Don’t let this cute kunoichi’s looks seduce you.
Unlike more modern hack-and-slash style games, Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja is an old-school dungeon crawler with a thinly-veiled attempt at a more modern story. A true Rogue derivative, Izuna’s difficulty and depth will likely only be appreciated by fans of the genre.
Though Izuna is primarily focused on combat, there is some semblance of story in the game. Izuna and her associates have recently come to a remote town in search of work. However, Izuna has an obstinate personality, and this soon gets her into trouble. Immediately upon arrival, she angers the gods of the village, led by Takushiki, who put various curses on its inhabitants as well as Izuna’s friends. Izuna must enter the dungeon lairs of each god and defeat them in order to obtain orbs, which will cure the village.
When I say “old-school," take this into consideration: despite battles taking place directly on the underworld floor, combat is essentially turn based. Izuna moves a single space or performs an attack and then all of the enemies do the same. Even when in town, Izuna takes a step and all the villagers take a step. This can be particularly maddening when trying to catch up to somebody who’s running in circles. Izuna’s life is slowly replenished every time she takes a step.
Nearly everything about the dungeons is randomly generated. The floor layouts change every time you visit a dungeon. Enemies, traps, and items are also randomly placed. Even item stats are random. Dungeons are full of items, which are picked up automatically by walking over them. That is, until your inventory is full. In what is often a chore, players wanting the new item will have to move off of the space, open their inventory, drop an item, and go back and pick up the new item. By the way, inventory changes also count as a turn.
Items and money collected in the dungeons can be stored in the overworld, however, this option isn’t particularly useful. If you don’t lose your items from a string of bad luck in a dungeon, your favorite weapon may just snap in the heat of battle.
Battle with regular enemies is mostly a back-and-forth hit fest, though some monsters are weaker to certain weapons and many have special attacks. There are plenty of status effects such as darkness and float, which are gained from enemy attacks, item use, or dungeon traps. Bosses have much more complex behavior than the regular enemies and are much more interesting in combat, able to perform a wide variety of magical attacks. They are gods, after all.
The gameplay can get surprisingly deep if players take the time to consider their options and actions. Weapons and other items can be equipped, dropped, or thrown. Izuna can equip either a sword and arm guard or a pair of claws. Talismans and magic spells can be cast immediately, or they can be stuck onto weapons. Once stuck, the weapons will gain a special status effect. However, some spells are too powerful for a particular weapon, and will cause it to weaken and break. Weakened weapons can be repaired if they haven’t shattered completely.
The primary problem with Izuna is that despite a well thought out strategy, the randomness of the game will often result in the players’ defeat - over and over again. Once defeated, Izuna is returned to the town with experience intact, but without any items. No matter the level of weaponry collected, everything is gone. Reached the boss after a couple dozen floors and an hour of gameplay? It doesn’t matter, Izuna must go through it all over again. Maybe the next time Izuna’s stats will be high enough, the right recovery items appear, and a surprise enemy ambush won’t happen. Maybe.
Of course, all of that level grinding is by design. The game features eight dungeons, each with increasing numbers of floors, but offers little gameplay variety and nothing much to do in the overworld. The game is all about battles, and after defeating Takushiki, he and the other gods can be fought over and over again, increasing in strength and defense each time.
Keeping in the Atlus tradition, the English translation is well-done technically, and certainly there is plenty of humorous dialogue. However, most of the text feels sorely out of place in a medieval Japanese setting. Obviously, ancient Japan didn’t have red-clad, pink-haired female ninjas running around, but the belligerent personality of Izuna clashes with the overall tone of the game. Gamers will cringe at Izuna’s defiant and headstrong attitude, as well as the methods she employs in trying to get her way, such as seduction and suicidal threats. As a result, Izuna’s character isn’t particularly pleasant, and while the dialogue attempts to make light of the situation, it often ends up as tired banter. And in case you were wondering about the suggestive art used to promote the game, nothing approaching that level of sexuality is actually found within.
Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja is fun for a while, but the brutal consequences of the game design are not for everyone. With little story development or cinematics, it is likely that only fans of traditional dungeon crawlers will find much to appreciate.