IGN Review of Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja
If you consider yourself somewhat of a niche gamer, you undoubtedly know Atlus Software. Shipping over 40 titles to the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS alone, Atlus is one of the prime suppliers of Japanese titles for those outside of that territory. While many of the titles aren't game of the year candidates, they certainly fill a section of the gaming community that would otherwise be nearly void of content. Titles such as Trauma Center: Under the Knife, Contact, Super Robot Taisen, Summon Knight: Swordcraft Story, Riviera, and Touch Detective may not be the highest scoring, but they're often remembered by the hardcore gaming crowd. Following suit with its predecessors, Atlus's latest niche action/RPG Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja certainly has its place among hardcore gamers, but misses a few of the necessary points in creating a fluid, intuitive role-playing experience.
Izuna is an entirely original intellectual property for Atlus, so while the game doesn't have the benefit of being based around an existing Japanese franchise, it also sheds the responsibility of living up to any pre-set characteristics as well. The result is an experience that's quite light on the story and character development, and focused more around a basic gameplay mechanic. The plot of the game follows the main character Izuna, a 16 year old hot-headed hottie, as she travels with her clan of friends into a new village. Upon arriving she manages to get herself into a heap of trouble, pissing off every one of the town's gods in a matter of minutes, and sends the entire city into a whirlwind of drama and chaos. Her goal: travel through eight dungeons, kill a ton of enemy fodder, and beat up the eight gods until she can right all of her wrongs. The story is amazingly simple, but as a vehicle to the action it gets the job done.
As far as the core gameplay is concerned, Izuna is a basic, eight level dungeon crawler wrapped around an active turn-based combat system. Each of the dungeons is randomly generated, as are the enemies, items, traps, and talismans. Players will rip through the main story in about 15 minutes, grab some basic gear, and start hacking through level after level of each dungeon, fighting one of the gods at the end of each. The combat revolves around a similar mechanic as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon for DS and GBA, though it is much less forgiving in its design. Every time Izuna takes a step or executes an action, her turn is over, and any enemies in the area have a chance to respond. Movement and attacks aren't actually broken up into specific turns, however, so while the game plays like any common dungeon crawler (run around, gather items, fight enemies) it's actually tracking each step as one move.
Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja gets especially tricky when dealing with accruing items and actually moving forward in the game. Each dungeon ranges from five to 50 levels, and should Izuna be defeated during her trek she'll lose all of her money, all items, and all dungeon progress. The only way to successfully keep all items and cash after going into a dungeon is to either beat the boss, or use a specific talisman that warps Izuna back to town. These items, however, are randomly found in dungeons, so there's no way of counting on them in your strategy. To add to the challenge, all dungeons are randomly created, so there's no telling how many creatures could be waiting in a specific region. Often times we adventured through an entire area with very little resistance, only to be suddenly surrounded with no hope of surviving a mass battle. The result: we're defeated, and begin back in town without any items or cash.
As a way of keeping the action moving, all experience and levels gained during each trek are kept regardless, so while players will get frustrated after dying countless times in dungeons they can't escape from (and die you will, lots and lots of times), you still have the feeling of making forward progress from battle experience. In addition, people in the main town can store items or money, buy/sell any items or weapons gathered, or fix any worn out items, so a smart player should be able to build up a big enough cache of loot to use along the way. Still, once you step foot in the dungeon, it's do or die.
Aside from the basic dungeon crawling and random, somewhat forced, townspeople interaction, there isn't a ton of depth to Izuna's design. Only one weapon can be equipped at all times, which is the sole property in determining any added stats (no additional equipment is available), there are a few distance weapons such as shurikens that can be used as expendable items, and talismans can be used as a simple one-time magic spell, or equipped onto a weapon to boost its stats. Aside from that, it's all about trudging through each level, finding all the items you can, and beating up on the boss characters. No touch implementation, no online options, no branching story arch. Izuna is about dungeon crawling, and dungeon crawling only.
As with many of Atlus's additions to the GBA/DS library, Izuna retains its original Japanese flair thoughout the game's presentation. The game's graphical engine is very simple, showing off visuals that could all easily be done on the Game Boy Advance hardware. Basic character VO is added into the mix, which is all kept in its original Japanese state, adding a bit of extra style to the package. In addition, the game's script is a mix of lighthearted chit-chat, oddly bipolar characters which seem to be overflowing with joy one minute and absolutely crushed the next (anime 101), and a strange mix of sexual innuendos as well. In general the text feels like it was written to the younger crowd of anime gamers, but the overwhelmingly difficult gameplay states the contrary, so Izuna definitely demands a mix of the hardcore/uber-casual gamer in order to hit its niche. Still, the game has a sexy heroine that beats monsters with swords, which is something everyone can get into.
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