An enemy sentry stands guard in front of a keep. The night is cool and quiet, save for the footsteps he can hear approaching from the right. They seem to be getting closer, but as he stares straight ahead, he sees nothing and decides the coast is clear. The thump of feet landing on the bridge behind him? Probably that fat housecat he keeps seeing around. The boxes tumbling into him from behind? Likely just knocked over by the breeze. Only when he sees the knife protruding from his gut does he think, "Hey, maybe there's a ninja somewhere around here."
6366152NoneYou'd think someone in that little entourage would hear something during that bloodbath, but you'd be wrong.
Not every enemy in Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen is this oblivious, but many of them are. As you sneak, jog, sprint, and leap your way through this stealth action game, the rules governing the enemy AI quickly become obvious. They create the sense that you aren't sneaking up on a vigilant foe so much as you are exploiting a system of rules. This drains most encounters of excitement, and when you break into full-on combat, poorly tuned physics make for frustrating fights. Satisfaction from a well-stalked foe or a well-fought enemy rarely occurs, leaving Shinobido 2 with precious little to recommend it.
The setting is feudal Japan, and you are a ninja. The land is swept up in a tense conflict among three warring factions, and you've joined up with a freelance ninja crew to seek revenge for your murdered companion. Each leader sends you contracts to enlist you to his or her cause, and it's up to you to choose which missions to take. You can favor one over the others or play them all off of each other, but it's unlikely you'll care about any of them. They are an uninteresting lot, and the main character's focus on pursuing a hated enemy leaves you without much reason to care about the fate of the region.
The intrigue surrounding your dear friend's death and the eight mysterious mirrors that may or may not grant supernatural powers to her assassin aren't very interesting either, though there are fairly lengthy cutscenes interspersed throughout the game that try to illuminate the story. The colorful character models have a kind of rigid realism, but the lesser characters are homely, and everyone seems to have blocky polygons resting just below the surface of their skin.
No one ever looks in the bushes.
The environments also have an archaic feel to them, though they look crisp and clear, as well as communicate a good sense of place. And you'll have an even better sense of each place before too long because Shinobido 2 recycles the same handful of environments frequently. You may embark on a mission to eliminate all enemies from a small compound, only to go back to assassinate a merchant and return again to retrieve a crate of documents. Becoming familiar with each area breeds a mildly gratifying knowledge of the landscape, and it can be fun to maximize your route through hostile territory. However, the repetition of environments saps a lot of the game's momentum, making you feel like you're just treading water and waiting an indeterminate amount of time for things to progress.