simon. Kamina’s greatest desire is to leave the village for the surface-world (said to be uninhabitable), which he visited with his father once as a child, but was too scared to go with him at the time. After one of his latest, hilarious, escape-attempts (which he, of course, drags Simon into), Kamina is jailed. Meanwhile, Simon has found a strange, spiral-like key and a small mecha while digging beneath the earth,  which he’s eager to show Kamina. But suddenly, shortly after helping him escape, there’s a huge earthquake and a giant mech crashes into the village, along with a hot, rifle-wielding girl named Yoko, trying to stop it. By teaming up and using the small mech Simon found (named Lagann by Kamina), the three are able to defeat the enemy mech and bust their way triumphantly to the world above.

From here, we learn more about the surface world from Yoko and friends and the adventure continues.

While the first episode is highly enjoyable and a great start to the series, it’s actually rather tame compared to later episodes, which almost become a parody of the mecha-genre in anime and at the same time, somehow rises above it. My views may seem a little paradoxical, but that’s because Gurren Lagann is hard to judge: the mecha fights with more explosions than a Michael Bay movie and blatant use of Anime Law #44 (“Attacks are stronger if you name them and shout them out in a manly way!”) are often ridiculous and, for those not into this sort of series, probably hard to swallow.

However, upon closer inspection, the seemingly-simple story is actually very well-structured. The symbol of the series and Simon is the spiral and it feels like the series itself was structured with that in mind: Simon, Yoko and Kamina’s group of eclectic weirdos push on and on, against all odds, coming closer with one revolution at a time. Similarly, the obstacles grow greater and greater, but throughout all this, the protagonists don’t falter.

Special note should be made of the characters: no matter how bizarre the situation’s they’re in, you can’t help but love them. Contrary to some anime’s, many of them are surprisingly well-developed, even the minor ones (favourite’s of mine include the deliciously evil yet honorable antagonist, Viral, and scientist Leeron). Yoko, too, is much more than just the obligatory fanservice of the show. Of course, I can’t end this section without discussing Simon and Kamina, particularly Simon.

I feel like Simon is almost the shadow, the antithesis, of another very well-known, anime mecha-pilot: Ikari Shinji, from ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ (which I’ll also review later on). Both show remarkable similarities and both start off as rather pathetic characters; there are many moments throughout both shows where you just want the two to grow a pair and stop whining. But whereas Shinji remains neurotic and barely changes throughout the whole series, the changes in Simon are extraordinary. Gradually, Simon grows from a scared young teen to a crucial asset of the team and from that, to a leader, and even to a saviour of mankind – while still remaining the same person at heart. All this is the result of the interplay with Kamina, at once a friend and a role-model – eventhough Kamina himself has inner demons. This is shown very well in a sequence in which both Simon and Kamina recount a story from the time in their village, each from their own perspective and each is revealed to have felt weak and inadequate. Without Kamina continually pushing Simon forward to face his fears, he could have ended up the same ways as Shinji. Instead, he defeats his inner and outer demons.

This theme of ever pushing forward binds the whole of ‘Gurren Lagann’  together and, despite all the crazy mecha stuff, makes it a very powerful story, with a powerful message. It remains crazy and over-the-top right to the very end, but that doesn’t matter – this series knows exactly what it wants to be. Again, like how ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ ended with complete insanity in which you have NO IDEA what’s going on, ‘Gurren Lagann’ is the exact opposite: straight and to the point.

The story is sound, the characters memorable. The voice-acting, music and animation (except for one episode) are all very solid. This is one of those anime’s you’ll either love or hate, but if you’re willing to give it a try and watch it to the end, I’m confident you’ll end up loving it.

My rating: 4,5/5

Well, this was one! I had a lot of fun writing this, but please leave comments on what you thought about the review. I probably ended up going on too long, but whatever, I’ll improve that in the next review.

Until next time,

Celestis Ruthwen

First!

No idea what to put for a title for a first blog-post, so why not some internet humour?

Anyway – welcome to my humble blog!

I honestly have no idea how long I will keep this up – while I’ve never actually had a blog before, my attempts at keeping a diary were… well, rather pitiful. Still, I intend to update this thing at least a few times every week. And I hear you wondering – what will I write?

Could be anything, really. However, it won’t just be boring bits from my day. I might review a couple anime’s once in a while (of which I’ve watched quite a few by now) and same goes for books, movies and games. While some of them might not be the most recent, I like to think I present a pretty refined view and writing style. I might also delve into my recent attempts at ‘sophistication’ (i.e. reading some great stuff of world literature),  my general quest for greater confidence and more rewarding lifestyle and my thoughts on the more darker side of life, particularly depression and suicide – a less pleasant chapter of my life which I seem to have finally left behind me. Which I hope can help relieve others suffering like I did at the time.

Finally, I might use this blog to post some of my continuing stories involving my role-play characters from a Harry Potter role-playing community that I’ve participated in for about 4 years now. While this may sound a bit too geeky to some, the stories and lives of the characters have become a world of their own, with intricate plots and events and an often dark atmosphere that transcend J.K. Rowling’s series. While the community has grown less active lately, I still intend to continue one of these site-wide plots, which you might get a glimpse of in the stories I’ll put up here.

So, long story short, I guess you can expect quite a bit from this blog.

Until next time,

Celestis Ruthwen