If I stay up late one more night playing Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, I too will be unemployed!
Why do I continue to come back to this game that abuses me so? It must be love.
Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja could be considered a game reviewer’s nightmare. It’s really tough, which makes it time consuming, and time is money in this business. Yet, it appeals to my inner-gamer, the child in me that loves the challenge, and is the sole reason I became a game reviewer in the first place. Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja really kicked my butt. There’s nothing I could do to prepare for it. I’ve had more re-tries than I care to recall. But I can’t admit defeat. I can’t let this game take my pride away from me. I have to win. It may not be for everyone, but hardcores will concur that this is a challenge you just can’t back down from.
In case the name didn’t tip you off, or you didn’t check out the cover, Izuna is a girl. But this gal ain’t no sissy. You might even say she’s got some serious social problems, not to mention that she’s a trained ninja and is capable of some incredible destruction with her bare hands. Upon arriving at a village with her posse of unemployed ragamuffins, she displays her wild side and upsets the gods that oversee the town. In their anger, they inflict the townsfolk with various illnesses. To appease those she has offended, Izuna must defeat the monsters and bosses that inhabit the eight dungeons of the netherworld. The story is simple, but there’s a decent amount of depth to the characters that gives them more dimension than your typical old-school RPG. Izuna is a sassy 16-year old with a sharp wit and an attitude that makes you want to smack her from time to time. It’s typical Japanese anime antics, and to its credit, the game leaves in plenty of sound bites from the Japanese version.
The premise, the gameplay, and the control system are very straightforward, but what keeps the gameplay interesting are some unexpected surprises. Basically an old-school RPG dungeon crawler, Izuna is rife with exploration, random battles, and the collection of items such as swords, shields, and magic spells. The dungeons are randomized, and they contain undetectable switches that, when stepped on, will unleash hordes of monsters, or traps that may slam you into a wall and deplete most of your life force. As I mentioned, these switches are undetectable so you’re never going to be comfortable while dungeon crawling. At any moment you might set off a trap and risk losing your life. And when that happens, you’re going to feel like throwing your DS against a wall.
What is most frustrating is that when you die, you lose everything that you’ve accumulated up to that point. A dungeon can contain a handful of levels or as many as 50. You may make some incredible progress only to trip a switch and be faced with overwhelming odds. Items that you collect such as weapons and shields can be upgraded by magic talismans that you will also find in the dungeons. You can really gain some incredible powers, and even heal yourself if you don’t run into some monsters for a while, but that semblance of safety will be short-lived. You will die, and you will die lots of times. So just accept it. And when you return to the village with nothing, you can’t even rely on trial and error to help you because the dungeons are randomly generated. The treasures, weapons, talismans, monsters, and booby traps will all be in different places. Sometimes virtual life can be so punishing, cruel and unusual.
Battles are turn-based, but every move counts including each step. You will have your chance to make your move and then the enemy will have its turn to try to send you back to the village empty handed. Your power is attributed to SP. It can be found in all of your items as well as your character. In the early stages of the gamed, your SP will be severely limited. It’s only later in the game that you’ll have enough to spare so that you’re not constantly fearing for your life during every encounter. Talismans will boost the powers of your weapons, or they can be used as a stand-alone magic attack. Their powers are limited so you have to make the best of them during your turn, whether you use them for attack or defense. Shields and swords can be combined for both attack and defense moves, while battle claws can facilitate both moves as one item. There isn’t a lot of variety in the items that you find throughout the dungeons which tends to make the gameplay a bit tedious. At the same time, this limitation assures that you have to make the best of the hand that you’re dealt since there is no single item that will help you beat the game.
There’s little reason for this game to appear exclusively on the DS, since it makes little use of its capabilities. Graphically, it’s not very adventurous and aside from the map and stats on the top screen, the dual screen is hardly exploited. There is no touch control. Instead the game plays like it was intended, as an old-school dungeon crawler. I have few issues with the control system, but I can’t help feeling like I’m playing a GBA game. It’s kind of like a hobo riding in a limo. You figure it out.
Izuna will find its fans, but it will also alienate plenty of gamers that may be expecting a funny, fuzzy, anime frolic. In any case, the upside is that this game will last you a very, very long time – if you have the tenacity to complete it.