After the success of Metal Gear Solid on
the original Playstation, stealth games have become a very popular genre. Many companies
have tried to emulate Konami's success, often with mixed results. On the surface, stealth
games appear to be pretty simple, but it is a hard formula to pull off successfully. For
every Splinter Cell, there's a Tenchu 3. Red Ninja: End of Honor
falls somewhere in the middle -- it has the seeds for a solid game, but everything feels a
bit unpolished and never seems to pull itself out of the realm of averageness.
Penned by Japanese film director Shinsuke Sato (The
Princess Blade), the plot here offers no surprises. You play Kurenai, a young woman
who was taken in by a clan of ninjas after her father was slaughtered by the evil Black
Lizard clan. They wanted to take his plans for a super-weapon. Dispatched by her superiors
to assassinate a corrupt warlord, Kurenai begins finding hints leading to the whereabouts
of the leader of the Black Lizards and sets out to avenge her father's death.
So the story is nothing great, but I'm the type of gamer who plays for the action, not a
bunch of cutscenes. In it's defense, though, the cinematic breaks in the gameplay are done
well, with some solid voice acting and nice "camerawork" -- but they're nothing
you're going to bother watching all the way through once, if at all.
Kurenai looks very nice with some detailed animations -- and I'm sure all of you hentai
freaks out there will appreciate that you can look up her outfit depending on what she is
doing. Unfortunately, she's Red Ninja's only high point graphically. The enemies
come off as flat and, worse yet, there's very little variety. Besides the bosses, you'll
be taking out the same two or three goons the entire game.
The background graphics are fairly bland
as well -- even though there's an attempt at flair with some fire and water effects, a lot
of the levels simply blend into each other because they look almost exactly the same. The
graphics aren't "bad" per se, but coming off the heels of the near
photo-realistic Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (or even older entries in the genre
like Manhunt), Red Ninja at times almost seems like a first-generation
Sonically, Red Ninja does handle itself. The ambient sounds (crucial in a game
like this) are nicely done, and the score fits the mood of the game. My only big complaint
is the repetition of the in-game phrases the characters say. It's funny the first couple
of times one of guards screams
out, "My leg!" after you hack off one of their limbs, but after the fiftieth
time or so, it loses its' effect.
Red Ninja's big hook is the "tetsugen", a chained weapon that allows
you to do everything from lopping off people's heads to swinging across giant chasms. It
is definitely a novel concept, but the execution isn't as good as it should have been due
to the sloppy controls. You do have the ability to target specific parts, but the floaty
control makes it tough to pull off the flashier means of dealing death. Even when you do
connect with the weapon and get a kill that results in fountains in blood that are pretty
cool, it tends to lose its' effect after a while. Kurenai can also do stealth kills ala Tenchu
by sneaking up behind enemies, but again, these lose interest for the player, simply
because there are only about three that Kurenai can do throughout the game.
The game does give you the ability to pull off a lot
of nice moves, such as wall runs and being able to seduce your enemies. However, the
controls never give the player the feeling that they're fully in command of Kurenai. A lot
of times, you'll just end up mashing buttons trying to make her do something after the
enemies discover you. The best stealth games allow you to switch to full-on ass-whooping
mode if you so desire, but Red Ninja's control scheme places you into a
pigeonhole. Far too many of the enemies force you to take them out a certain way. In this
day and age of open-ended gameplay, making players use a trial-and-error method to get
through a level is simply not acceptable.
Even if the control of Kurenai was handled better, the in-game camera nearly de-rails the
entire experience. If you play Red Ninja, get used to hitting the left trigger
(which displays a first-person view), because oftentimes the game will force you to view
the action from angles that simply make it unplayable. Due to their style that requires
precise timing, the camera in stealth games is vitally important; unfortunately Red
Ninja's often hinders the player instead of helping them line up their next kill.
Despite its' problems, I had a fairly fun time going through this title. It does take some
patience, but once you get the hang of the controls and learn how to manage the camera,
the game does offer some fairly exciting stealth maneuvers along with some ultra-bloody
action. However, there's very little in the way of replay value. Even with the tetsugen,
it has a "been there, done that" kind of feeling. It's a good game to play
through once, but it's highly doubtful that most gamers would bother to pick this up again
after beating it. I really wanted to like this game a lot. I'm a big fan of the stealth
genre, and, let's face it, ninjas (especially female ones) are cool as hell. Perhaps if
there is a sequel, the developers can work out some of the kinks and make Kurenai an icon
along the lines of Solid Snake or Sam Fisher, but as for now, her adventures are something
good for a short blast over a weekend and not much else.