Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja Review
I wasn’t that big on those RPGs that fly under the radar until part of the way through the PS2’s life. It was then that I heard about a little-talked about game published by Atlus known as Disgaea. I found the last copy that my game store had and picked it up. It took a bit to get into but I got going and, well, developed a fondness for almost anything that Atlus decides to publish.
You see, Atlus is pretty well known as a company that brings over the sometimes niche, sometimes quirky Japanese games to an American audience.While they had often published games before Disgaea, that was the game that put them on the map for a lot of gamers (if one of the Tactics Ogre series didn’t), myself included. Now, if I’m out shopping and see a game with the Atlus logo slapped on it, I’ll pick it up I did just that a week ago when I saw Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja on the shelves at my local Gamestop.
Izuna is a very simple and straightforward dungeon crawler. You don’t have to worry about building a party, you don’t have to go to various cities to end up going to some tiny dungeon for one quick thing. Not here, no siree. You’ve got eight dungeons in this package and they’re all randomly generated each time you go through them. They’re all branched off of one main town. In all, the game follows a simple formula – talk to NPC, unlock dungeon, go through dungeon, rinse and repeat.
Izuna puts you in the shoes of a female ninja named, surprisingly, Izuna. You’re unemployed as the world is at a point where Ninja are no longer needed. So, without a job, you travel to a small town where Grandboss Gen-An (the master of your group of Ninja) decides to go off and you mess with a crystal and manage to piss off the Gods. See, pissing off the Gods gives you the chance to go through these dungeons to put sword or fist into the Gods’ faces in an effort to free the townspeople from various curses the Gods have put on them thanks to your angering them. Thankfully, the bits of story you get as you play through are pretty funny. The setting also gives a chance to get away from the RPG stereotypes of elves and wizards – both when looking at the story and the types of monsters you’ll be fighting.
95% of your time playing Izuna will be spent in one of various dungeons. While they’re all random, the term pretty much means “a few big rooms connected by a couple of hallways and random enemies”. This random design is great and does add to replayability. You’ll find random items scattered about the floor of the dungeons along with a randomly placed set of stairs down to the next level of the dungeon. Of course, your inventory is pretty small and a lot of items will have to get left behind as you try to pack as many healing items into your inventory as possible.
Getting through these dungeons is about as far from easy as it could ever get, though. First of all, there are tons of enemies to fight. In keeping with the whole random element, you’ll sometimes get mobbed by an endless string of enemies to start off the first level (not even letting you regenerate any health between fights) and others, there’ll be two or three enemies on a level. Other times, you’ll run across some various kind of trap with every few steps you take. Normally, this wouldn’t prove to be much of a problem – you collected that nice sword and nice piece of armor before you died, so you’ll go back and beat the crap out of the enemies next time, right?
Well, uh, er, you don’t. Izuna’s pretty brutal on that front – unless you’ve stuck a particular talisman onto an item, it’s gone when you die. Poof, never to be seen again. And if that talisman was stuck on the item, it only works one time. With a totally random loot system, you may not even see many of these talismans during a dungeon and then will get flooded with them in the next one you enter. Thankfully, armor and weapons aren’t some super-effective items that make you dominant, though they do prove to be helpful by reducing damage a bit or adding a bit to your damage. Only after you’ve spent awhile powering up a weapon or piece of armor do they prove to be something to worry about losing.
See, powering up these weapons is accomplished through sticking various talismans onto them. These talismans can also be used as one-time spells, doing things like massive fire damage to all the enemies in a room or letting you attack all close-by enemies twice. Sticking these talismans to weapons instead will give them a chance to do some sort of effect like additional fire damage while others just add attack power or defense. The customization is a really neat idea – if only it wasn’t so easy to lose a weapon.
In all, Izuna’s random dungeon design and harsh death penalty add a variable amount of difficulty to the game. While I had a hard time getting through one of the dungeons and frequently died within the first few levels, I was able to beat it. Not when I got better at playing or had better gear, though – I beat it when there were a ton of stairs neat the floor entrances. The random difficulty is going to be the thing that makes you love or hate this game.
Izuna is, overall, a fun game. While it is often incredibly difficult, you’ll eventually get through the dungeons. The only time I found myself overly frustrated with the game was when I got mobbed by one of the famous endless strings of monsters – it was then that I just turned the game off for awhile and went back to it later that night. However, the game’s ability to save whenever you descend to a new level makes for a great amount of bite-sized gameplay in a car or between meetings at work. You should give this a try before you buy it, though – the difficulty and overall design won’t appeal to everyone.