This game is brought to you by the letters T, A, and DD, and the words Cheese and Cake!
I’ve never played, or even heard of the first Izuna game, but from what I’ve read, knowledge of the previous story is not necessary to enjoy the sequel. On the other hand, I’m thinking that Izuna 2 is an improvement on a system I would have benefitted from getting used to. This is a dungeon-crawler, a dungeon-crawler that, while actually pretty fun, is also painfully unforgiving and brutally difficult. You’ve really got to want to play it, and if this niche genre is not your style, Izuna 2 is not the game to ease you into it.
Izuna is a wisecracking, food-loving, skintight-garb-wearing ninja with cat ear goggles and enormous breasts. I’m usually not adverse to female characters with ridiculous racks (Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Soulcalibur IV, and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball are all on my shelf), but when the main character is a very stylized anime teenager, it looks weird. It looks weirder when almost every female NPC in the game is similarly endowed, and the eyebrows really start to raise when the number of in-jokes involving those most mammarian of traits reaches nauseating numbers.
If you can get past the bra-busting character portraits, you’ll find that Izuna 2 is a respectable and fun dungeon-crawler - if you’re into that sort of thing. Every area Izuna and company enter that is NOT in the overworld is considered a dungeon, and these dungeons are randomly-generated. Every time you die, you must restart the dungeon, but all of your inventory items and collected coinage are lost. Happily, all of your experience is kept. Thus, subsequent tries will undoubtedly be easier given your higher level. Procuring weapons and items on-site becomes the main focus of the game. In a way, this is great. You get to make on-the-fly decisions regarding strategy and item retention for every given situation. On the other hand, item appearances are more or less randomized along with the dungeons, so your potential item crop might suck. There is an item (which appears almost all the time) that lets you warp out of the dungeon with all of your items and money intact. Doing so allows you to go into town and store the items you really want, and buy items that you think will get you through the inevitable boss fight in one piece.
The game is played on a giant, invisible grid. For every action Izuna takes, every enemy on the floor makes its own action, too. Thus, you must strategize where to move in relation to individual enemies, particularly if you don’t want to be caught in the middle of a group of critters.
Izuna and her pals have access to different weapons as well as offensive and defensive items like mines, throwing stars, etc. However, this is where Izuna’s single greatest stepping stone lies: the HP (hit points) and SP system (spell/item points). Izuna has an enormous amount of HP. By the time you hit level 12, she’ll be well past 1,000 HP. However, she only has 50-something SP by that time. Using items costs SP, sometimes a lot of SP, and you have to be careful to keep your SP intact for boss fights. Unfortunately, merely moving around a dungeon drains SP, little by little. Initially, then, your first instinct is to rush from floor to floor, spending very little time on each one (thus minimizing SP loss), but doing so will limit the number of pickups you find. Balance can be attained, but it will require items bought at shops to do so.
You’ll soon be able to take another party member along with you in dungeons, which essentially gives you two lives. However, after repeatedly slogging through the first dungeon (I must have died twelve times), Izuna’s experience level (16) far outweighed that of my companion (1), which meant that a whole lotta grinding was necessary for any real progress. It was silly of me to think that Izuna herself would be able to make it through the next few dungeons without a hitch—you need another character! The player can switch between Izuna and her compatriot a set number of times during each dungeon, but the two together can unleash a potentially devastating special attack on surrounding enemies. Different character combinations result in different attacks, which is cool. You can also opt to leave the titular (HA!) heroine out for a round and only use other characters in dungeons, although Izuna tends to have better overall stats than her friends.
Izuna’s character portraits look good, but the overall graphical presentation is lacking. The Game Boy Advance is capable of more. Dungeons and the overworld are merely 2D, overhead backdrops with pre-set paths and simplistic character sprites. There are a wealth of different enemy sprites, but honestly, we’ve moved beyond such a primitive sprite system in this day and age. The human character sprites look a little silly and not at all like their character portraits. The portraits themselves pop up when dialogue is presented, which is not as often as you might think. The storyline has some twists and turns and the writing is witty and full of rack references. It’s entertaining, but the limiting gameplay slows things down.
Izuna 2 appeals to a very specific gamer crowd. I’ve never met anybody who liked hardcore, high-risk dungeon-crawlers like this, but they must exist, because the first Izuna sold well enough to warrant a sequel. What’s bizarre is that I don’t really mind playing the same dungeon over and over again, partially because it’s randomly-generated, but also because I like the idea of thinking on my feet in the dungeon. However, I’m not a fan of the presentation or the ridiculous grinding required for success. Most dungeon-crawler fans will get their fill with the Final Fantasy remakes that are popping up on the DS, but for those who wish that death resulted in the loss of all items and money, Izuna 2 may be the answer.