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Ninja Gaiden II

Review: The Talisman of Rebirth?

By Itagaki's own admission, there's nothing more to be done with his famed third-person action series, so Ninja Gaiden II will be the last in the series. But is it a fitting end to what many consider to be one of the best action titles ever? Or does it show that the Xbox original was near-perfect (camera issues aside, but we'll come to that later) and there's nothing new to be done?

Ninja Gaiden is hailed as a purist's game that takes massive amounts of skill and patience to conquer. Its gorgeous visuals and blisteringly fast gameplay will attract any fan of video games into its world. But its extreme difficulty will quickly slam the door in the face of anyone who not willing to try really hard at upping their game.

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For these reasons Ninja Gaiden is both loved and loathed in equal measure. Actually it's probably loathed a little bit more. Gaiden has never really sold on the same scale as some other action blockbusters, which is a shame. It is one of the best actions games I've ever had the pleasure to play.

Yes, I fall into the camp that loves relentless combat and bosses the size of small moons. And while the foundations of NGII's combat have been tweaked to allow gamers with less patience to participate, it's still bastard hard in parts. Well did you really think Itagaki would sell out and make a kids' kung fu game?

First to your Aid

A big complaint of the original was that health and save points were too few and far between. You'd have to plough through the most ridiculous of set-pieces before you could save or pick up more health or save. And if you died you'd have to go back and do it all again.

That formula's still in the sequel but head ninja, Ryu Hyabusa, now has the ability to heal himself of light wounds after each skirmish. Deeper wounds (the red bit on your health bar) can only be regenerated with a healing item or blue essence.

If this feature was included in NG: Black (Xbox) or Sigma (PS3) there would have been an outcry about dumbing the game down for a wider audience. It'd be like taking the swearing out of the Sopranos so kids could watch. But the game is still as frustratingly hard as ever and the enemy count has been doubled. Though oddly some of the later boss fights are a lot easier than some of the earlier ones. It's all a bit unbalanced in parts.

Save points are more abundant throughout the sequel and they'll fully heal you too, but only the first time you save, and only when you've cleared the area of any immediate threat. For those who got stuck on the horsemen in the Hyabusa Village of the original (the second level), there's hope you get a little further...

Setting the Scene

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Gaiden II takes place after the Xbox game, and the only returning character is the crazy little man from the corner shop, Muramasa. Sorry folks, Rachel's got better things to do.

The story, however, still revolves around the on-going battle between the Fiends and the Dragons. Ryu must now stop the Archfiend from arising and reeking havoc across the world. If this 'Lord of all Fiends' wasn't enough to deal with, there's the Black Spider Ninja Clan that continually get in your way. Without giving away too much, the Spider and Hyabusa clans have history and even Ryu's old man features in a few cut scenes.

The game opens up on the rooftops of Tokyo's Sky City with CIA agent, Sonia, looking for Ryu. All we know about the blonde (who looks a lot like Rachel, only with Dante's haircut from Devil May Cry) is that she's investigating a top-secret Fiend case. Even though Rachel isn't in the sequel, fans of busty, S&M bondage-clad beauties won't be disappointed.

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