Essentials of Dungeon Crawling
2008 must be the year of the dungeon crawler. After what seems like ages between dungeon crawling titles, this year we were treated to a veritable explosion within the genre. With games like Shiren the Wanderer, Chocobo’s Dungeon, and of course the newest Pokemon Mystery Dungeon title, this year has been a real winner for fans of rogue-like gameplay
And it is with this dungeon-overloaded mindset that we begin Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns. Although the game references the first title several times, playing the first game is totally unnecessary, as this title is a standalone adventure. Izuna 2 opens with our girl Izuna following her stomach, as usual, all the way to a wedding, which holds the promise of free food. While at the wedding, however, Izuna’s ninja cohort, Shino, believes she may have accidentally picked up the trail of her long-lost, little sister. And even though Shino attempts to look for her sister by herself, Izuna and her gang can’t help but follow!
The story here is pretty generic, and while some may be a little bit bored by the run-of-the-mill, “looking for a long lost relative” plotline, the game’s story is saved from mediocrity by the series’ trademark humor. Izuna’s clueless yet heroic demeanor is very reminiscent of vintage anime series like Sailor Moon and Fushigi Yuugi, and while some may characterize this as being formulaic, the fact is that it still remains quite funny and really helps you care about the character.
Aside from the somewhat generic storyline, another aspect of the game that seems fairly standard is the dungeon crawling style of gameplay. You are able to trigger randomly-created dungeons which have an excessively turn-based system, where every step you make, every item you use, and every attack you attempt counts as a turn. And of course, if you die while in a dungeon, you lose everything you brought in to the dungeon including items and money. Izuna 2 also incorporates a co-op system where you can elect to control another character as well as Izuna. However, the co-op is a little counter-productive because you can only control one of the characters at a time, so it is still like having only one character. The other character just goes away until your current character dies or you switch them out. It might have been nice if you could have incorporated a multiplayer aspect with the co-op system, but unfortunately there is no multiplayer aspect of this title.
One issue I have with the gameplay in this title is it follows the formula a little too closely. As a seasoned player of the dungeon crawling genre, I wouldn’t normally hold that against this title, and if you had asked me about it two or three years ago, I would have applauded this title for sticking so firmly to its roots. However, with all the new and innovative dungeon crawling titles that have come out recently, Izuna just feels a too basic in comparison and has no real distinctive elements. Games like Pokémon and Chocobo incorporated elements that made them very unique (like jobs and battle elements), even within their own very specific genre. Izuna’s gameplay works on a very basic level, but it just feels a little hollow, without any distinctive characteristics.
Another issue I have with the gameplay is there is a very weak correlation between the story elements and the dungeon crawling. When it is time for a story element, you’ll sit though some dialogue, and then you’ll find yourself in the game’s village area, with no certain path to the dungeon you seek. Instead, you’ll have to start talking to the same 12 or 13 characters until you find the one who will suggest you go to the dungeon. This is very tedious, and makes getting to the meat of the gameplay very difficult. It is also quite unclear why you have to go through these little interview sessions, as the dialogue scenes will generally tell you where to go. It’s just a bizarre and annoying facet of the gameplay, and I just can’t decipher what its purpose may be.
As far as graphics are concerned, Izuna 2 has a real vintage look. Characters are represented by little chibi-style sprites, and backgrounds have an old-school, pixel look. Colors are very vibrant, and environments look lush despite the lack of background detail. The title actually looks remarkably good despite being technically uninventive. Still, it might have been nice to see this title incorporate some more complex visuals beyond the old-school, SNES look.
Sound in this title is very good. The voice over is in Japanese, and even though some might be put off by the fact that this title wasn’t dubbed, I count that as a good thing. My only disappointment is that the voice over is infrequent, and you never know when a character will voice their scrolling dialogue or stay silent. Level music is pretty cutesy and is generally pleasant to listen to.
Controls use only the face buttons for movement and don’t have any touch screen functionality, which is a good thing for this dungeon crawler. As you might imagine, you use the control pad for moving around and the face buttons for scrolling through menus. There are quite a few shortcut triggers as well, but these are pre-determined and I was unable to find a way to customize the shortcuts.
So, after playing all this year’s many dungeon crawlers, it only makes sense for Rogue fans to pick up Izuna 2 and get right back into the familiar dungeon grind. But you see, for all its strengths and adherence to traditional dungeon crawling gameplay, Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns fails simply because it is so familiar. It features very basic dungeon style gameplay, which may have worked last year, but now that there is so much variety in this once-obscure genre, it makes this title feel a little too basic for seasoned dungeon vets and probably a little too complex for newcomers. But, if you want a nuts-and-bolts dungeon crawler, Izuna 2 fits the bill nicely.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
Classic sprite-based graphics look fairly good, even if they’re not the most technically pleasing. 3.5 Control
Basic dungeon controls with no touch screen functionality whatsoever work extremely well. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Level music is cute, and the Japanese voice over is excellent though infrequent. 3.6
As with any dungeon crawler, the first player experience is quite lengthy, but there’s really nothing beyond that.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.