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CONSOLE: Nintendo DS DEVELOPER: Ninja Studio PUBLISHER: Atlus
RELEASE DATE (NA): July 22, 2008 GENRE: Rogue/Dungeon Crawler
// review by SoyBomb

A good game breasts do not always make.

Izuna. A girl unlike any other. An unemployed ninja whose primary assets seem to be trying to escape their woven bonds. Somehow, she manages to get herself in all sorts of mischief, and they're well-documented in video games for the Nintendo DS. In 2007, Atlus released "Izuna: The Legend of the Ninja", and although the response wasn't fantastic, it was successful enough to warrant this sequel which is supposedly improved in many ways. I have yet to spot a copy of the first Izuna game in any store, but I see that Izuna 2 is in a bit of an abundance 'round these parts. But having played Izuna 2, I can see why there are so many stray copies. It's definitely not for everyone; you'll need plenty of patience and perseverance to see success in this adventure.

Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns follows the steps of (naturally) Izuna, an unemployed ninja, along with her traveling companions, her best friend Shino, the elder Gen-An, and Mitsumoto, whose ninja prowess is surpassed only by his ability to be rejected by women of all villages. In their travels as ex-officionados from Mugen Castle, the group makes their way to Kamiari Village, where they discover that, quite possibly, Shino's long lost sister has passed this way. They vow to track her down, though it takes a while because they seem to just miss her every time they arrive in a new region (a phenomenon we Canadians refer to as the 'Polkaroo complex' -- look it up). But for the most part, the game is very light-hearted and self-humouring. It is generally filled with ill commentary about either the relative flatness of Shino's chest compared to every other female in the game, Izuna's appetite and/or naïveté, or inside jokes about people I don't know about and requiring playing the previous Izuna game to find out more (which Izuna actually directly recommends several times over the course of the game). I suppose that with a game of this timbre, the translators were ripe to have a grand ol' time.

But behind this... um... avid storyline lies a game that is deep. Well, moderately so. This is what some refer to as a "roguelike" game. I'd never use that terminology; I'd call it a dungeon crawler, because essentially that's where the meat and potatoes lie. Your ultimate goal is to survive while traversing the many floors of a variety of dungeons. I call them a "variety" because the layouts are randomly-generated every time you visit, though the experience between one and another is pretty much the same -- just different colours of terrain surrounding you. As you walk around, not only do you gain a bit of HP with each step, thankfully, but the enemies take steps as well. The dungeon crawling is indeed turn-based to a degree: whenever you move or perform an action, the monsters do, too. When you stay put and do noting, they will not budge. Use this to your advantage; throw objects such as kunai at them from afar to whittle down their HP as they approach. The monsters are certainly more powerful as you progress through the game (as is to be expected), and even as you go further into the dungeon. Sometimes they can be a bit too rough, especially when they gang up on you, which is why death will often be expected. Expect it! Do that! Your only saviour comes a bit later on. You'll eventually get to bring a friend into the dungeons and switch between the two when necessary. Plus, most pairings can deliver an oft-lifesaving dual attack to deal mega-damage to foes. That's most convenient when you are surrounded and you know there'd be no way out otherwise. One thing I made note of was that this game could have easily made its way onto the Game Boy Advance with very little difference -- the stylus/touch screen is never used at all, and the map at the top could have easily been transplanted to the lower screen, perhaps in a more translucent form. They should have made better use of the capabilities of the system.

Izuna 2 is a level-grinder, too. You will not be able to survive unless you repeat dungeons several times to build up your levels for survival. But you don't really improve your attack or defense -- they always seem to have a base number. Only your HP and SP (Spirit Points, which affect your ability to attack, deplete as you travel and use talismans, and do not return unless you use a specialty item) will increase. You'll need to equip good weapons, maybe a bit of armor (though sometimes you can't do both, depending upon what's already equipped -- how sick is that), and attach talismans to them, which can improve their stats somewhat. Purchase those talismans, or pick them up laying around in dungeons. When you die, you will lose all of your items and money on hand, including anything equipped, though you get to keep all the experience you've racked up. So seriously, you WILL need to level grind, no matter how good you think you are. This game is brutal sometimes. You may very well reach the bottom of a lengthy dungeon and quickly succumb to a boss if you're not well-prepared. Take healing items, too, and maybe some weird pills with unusual effects you find in odd sacks deep in dungeons. Yes, I didn't pay much attention to those pills. After all, winners don't do drugs. I'd also like to mention that over time, your available party increases in size from an initial one person (Izuna), to 3, then to 9, then to an astronomically astounding 15 characters. That's more than Final Fantasy VI, which was already overcrowded. If anybody thinks that I'm going to sit around for 100 hours and level up all these characters must have their head examined. I am going to give the developer the shadow of the doubt and assume that they just want to give us some variety in who we choose for our team, somewhat like selecting your mates for an unfriendly game of dodgeball. Yeah, that had better be it...

This game will not win over fans on graphical merit, for although it looks decent enough, the graphics would easily be reproduced on the SNES, a console from twenty years ago. The DS is capable of much more, so let's see what it can really do! Even the rapid tag team animations are of low quality, suffering from heavy pixelation that could only be forgiven on older consoles. In general, although nothing close to an eyesore, On the plus side, the music is fair, oozing with Japanese instrumental flair. Unfortunately, the voice acting is still in Japanese; an English dub wouldn't have killed anybody, you know!

Really, this game won't appeal to the masses because it's a tad masochistic in its expectations - a bit too masochistic even to keep me 100% hooked. Still, many girl-hungry fellows will purchase this game just for the random poster on the back of the insert cover, which typically places an emphasis on our large-chested heroine. But she's more complex, guys! What about personality? What about character?


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