Warning: Explicitly Violent Images Ahead. You Have Been Warned.
Unfortunately, there’s some incredibly bad aspects of Ninja Gaiden II that leave me astounded as to why they’re in the game in any capacity. First, as much as the innate balance of all the abilities on hand functions well, the upgrade system could use some work. Clearly the game intends for you to collect yellow essence at some frequency, but not enough to upgrade everything fully. This was most certainly not the case! When I found out how much more essence I could obtain through the use of Ultimate Techniques (translation: enemies killed with said attacks drop lots more essence), I started charging them prior to combat. Doing this, I had more than enough money to buy everything, upgrade everything, and fill my stock of items completely whenever I visited a shop. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to have a level 3 Dragon Sword by Stage 3, but I guess that goes to show how a player can adapt to the game. I also ended up with 200,000 essence by Chapter 12 with nothing to spend it on, which seriously means I did something wrong.
Because of that particular problem, the game often presents an extremely varied difficulty curve which, more often than not, depends on what upgrades you obtained. I found several stages incredibly easy (Chapter 7 turned into the easiest stage ever for the majority), while others made me want to tear my hair out (Chapter 8 introduces bazooka zombies on Way of the Warrior difficulty, and that’s none too pleasant). Bosses also bounce from super easy to incredibly difficult, and almost all of them die very quickly once you know how to approach them. I don’t quite understand why this happens, but they end up being the easiest parts of most stages, a total inverse of game design strategies. That leads to finishing a level being somewhat unfulfilling! One boss in particular turned out to be quite the grind, as I merely charge a ranged attack and let it fly whenever it passed by with no danger to my person. That’s not a very good boss! Clearly Team Ninja knew it too, as they let you continue after every boss repeatedly, even the multi-battle ones.
I would note, further, that it appears most every boss falls to the jumping X,X, Y,Y,Y combo with the Scythe. I literally did this on the last boss gauntlet, and it basically won every fight where I could use it. Apparently, bosses don’t track you in the air very well (excepting Genshin), so using this keeps you in the air and free from harm for the most part. I couldn’t believe my eyes when bosses would die within 10-30 seconds; normal enemy encounters posed a greater challenge just due to the sheer numbers, but bosses just up and die when they get hit a few times. I hate this sort of difficulty curve; it completely wrecks any sense of progression, and your hard work and effort to learn the game does not even earn you the reward of greater challenge. And this is a game precipitated on the premise of “challenge first, all other considerations second”!
Course, that doesn’t even get into the other stuff. I will add my greatest flaw to the pile: the camera. The camera in Ninja Gaiden never really hit a home run; it often presented a poor view of the action, and while Ninja Gaiden Black allowed you to adjust it, it still never became perfect. The fast nature of the combat, combined with a camera that never could keep up, meant it would get in your way at one point or another. Ninja Gaiden II somehow makes it worse! Frequently, the game will present a poor view of the action or hide the camera behind a wall, and losing line of sight with Ryu Hayabusa remains hazardous to your health. Far too many combat sequence take place in small corridors, where the camera (which refuse to move if there’s a wall in the way) will get you killed or damaged. Enemies hold no qualms about a fair fight, as they can and will attack you even when offscreen without any clear audio cues. I have found they also like to use their damaging grabs more frequently when they suddenly attack out of my sight range, which always frustrates me. Furthermore, enemies almost ALWAYS spawn offscreen, meaning they may get a cheap shot off. I hate these sorts of issues, and Ninja Gaiden II throws them at you with alarmingly frequency. Heck, it even has booby-trapped treasure chests, which sounds as dumb as I feel when typing it. At least open arena fights rarely mess with the camera at all, and end up functional.
In fact, you’ll actually want to “cheat” to win, more often than not. Since the game does you no favors, and frequently attempts to kill you, a sort of Schadenfreude develops towards the game. You won’t feel bad when an enemy glitches out, or when you sit behind a wall where nothing can attack you while you just fire arrows into their head. I’m not sure why the level geometry allows you to break the game AI, but hey, I’m not complaining at this level of stiff challenge. But do we consider that real difficulty? That just shows something went wrong in the process of development. In fact, I’d say it seems roughly 75% finished, missing some touches and polish that take a mediocre game to a great game.
I should really mention stuns and incendiary shurikens. In most cases, it doesn’t matter how heavy a weapon you use against a giant target – they will never completely stun, ever. This means, for example, they can grab you through an attack string (and I can’t emphasize enough that grabs will kill you), and that seems somewhat antithetical to the combat. The lack of clear tells, adding the camera into the mix, really just irks me to no end. Incendiary shurikens nail the other side of the coin to the wall. Basically, ninjas later in the game throw this at you; you will explode after a certain time, dealing damage and knocking you out of any action other than blocking. Considering they throw 6-8 enemies at once at the player which all use the shurikens, you can imagine how frustrating this becomes after a while. Because of this, every single fight requires hit and run (with the ubiquitous dodge-roll) over and over again until you see a slight opening or essence to instantly charge an Ultimate Technique on the ground. Add the camera, yet again, and all of this turns into something highly difficult and awfully frustrating.