Life can be hard, but there is usually a lesson to be learned in defeat. Following that notion, Izuna and its dungeon-crawler brethren are a freaking fountain of knowledge, because they are built on the principle of unforgiving difficulty. Sure, there are some easier games in the genre, but these turn-based action games (we know it’s an oxymoron) are some of the most purposely wicked titles around, with Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns fitting the mold pretty well.
For the unfamiliar, you play the game as Izuna, a poor ninja who, despite saving the world previously, still needs cash. To that end she explores dungeons with her friends, runs errands for useless townspeople and helps her pal Shino find her sister on the side. Legitimately funny dialogue helps these sequences move fast, plus the use of spoken Japanese over the English word bubbles helps add to the very Japanese flavor of the game. Each feudal-era-style city is filled with interesting characters, but ultimately they all have plainly similar jobs in every town: sell/buy stuff, fix stuff, store stuff, give missions.
Once Izuna gets to a dungeon, the real hurting begins. With each step you take, the enemies also take a step somewhere on the level you’re occupying, probably closer to you. Monsters approach and you can attack them, move away, or use an item, then they move and the trial begins again, Every step matters; if you don't plan ahead, you can be easily surrounded. Then you die. And die. And die. After defeat, you lose all the money and items on you and start over with nothing. Did we mention that each floor is randomized and that you can't leave until you reach the end or get beaten? Yeah, the game kinda hates you.
It can be beyond frustrating to constantly die, but you can be thankful for small favors. Unlike other, meaner titles of this type, you at least keep your experience and gain levels. You can grind through monsters for experience points to make the crawl less frustrating, but you’ll still constantly die getting powerful enough get to make it to the end alive. The ability to go through the dungeon with a second character also helps a little, since you can change out a damaged character for a fresh one, or get a second chance if one dies; and when things get desperate, you can pull off powerful duo attacks to clean house.
Still, when you do get to the end of a cave, or mountain, or another cave, selling or storing the items you still have instead of crying over losing them can feel pretty awesome. Also, the dungeons seem easier the first time through, and only get really hard if you go in again looking for new junk - although you will return if you want the really good stuff. Furthermore, the levity of Izuna 2 helps soften the continual kick in the junk that exploring can be in this game, as do its cute character designs and overall style.
Unless you’re a dungeon-grinding masochist (no offense), the game may not offer all that much enjoyment. The nicest thing you can say about its difficulty is that Izuna 2 isn’t as diabolical as its compatriots, but its admirable art and writing could draw in new players. For most, constantly losing and starting over isn’t so fun, and the lesson you’ll learn in defeat is that this game is way too hard to be worth it.
Jul 24, 2008