One of the first things that any boy, myself included, finds worth pursuing, behind only fire fighting and being a superhero, is being a ninja. Having the ability to jump from the shadows to exact a glorious death for some sort of ninja cause even piques the interest of adults, and having an opportunity to try being one in Shinobido 2 almost brought out the kid in me. It’s not ridiculous to expect a lot from such an experience, since the whole ninja deal has been used for years, and it’s always been exciting, extending from Ninja Assassins even to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So, needless to say, a hands-on experience has a lot of hype to both quell and appease; the ability to take this game anywhere even sounds more invigorating. Is this going to be shadowy hype or will it be a clean kill?
Even before the first doses of gameplay are shown, players will notice that the story progresses through the completion of missions. Yes, another questing game. I had a few thoughts immediately after running through my first quests, but before I go into that, I’m going to create some context. The main protagonist Zen is cast to do the potential bidding of three feuding factions, and each is after eight mirrors called the Tenma Mirrors, which have been prophesied to summon the "eight-winged demon Tenma" if they are ever brought together. An interesting dose of lore to be sure, but it doesn’t really move very far after that. Most of the game is spent simply doing missions, like kidnapping, stealing, assassinating, and spying. Key missions to retrieve the Tenma Mirrors result from gaining the trust of each faction, weakening the other ones, and stealing the mirrors from weak factions. Here and there, Zen meets up with other ninja, usually when a Tenma Mirror is involved, but it never really gets much better than that.
The mission system used in this game is more sensible than it is applicable. Having little missions on a handheld works really well, but this game isn’t on the PSP like its predecessor was, and the PS Vita has many more capabilities. The instant I knew that this game had feuding factions, I knew that this definitely could have been open-world. You know, cut scenes, exploration, physical signs of faction influence change; the entire sand-box experience. Once I was over that thought, I really had a hard time diminishing my thoughts to appreciate the mission system. It doesn’t go without its perks, though, with graphs showing after each mission how influence has changed between all three factions and why. Fairly cool, but it’s not amazing.
Games like Ninja Gaiden have combined the disciplinary abilities of the ninja ways with the convenient ability for gamers to mash buttons. Games like Shinobido 2 don’t do either. The AI is incredibly stupid and unresponsive, in multiple ways. In kidnapping missions, I’ve walked past guards who are patrolling away from me while I carry a yelling, freshly-kidnapped call girl, and the guards don’t derail from their set path. Another instance occurs upon sneaking up on an enemy and knocking over a lantern right next to him. The lantern makes a loud enough ruckus to hear from across a compound, let alone right behind someone, but the enemy doesn’t respond there either.
Fighting with a camera happens more often than fighting with the AI, which is both good and bad. Usually when a camera issue occurs, an enemy is in direct proximity. Gratefully, for the sake of this very experience, the enemy is usually too oblivious to its surroundings to appreciate when you’re in a bind, allowing for plenty of mistakes and issues to play out, eventually, as originally planned. In result, the core experience ends up looking very sloppy and ill-regarded, since one error accentuates another.
The visuals in this game are good enough. I say that, because I had finished playing through the entirety of Uncharted: Golden Abyss and the comparison wasn’t fair for Shinobido 2. Still, since the bar has been set, one can’t help but compare, especially since the PS Vita is still very new. So, the graphics are good enough, though the game had plenty of room for polish and development; especially since all of the maps were fairly small and the load times are distastefully lengthy. Audio doesn’t do much either in this game. Background music is practically non-existent, and the stabbing and walking sounds aren’t too hard to mimic. I like to believe, like most do, that musical scores in games help to create both a persona for a game and the ambiance of said game’s delivery. Shinobido 2 doesn’t really have much in it in that regard, outside of the menu screens anyway.
Shinobido 2 also includes an alchemy system, which allows for creating potions, shurikens, and traps. These mentionables definitely help when finally going toe-to-toe with an enemy, but most of the products can be obtained as rewards from missions, so it feels like this system is rendered redundant to the whole experience; also, with a little exploration, most “hard-to-find” items can be found in random buildings or locations throughout each mission area. It may feel redundant to have it that way, but it does give something to those interested in both combination systems and exploration.
I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy some of my time with Shinobido 2, since running on rooftops and jumping down onto enemies and exacting a most precise, bloody kill brought my interest back into it. But, it doesn’t alleviate the fact that the possible story in this game doesn’t flow and the gameplay has a lot of holes. Still, fans of the PSP iteration will enjoy this, since it’s a more involved experience, but this game is most definitely not for the average player. Putting a $40 price tag on something that could easily both bore and frustrate a normal player seems like highway robbery, but I personally know some gamers that love any game taken straight from Japanese development. Shinobido 2 lacks polish, it lacks pizzazz, and it lacks substance, and high-adrenaline moments, which are extremely rare indeed, don’t make up for its shortcomings.