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Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns (DS) artwork

Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns (DS) review

"Trudging through a dungeon each time you fight the boss monster might not sound so bad—after all, we did that same thing for years before developers started generously sprinkling save points throughout their labyrinths—but in Izuna 2 it can be decidedly demoralizing. On one run, you might fly through seven or eight floors with barely an issue. Then on the next, a lucky bunch of enemies might defeat you before you reach even the first staircase. It all comes down to trap placement and item allotment."

There's a good chance that Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns is not the game for you. I say this because even though I'm a fan of nearly every title Atlus has published in recent memory, it wound up not being the game for me. Let me explain why.

As the title implies, Izuna 2 is a sequel. Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja released in February of 2007 and featured a buxom, pink-haired ninja with a terrific sense of humor. I never played that game--despite owning it briefly--so I can't tell you how hilarious that first effort was or wasn't. What I can tell you is that the sequel is fairly amusing at times, if you like jokes about flat-chested heroines, lechery and other things anime-styled. It also picks up a short time after the previous game's stopping point, a fact to which Izuna and friends make frequent allusions in this newest installment. They flat out tell you to buy the first game so that you can understand everything, though that's hardly necessary; the general narration here is pretty simple and even interesting without that additional expenditure.

My problems with Izuna 2 actually have nothing to do with the plot (which is perfectly fine) and all center around that most critical of points: the gameplay.

The first thing you should know is that the game is a dungeon crawler. I like dungeon crawlers--a lot--but I don't like Izuna 2 because it seems to have been designed for the explicit purpose of sucking every last drop of fun out of its concept, wringing the withered husk in case any somehow remained, then throwing it to the ground and stomping all over it until even the mediocre moments are obscured and you're left looking at nothing but a dirty mess. There are many anecdotes I might share with you that as a whole could convey my general experience with the game, but in the interests of time I'll strip it down to just one.

The scene is the game's eighth dungeon. As usual, I enter to find that the enemies are significantly more powerful than I am. This is despite me spending hours in the previous area, just grinding so that I could slowly build levels and stand a chance against the boss of that area. As such, the fact that I'm horrifically under-leveled just by virtue of my journey to the next dungeon does not surprise me in the slightest.

I set about building my levels. This is a tedious process for a few reasons. One is that you have to destroy far too many monsters--even when your levels are fairly low compared to the monsters surrounding you. For example, by the time I reached that eighth dungeon, I generally had to make a trip through anywhere from 10 to 15 floors just to go up one level and to enjoy mild boosts to my stats. The other contribution to tedium comes from the fact that you also have a secondary character to worry about. The game uses a tag-team system so that you can swap between them at the mere press of a button, but whichever of the two is inactive (as well as the rest of your party members, who stay back in the nearest town whenever you go exploring) gains nothing. This means that if you want a well-balanced group, you have to spend literally hours on each character just to reach levels remotely close to those of your adversaries. Even if you're only powering up one back-up person (a good idea), you'll spend more time than is fair in the effort.

By the time I reached the eighth dungeon, I had long since tired of this dynamic but was resigned to my inevitable fate. Hours after first entering, I made it through the 20 randomly-generated floors (they rework themselves each of the many times you exit and return) to the boss encounter. There, the fiendish creature kicked my butt. There are no permanent save points that will allow you to resume your adventure within the dungeon (except for a standard quick save function that will delete itself once used), so to attempt another battle I had to work my way through the tower all over again.

Trudging through a dungeon each time you fight the boss monster might not sound so bad--after all, we did that same thing for years before developers started generously sprinkling save points throughout their labyrinths--but in Izuna 2 it can be decidedly demoralizing. On one run, you might fly through seven or eight floors with barely an issue. Then on the next, a lucky bunch of enemies might defeat you before you reach even the first staircase. It all comes down to trap placement and item allotment.

Dungeons in the game are filled with invisible pitfalls that you can't see until you step on or in them. For example, one might obscure your view of everything but the tile you currently occupy. Another might summon six over-powered monsters to surround you and slash you to ribbons with swords and sorcery. Yet another could obfuscate your control scheme so that left is right... or down or up, with the mix-up changing with every step you take until the effects dissipate. There's a good chance that in the process, you'll step on the dang thing several times as enemies continue to swarm you. Almost every trap you encounter is bad and sometimes they're right next to one another. You will stumble over a few of them in the course of your journey. They're unavoidable.

Another issue is that items--which all vanish the instant you die, even equipped weapons in most instances--are rather useless half of the time. Sure, you might find a useful trinket such as Light of Divinity that can be used to completely restore your health, but there's an equal chance that you'll grab a redundant talisman or a weak healing item so ineffective that you'll waste a turn healing 500 points of HP while engaged in battle with multiple monsters that swipe you for 400 damage points apiece. Worse, any weapons you find lying about could be terrifically useful or nearly useless and they all wear down and will break if used for too long without repair.

Battling against all of the above issues for hours, I finally made it back to the boss of the eighth dungeon and even had some strong healing items and weapons at my disposal. The latter were equipped with powerful talismans (buffing items, basically), so I was in really great shape. “You're going down, boss witch,” I murmured to myself, because Izuna 2 gets me so angry sometimes that I become deranged. “Oh yes, you're going down!”

Then I stepped on an invisible trap.

Six extremely powerful monsters immediately appeared at my side to wail upon me. As I tried to handle that issue, the boss approached and unleashed a lethal attack that sucked down a third of my life meter in one hit and left me dazed so that my adversaries got a free round where each of the other three was able to hit me for 600 damage points apiece. To my credit, I lasted one more round--not time enough to do any good--before Izuna died and my secondary character came into play... only to die the next turn because of course characters with 3500HP have no chance against a round of enemies that combined can deal around 4000 damage per turn.

Situations such as the above make a person want to scream. They can be avoided, of course, but a lot of that has to do with luck: you have to find the right talismans, you have to stumble across the correct weapons at random, you have to hope that you don't step on the wrong invisible trap and you have to hope that the floor design and enemy placement are favorable when it counts. That's a lot of stuff that's out of your control, a lot of stuff that more likely than not will come into play despite your best efforts and will work overwhelmingly against you. As such, the game quickly loses any appeal and you forget about the vibrant visuals, the voice acting, the humorous plot and the unique combat system. You forget about all of that because you're too pissed off when the game slaughters you for no good reason for the 20th time.

Anyway, some of you might actually like that. Me, I didn't. Now you know why.

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 21, 2008)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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sashanan posted September 07, 2008:

Just in case you did have a notion to try the original someday (which would require a new cart considering your old one is sitting in my DS next to me as we speak): don't bother. Your review describes precisely not just Izuna 2, but Izuna 1 as well, minus only the dual character system. Each dungeon will kill you several times, claiming all your items but thankfully not your experience, before you firstr reach the boss, and then they will as well.

Heh, and to think this game will appear forgiving when I go and tackle Baroque on the PS2. That one takes away all your experience each time, too.

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