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USD
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(04-01-2008, 03:37 AM)
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*SPOILER WARNING*

Don't expect professional writing, I'm trying to cover as much as I can in as little time possible. I'll apologize now for the sloppy writing style.

So I just spent a good hour playing NGII, courtesy of the Ninja Gaiden II tour. It was a much smaller event than I expected, the flyers I saw made it out to be a tournament, but it was really just 3 or 4 guys playing the game. I played the most, managing to complete the first chapter and part of the second, trying out both of the available difficulty levels (Path of the Acolyte and Path of the Warrior).

PROBLEMS

First let's get the bad stuff out of the way. The game in its current state seemed to be content complete, but there's still a lot of tweaking needed. Plenty of graphical glitches, in one of the cutscenes, there was a flickering table that was quite distracting. A lot of the problem you see in Sigma you'll see in here. Slow menu interface, considerable between-level loading, loading when picking up items, examining things, etc. Really annoying, hopefully they get the kinks out before release.

Other problems I saw. The camera is still pretty bad, not much upgraded over the first game. There was also some extreme slowdown in some areas, as the game would crawl at about half-speed and half-framerate for entire fights. Happened in maybe three or four fights. Also minor slowdown with some of the Ultimate Techniques, similar to what you've seen in first game. The reason I only got through half the second level was because the game froze, and with no saving. The Dragon statues were just for healing, and dying sent you back to the beginning of the level, possibly to the beginning of the game (of course me being a Master Ninja, I didn't die at all, but the other people got handled by the Path of the Warrior difficulty).

STORY

I think the story is shaping up to be much more involved and interesting than the first. It's looking to be better overall (though that doesn't take much).

*SPOILER WARNING*
*SPOILER WARNING*
*SPOILER WARNING*

IF YOU DON'T WANT THE FIRST TWO(ISH) CHAPTERS SPOILED FOR YOU (STORYWISE), DON'T READ

The area I was playing in was loud, I couldn't hear a lot of the dialogue and there were no subtitles. But I'll tell as much as I can.

This time around the story seems to be quite a bit more involved. The game starts out with some blonde chick named Sonya in Muramasa shop. What does she look like? Imagine this. Take Rachel physique and clothing style (slightly less fetishy) and give her DMC3 Dante's hair (though blonde) and Ebony and Ivory. Yeah, that's pretty much her. Not very imaginative, standard Team Ninja though.

Anyway, girl in shop, ninjas randomly bust in the shop, attack girl with the intentions of kidnapping her. Our resident Super Ninja shows up, takes out some of the ninjas, but even more show up, and the leader of the small gang manages to grab the girl and get away. Then the gameplay starts up.

The next cutscene stuff I remember had a tied-up Sonya being interrogated by a mysterious woman. Red trench coat, gray hair just past the shoulder, pale. Vampiric would probably be the easiest way to describe her.

The next one I don't remember well. Vampire woman and Sonya are in some futuristic jet, somehow Ryu saves her, and they have a little conversation. Apparently the

Archfiend is planning something, and the Hayabusa village is under attack. that's about all I caught. That wrapped up the first chapter.

The second chapter starts off with a fight between some special guy from the Spider clan fighting a Mitsurugi lookalike (maybe Ryu's father?). Couldn't hear names. That's all the story I got.

*END STORY SPOILERS*
*END STORY SPOILERS*
*END STORY SPOILERS*

GAMEPLAY

Anyone familiar with the first game will be right at home with II. It plays very similar to the first game, button assignments are pretty much the same, save First Person view (mapped to LB) and the interact button (RB). Forget to check if the Karma display was still there, it's possible it still is. In general, most combos are a bit longer than before, 4 hits being about the standard combo.

I only got to try out two melee weapons, the Dragon Sword and the Lunar Staff. Didn't get to see the upgraded form of the Lunar (upgrades were locked for the first chapter, and before I got a chance to buy it in the second the game froze), but I did level up the DS to level 2. The Dragon Sword is slightly upgraded compared to the first game, you start off with the Flying Swallow. Upgrading to level 2 gives you a second midair Swallow. Ryu also has the Guilotine Throw and Counter Attacks by default. Level 2 sword also gives you access to the Izuna Drop. A lot of the Lunar's combos got changed around, some moves and combos originally mapped to X are now mapped to Y, etc.

The ranged weapons where the shuriken and bow. The manual aiming for the bow is over-the-shoulder, similar to RE4. The bow is now chargeable, but I never really used it in combat, so I can't really tell you much about it.

