A staple hack n’ slash game worthy of a playthrough.
Ninja Gaiden is a game series that I have completely missed out on over the years. I wasn’t around when the NES games came out and when the series was revived by Team Ninja in 2004. I simply didn’t play. I had always heard good things, but just never made the time to try them. That is until recently, anyway. My roommate suggested that we sit down and play through the game and it was one hell of a time.
Ninja Gaiden II is a hack n’ slash action game. Other staple hack n’ slash games, i.e. Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, typically throw the player into giant hordes of enemies that can be pretty easy for a player to mow down, making them feel incredibly powerful. But, at the same time, it can also be pretty easy to become overwhelmed and face the punishment of death. However, Ninja Gaiden II takes a pretty different approach. For the most part, the player will be thrown into a fight with about 2-6 enemies, each of which poses some kind of challenge and can usually inflict a lot of damage to our hero, Ryu Hayabusa. It’s up to the player to learn attack speeds and patterns in order to find an opening to attack. Once you land that attack, you can typically start up a pretty long combo that can, more often than not, be long enough to completely kill an enemy. Every now and then, the game may throw about 10 enemies at you, but they are typically lesser enemies that can be killed in a couple of hits. Every successful fight will leave the player feeling incredibly accomplished. Oh, and those fights will also be insanely gory. Those enemies sure do like to bleed, man.
The game also has plenty of epic boss fights in store. Most of them operate off of the same basic combat mechanics: learn a pattern and then find an opportunity to go in and try to get a couple of hits or a full on combo. The main difference between bosses is that it gets plenty harder to find your opportunities as you go on. Some have moves that may interrupt what you are trying to do, like an anti-air attacks, or just simple combo breakers. On top of that, plenty of the bosses have pretty fast moves that can be followed up pretty quickly, making that brief second where there is an opening all the more precious. Most of the boss fights are relatively hard, but once they have been conquered, I always felt both relieved and like the unstoppable force that is Ryu Hayabusa. While the majority of boss fights are insanely fun and gratifying, there are a couple that are completely the opposite. I’m talking about the worm bosses. In both worm fights, there seems to be a major emphasis put on sitting back, fully charging your bow, and then shooting them in the face. This strategy is easily the most effective, as the worms are in a constant state of moving around, which makes comboing their faces incredibly difficult; and you are almost guaranteed to make the most damage doing it that way. These fights do, in a way, act as a change in pace from the rest of the game. However, they are entirely too boring.
As previously stated, Ninja Gaiden II stars our hero, a man that may very well be the ultimate stoic ninja, Ryu Hayabusa. That title fits Ryu very well. While Ryu may be an unrelenting force on the battlefield, he’s not an incredibly interesting character. Ryu speaks in a very monotone voice, and more often than not, is asking questions about the current situation. Normally, a character with so little emotion would be uninteresting, but the plot seems to take a backseat to the core gameplay, which is totally fine in this case. On top of that, the game’s story and tone seem to be pretty campy. Like in this one moment for instance, Ryu becomes the epitome of a man that simply does not care, and jumps off the top of a building, across an enormous gap, and crashes right through the adjacent building which is full of enemies. Scenes like this are what make this game so brilliantly campy.
After playing through this game roughly seven and a half years after its release, I can gladly say that Ninja Gaiden II has held up incredibly. The combat system is very fluid, and the sound and graphics have aged very well. If you’ve never played the game and plan on playing it soon, my recommendation is that you update the game before playing it. I was not connected to the internet during my initial playthrough and when I reached chapter 10, I encountered the infamous chapter 10 glitch. When you auto-save at a certain checkpoint and then die, enemies do not spawn in a room where you have to kill them all in order to proceed. Luckily, this was patched out or else I would have had to completely start the game over. With that major bug fixed, Ninja Gaiden II is easily worth a playthrough.