"Gegege no Kitaro 2(GGG) starts as a simple quest to rescue your girlfriend, but you know how it is in RPGs. The scope gets bigger, and to get her back you have to banish a dragon-fellow named Kyubi Kitsune to save the world or, in this case, an island shaped a lot like Japan. Not that you have to know any Japanese history, or anything about the anime series Gegege stars in. You just cut down monsters, find items, and roam through cool underground caverns to get to places you're not quite suppose..."
Gegege no Kitaro 2(GGG) starts as a simple quest to rescue your girlfriend, but you know how it is in RPGs. The scope gets bigger, and to get her back you have to banish a dragon-fellow named Kyubi Kitsune to save the world or, in this case, an island shaped a lot like Japan. Not that you have to know any Japanese history, or anything about the anime series Gegege stars in. You just cut down monsters, find items, and roam through cool underground caverns to get to places you're not quite supposed to be. Then you bash the monsters who don't want you there, and you can explore everywhere. You'll find some friends along the way. And while some puzzles are a bit weird, the game allows you convenience items and infinite deaths to get around what is really a big map. Eventually you submarine to Korea to knock off the big bad guy. But no crossing the 38th parallel. Hey, this game is only SO surrealistic.
Your little fellow Kitaro has a big head and bangs covering one eye as he toddles around Japan. It's a hilly island, if you didn't know, and each plateau is pretty much walled off except for an entrance at the south. The game gets the best of first-person style RPG's and the overhead view this way. The plateaus are color-coded in various shades of dirt and vegetation, and most are shaped oddly. This makes it easy to see the next place you want to get to, but it is not easy to get there.
Because it's not just the terrain but something called a Yoki Storm. You see, if you try to walk into certain areas, the screen shakes, and you get a grating noise as a free bonus. This is a great way to pick up a headache if you're playing the game late at night, and it only doubles once you find the underground passage to surface in the stormed-off area. The screen shakes all the time, until you find the palace where you can fight the Yoki Stone to stop the storm. There are six such areas in the game, and while the formula for stabilizing them is the same, the maps and contours rarely are. You have a challenge beforehand locating what you need and then getting there.
With the help of an idol that replenishes Gecko Food(+16HP to those who have none) you'll eventually win enough fights randomly to get to level two, and then the real fun begins. You've got a spell, and you can smash your way through the first castle on top of a hill to realize--guess what!--you need to go to the parts blocked by Yoki Storms for more clues.
That's when you discover the underground. The first is a simple connectors to behind the Yoki Storm. Each new area has a general pattern. You'll find a Yoki Stone to kill, a new companion who has a different attack, and a cloud-monster you need an item to kill. Then you'll see a residence, and someone is usually home to give an item, ask for one, or offer a trade. The everyday items can be found from a shrine, if you run out. Some are trickier, such as the item in the lone green tree among a bunch of dead brown ones. You can't search every single square, but the game gives you a few clues.
Later, you'll visit a few nexus pathways that defy the compass a bit--the northwest exit leading northeast, for instance--but I think this is an acceptable trial-and-error puzzle in light of the other possibilities. There's not much to memorize, and it's pretty easy to bump through all the dungeons even without a light.
Meanwhile monsters drop new useful random items as Kitaro gets better--Crow Bait, which lets you fly over hills, a Yokai Raincoat to avoid the storms, Incense to avoid enemies, and Rebirth Powder that heals more than the Gecko Food Kitaro probably got sick of around level 3. And he has a few quests to solve. You must find four spheres to unlock the underground passage to Korea. Each quest leads you to a different corner of the game, and you get to enter all sorts of weird places you probably only saw as you looked off the shoreline. There's a pyramid, an evil forest, a fight with a monster and, you find later, Atlantis. Along the way a fellow called Botchi. Well, all over the way, really. You need to beat his eye, mouth and nose, which are on shrines in separate islands you must locate. Then you visit his lair and whip his brain. It's great fun to see a pair of lips or nostrils strike at Kitaro during combat.
All this and there's relatively little pressure to level up, which comes with exploring. There's no punishment if you get killed. In fact sometimes it saves time, kicking you to Kitaro's house in the center when maybe you needed to get to the other edge anyway. Also for each non-quest item, there's an idol you can visit if you run out. Then for most bosses you need a special item and a certain level, so you need to balance your efforts. And you have both tangled and simple underground lairs. Some of the castles are a bit on the dumb side, with the exception of the final one--a vicious 4x4x4 room deal with silent teleports--but it is tough to follow the mazy outside.
But most of the time you have a hint how to bypass or use the invisible squares that suck you somewhere weird. You can always see the important location a river or such is blocking you from. Many places have secret doors or invisible stairs, and while the game never tells you, it's more that you just pay attention to the map. There's a location you probably should get to, you try things, and you figure it out. GGG drops a lot of nice clues that way--the same can't always be said for the next item to find. Which is very bad near the end, as distances between possible hiding locations keep getting bigger, and places that seem important say "nothing here" for too long. But on the whole it works pretty well.
And GGG looks as good as it works. Even perennial favorites like Zelda don't have the texture of backgrounds and terrain that GGG does, and if they do, it's relatively meaningless. GGG goes as far as to make a beach where you can launch a raft from, separate from grass squares, and if you get stuck too near water on the beach, you have to face extra tough monsters. GGG even has some trap islands--if you land there flying with crow bait, you can't get out, and other islands, you realize you can't land on. You have to explore and make that choice. For land travel you also will find it a challenge to ramp up to the next hill level, but there's no ambiguity about where you need to get. Combats are cute as well, with characters lunging at each other or, when you get new items and helpers, lobbing missiles. Some of your friends are weird, like a cat woman or a wall, but they all can fight the monsters, which are interesting hybrids of stuff that already makes your skin crawl.
GGG is a winner, and you don't have to know anything about the anime series to enjoy it. It's got an exotic main character, the landscape is attractively laid out, mapping puzzles are fair, the quests are amusing, and the shortcuts as you proceed in the game are quite welcome. A few of the fetch quests get too tortuous, with arbitrary instructions or even a stupid solution like talking to the same guy twice. But GGG plays pretty quickly, with many small mysteries that are unraveled through the course of the game. It nicely paces how much you can explore and has a huge underground, interesting power-ups for travel and fighting, and a fancy, climactic ending. If you don't mind the Yoki Storms, you'll have a blast with it.
Community review by aschultz (April 17, 2009)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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