When someone utters the name "Square Enix" the first thing you think is Final Fantasy. Square Enix have made a name for themselves by developing and publishing quality RPG titles for years. One genre you wouldn't expect Square Enix to deal with is the good old Arcade. Published by Square Enix and developed by Taito, a company well known for their top quality Arcade titles such as Puzzle Bobble and Darius, comes a sequel to Taito's 1985 Arcade game "The Legend of Kage", but will its association with the RPG giant influence this old school title or will it be able to retain its classic arcade roots.
Despite the title, "The Legend of Kage 2" the game offers you a choice of two playable characters. Firstly is Kage, a ninja who wields a Katana, he is duty bound but when an escort mission involving a childhood friend turns bad, Kage, left for dead vows he will rescue her no matter what. The other character choice is the young female ninja named Chihiro, full of life and eager to prove herself she too finds herself left for dead after her escort mission is interrupted. Arcade games aren't exactly known for their in depth storylines and although the greatest effort has been taken to flesh out the story it still remains forgettable and rather single minded.
The game plays like an old school platformer similar to the original Ninja Gaiden, you run from left to right killing enemies with your sword, if you're Kage you can also throw shurikens like wise if you're Chihiro you get what looks and feels like the whip from Castlevania as your sub weapon. The main attack is generally enough to quickly get past enemies in your path. Speaking of enemies in your path I'd like to take a second to talk about the hit detection/AI in this game. Say there's a scenario where you have 5 or 6 ninjas following you, you decide to stop to take care of them. The enemies won't run in front of you instead they'll run and stand in the exact same spot as you meaning you can't attack them but they can attack you which although being a pain especially in those tough situations where your life meter is running low encourages you as a player to think constantly on your feet and this is where skills come in.
As you start to work your way through the game after each level you'll gain a new skill, whether it being able to run faster or perform a multiple hit combo all help in those sticky situations when you're trying to conserve health for the boss. Some of the button combos can be a little tricky at first and they may seem rather redundant for the first few levels, but later on they can be the difference between life and death.
Not only do you have a secondary attack and performance enhancing skills, Kage/Chihiro has one more trick up their sleeves. If you choose to actually explore the levels in depth you'll come across boxes, inside the boxes are different coloured orbs. These orbs when collected can give you different Ninjutsu. Ninjutsu are special attacks, you simply arrange the orbs in a triangle within the main menu and depending on what elements you use will produce different types of attacks, in the case of the yellow orbs the more yellow orbs you have in the triangle influence how powerful the thunder attack is going to be. If you can fill an entire triangle with one element then it will allow you to summon monsters which can devastate all enemies their path.
Now with all this power you're going to need something to attack, thankfully, in the time honoured arcade tradition you won't be stuck there, enemies will come at you from every direction and since this game is played across both screens it'll have you checking both furiously as you try to handle the seemingly endless onslaught. At the end of each level you get a boss fight, these bosses at first can seem impossible as they take you health faster than you can kill them, though if you watch closely most bosses have a weakness of sorts, and once you've exploited it then the battle becomes rather easy if a little repetitive and time consuming. The boss fights are varied and you never really know what's coming next so it's best to think out of the box when coming up with a solution for killing them.
The controls, one of the most important aspects of a game, how does it feel? Well for starters Taito have decided to go for the more anime-esque clichéd type feel for the ninja, Kage can jump insanely high, run up walls and hang from cave roofs, it all feels very sharp as you can also change direction and move while in the air, I rarely found a moment while playing that made me want to throw the DS across the room in frustration at the controls, most times you die in this game, it'll be because it's your fault.
From the first main menu you're greeted with some pretty generic traditional Japanese style music, this pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the game, the music is nice and it all sounds sharp and crisp but it is in no way memorable. The sound effects are ok, they do the job they're meant for and nothing sounds out of place at any time. Recently I had a chance to play the Final Fantasy 4 remake for DS and one thing I loved about it was the voiced over cutscenes, they added new life to what were already very emotive characters and made the whole experience that much more great. So now I ask, where is the voice over's in this game? Well, there are none, all the story is presented in text form you have to read. It's not really a complaint as the story is rather bland but the game is in 2D and I'm sure there was enough room on the DS cart to accommodate voice acting but it just never happened. Oh well.
The graphics are a mixed bag really; the entire story is told via text boxes with an illustration of the character above it. The art for these illustrations is quite good and very colourful. The in game graphics however are rather lacking in detail, to give a greater sense of epic and scale the character sprites have been scaled down, maybe a little too much. You can't see any facial detail on Kage's face at all as it is merely a peachy coloured collection of pixels. It's only a small complaint and it doesn't affect game play to me it just makes the game seem a little unpolished.
Portability, I know I go on and on about portability in my reviews but for a portable system I do think it is a major concern, many developers seem to forget this. Thankfully this game is portable friendly and is the kind of game you'll want to play on the train to work or during your lunch hour as the levels won't take you much more than ten minutes to complete, assuming you don't continuously die during the boss fights. The game also automatically saves after every level so no worrying there.
Finally in conclusion, should you buy this game? If you like no nonsense arcade action with a difficulty curve that'll keep you coming back for more punishment each time, then sure this game was made for you. If however you're the kind of gamer who likes the odd dabble with brain training then all I can say is this is most certainly not for you.