Now for the fighting. There wasn't much enemy variety, you're fighting the Black Spider Clan the whole time. Sword guys, claw guys, bow guys, all stuff you've seen in videos. The man-spider bosses also show up twice. Enemies are a lot more hardy than they were in the first game. It takes at least 3-4 hits just to hack off a limb, while in the first game 3-4 hits usually was all you need to kill the weaker enemies. You're also fighting against large groups, usually 8ish ninjas at once. It can get quite hectic trying to see what's going on with all the enemies at once, but it's not overly hard to manage.

Counter attacks are a little different, trying to initiate a counter is similar to say the Guard Impact system from Soul Calibur. Ryu pushes is weapon forward to counter, leaving him vulnerable if he misses. A good addition, as countering was risk-free if you mistimed your button press.

After chopping off a body part, enemies stumble backwards usually, giving you a chance to pull off Obliteration Techniques. Pulling them off is easy, all you have to do is run up to an injured enemy and push Y. That specific enemy can't really retaliate (OTs have priority over pretty much anything it does), and once you intiate the move, you're invincible, similar to UTs. Seems a bit overpowered, but you'll still have other enemies around attacking you.

Ultimate Techniques (two yellows or one blue or red absorbed) and Essence Techinques (one yellow) are all long combo strings. I think ETs are the same as the UTs, just with the combo cut short to about half length. The UTs are beautiful and a lot more crazy than the first game. The on-landing charge is still there, and charging without essence is considerable faster. You can still whore out UTs like the first game, though the time from enemy death the essence drop seems longer.

The only Ninpo available was the Art of the Inferno. This time around, you can actively aim the fireball if you move the left thumbstick after press Y+B to start up the magic. Ninpo helps, but it won't completely bail you out.

I think the new health system works out very well. It won't save you mid-fight, but keeps the game pace up. Healing items are still there, but much less plentiful than the first game and more expensive. Both healing items and blue orbs are capable of healing into the red, and Dragon Statues completely refill. The blue orb drop rate also seems a bit lower. Between Dragon Statues, in the worst cases I experienced I had about a third of my health in the red.

I'm a Ninja Gaiden veteran, and have put in 100+ hours into NG1, so I'd say I'm an expert. Path of the Acolyte, was fairly push over, but Path of the Warrior gave me a bit of challenge. The enemies were more aggressive, still throw-happy, though maybe not as bad as the first game. I never died, but there several times I was struggling to finish the fight, and the semi-permanent health loss made later battles much tougher. Most enemy attacks were fairly weak. The two big damage dealers are the exploding shuriken kamikaze guys and the magical ninjas. Either attack can drain a good quarter of your health. I saw the other players fall victim to both (especially the kamikazes) on multiple occasions. I wasn't playing overly cautious, so based on what I played I'd say NG vets shouldn't have too much of a problem with Path of the Warrior.

*(Minor) BOSS STRATEGY SPOILERS*

The bosses were easier than I expected. There were a few scares here and there, but once you figure out what to do, it's pretty easy. Wait until the opportunity to attack, dodging in the maintime. Getting a full combo causes the man-spider to stumble. Run up to him and push Y to start up your OT, and I'm pretty sure the OT automatically finishes him off. The second time against another man-spider you also have regular ninjas fighting alongside him, changing up the tactics a bit. Of course you can use the small fries to get essences for UTs against the boss, which is what I did.

GRAPHICS

Not amazing, but overall good. Art direction is a noticeable better than the first game, and I'd say that in parts here and there the game looks gorgeous. The game is gory, but I didn't think it was really that extreme. Some of the textures were a little bland. The lighting isn't that great, probably worse than Sigma, but I found it didn't bother me much. There was also the aforementioned slowdown. But getting past the deficienies, I thought it looked good. Just good. I'd say the videos we've seen so far are a good representation of what I saw.

SOUND

Ntot much to say. Sound effects are nice, similar to the first game. I found Ryu's (English voice-acting) grunts to overused and annoying though. Overall the English voice acting seemed fine. The music was good, at least what I remember of it. It wasn't playing half the time due to some bug/glitch or something.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

The game has got its issues, but the core gameplay is as good as ever. All the things added into the game are for the better. It may not seem much different from the first game just based on what I wrote, but trust me, it's different. The combination of the larger enemy groups, greater amount of enemy health, the limb system, the OT system, and the health system changes how Ninja Gaiden plays considerably. I never felt like I was just playing the first game with minor upgrades. I could see it getting a bit repetitive (it was mostly fight enemy group, move on repeat, with the occasional minor fetch-item puzzle), but I had a blast playing it.