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Rengoku II: The Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N. (PSP) artwork

Rengoku II: The Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N. (PSP) review

"The premise behind Rengoku 2 is exactly the same as the original. It's a pointless game where a customizable robot fights arena battles against other robots until it reaches the top of a not-so-massive tower, thus ending the game."

Innocent until proven guilty.

The foundation of our judicial system doesn't apply to video game reviewers. The wrong publisher, the wrong system, or even the wrong genre can spell death for a game's ratings -- we've all seen the poor numbers that awesome brawlers like Chaos Legion score because they're just "mindless button mashers". Forget the unnerving storyline, forget the crisp audiovisuals, forget the deep and rewarding gameplay, forget the evidence -- some games are critically condemned from the start.

Rengoku 2 is one of those games. For some unknown reason, most likely the devil's whim, Konami-owned Hudson actually decided to make a sequel to the universally-panned Rengoku, which was a pointless game where a customizable robot fought arena battles against other robots until it reached the top of a not-so-massive tower, thus ending the game.

Guess what? The premise behind Rengoku 2 is exactly the same. It's a pointless game where a customizable robot fights arena battles against other robots until it reaches the top of a not-so-massive tower, thus ending the game.

The review practically writes itself! There's no need to even waste time playing; just insult the original for a few paragraphs, then cap it off with a pithy "DITTO FOR THE SEQUEL".

That might be easy, but that doesn't mean it's right. I'd like to think we're all enlightened enough to judge a game by its content, not by its vomit-yellow cover (illustrated by Jun Suemi*). And, honestly, Rengoku 2 is surprisingly decent. Sometimes, when I'm caught up in the moment and forget how pointless it all is, the game even seems good.

So, let's forget the past. Let's forget that Rengoku: The Tower of Purgatory ever existed. Even if you're the kind of smartass who refuses to play along with my fantasy, you probably never played the first game, so you're still trapped in my optimistic little web. Ha ha ha!

* * * * *

In the far future, the world's nations created immortal androids to fight their battles. This was an incredibly dumb idea, because no one can ever "win" if all of the soldiers are immortal. Realizing the error of their ways, the world's leaders agreed to lock their faithful servants in a giant tower where they'd fight each other forever and ever. Meanwhile, the nations of Earth returned to their bloody, mortal ways.

Rengoku: The Tower of Purgatory Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N. is the story of one of these immortal, imprisoned soldiers. The Equilibrium-inspired "Gram" is a fierce warrior who is slowly awakened to the truth about the world around him. In the beginning, Gram can only punch with his left fist, punch with his right fist, perform a useless head-butt, or pull off a perfect imitation of Akira's awesome shoulder-ram from Virtua Fighter 2. (One of these attacks is better than the rest.) Gram's goal is to wander around the tower, temporarily incapacitating other robots in one-on-one arena combat, which lets him knavishly steal their weapons and energon cubes (referred to by Hudson as "elixir skin").

As Gram acquires weapons and energon cubes, he upgrades his defenses, improves his attack patterns, and prepares for difficult boss fights. Later floors pit Gram against multiple enemies at a time, which is a refreshing twist. With each face button assigned to a different body part -- arms, head, and torso -- the combat is both swift and intuitive. Lift an enemy into the air with the Broad Blade... then skewer them with a head-mounted drill. Launch a few slow-moving energy beams into the sky, and stun the opponent with a kinetic blast... unable to escape, Gram's hapless foe will be mercilessly drenched by the raining plasma. Even though stunlock occasionally rears its ugly head, the control is smooth and the battles are engaging.

Since Gram constantly acquires new weapons that can juggle, overheat, or simply decimate opponents, the combat style often changes dramatically along the course of this eight-floor trek. Adding life to an otherwise short game, there are three optional Towers beyond the first -- each with new weapons and opponents.

Unfortunately, fun as Rengoku 2 can be, it's kind of like playing Quake 3: Arena by yourself. Despite all the customization, the game boils down to an anti-climactic arena brawl against unintelligent bots. If I'm going to play a single-player arena game, I'm going to play Armored Core: Formula Front, which features stronger opposition, a deeper AI system, and a sense of artistry in its mech design. Rengoku 2 gave me no reward or gratification beyond temporal pleasure. That might be enough for some, but it's not enough for me.

The ad hoc multiplayer mode, although technically well-implemented, doesn't do much to alleviate Rengoku's pointlessness. The skirmishes barely qualify as "deathmatches"; the environments are too claustrophobic, and the weapons are too powerful. Many "epic" battles between EMERALD ROCKER and THORAZINE lasted all of five seconds, ending after a single shot from the charged-up energy rifle.

But that doesn't mean it's not fun. Even without any strategy or deep symbolic meaning behind the characters' actions, I couldn't help but grin while I slaughtered my poor buddy over and over and over. Even better: he didn't have to buy the game! Hudson generously lets the free-thinking Rengoku 2 owner upload the multiplayer version onto four nearby PSPs.

If you think Rengoku 2 sounds like the PSP's killer app, then you've pretty much ignored everything I wrote. However, it's not nearly as terrible as most reviews would lead you to believe. Don't judge this sequel based on the original; this faster-playing, smoother adventure is the game Hudson was trying to make the first time around.

In other words, they were trying to make an enjoyable but unremarkable game. And now they've succeeded.


* Some chest-thumping reviewers try to sound knowledgeable by casually mentioning that Jun Suemi is a "renowned manga artist". Well, I've been reading and studying manga for going on 15 years, and I never heard of the guy before. (Probably because he doesn't actually draw manga. That's like calling Boris Vallejo a renowned comic book artist.) Wikipedia reveals the shocking truth:

Jun Suemi is a Japanese illustrator, born in Oita Prefecture.

Shut the front door!

zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (November 02, 2006)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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