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With the upcoming release of Activision's ninja-style Tenchu II, GZ has gone completely mad with the game's roaming, varied levels, new character abilities, new weapons, and the game's excellent level editor. Today we have lots of new information on several aspects of Tenchu II, that differ from the original, and that expand on first's mix of 3D sneaking and assassin-style combat.
Just like in the first game, gameplayers will have the chance to play as two different ninjas, Rikimaru and Ayame. But unlike the first Tenchu, this game is packed with cut-scenes and story development shown via FMVs and in conjunction with the bosses, in between levels, and in other sections of the game. To be brief, the game is packed with story elements.
Without much explanation, the House of Gohda, the ruling family of Japan has begun its descent of power, much to the delight of old enemies. With the old regime in burning to ashes, civil war tears the rest of ancient Japan apart at the seams. Seeing that the hierarchy is weakened, power-hungry warlords and military rogues start vying for territory, cannibalizing existing treaties, boundaries, and attacking old friends, associates, and in some cases, even family.
Lord Gohda Matsunoshin, still the rightful leader of Japan, realizes the weakened predicament of his ruling party is in, and seeks the silent force that has always stood loyally by his side, the Azuma Ninja to restore order. Under the tutelage of Azuma Shiunsai, the leader of the Azuma Ninja, three ninjas are called upon to seek out the evil parties involved and stop the war from destroying the country. Adopted as infants by Azuma Shiunsai, three coming-of-age ninjas -- Rikimura, Ayama, and Tatsumaru -- have been chosen to save the House of Gohda.
Ayame -- With little regard for the ancient traditions surrounding Japanese women, and for that matter ancient ninja, Ayame -- the youngest of the Azuma Ninja -- is wild and restless at heart. She is a true ninja, but she's also rebellious and dangerous, and should be watched at all times.
Rikimaru -- Attentive, loyal, and pure at heart, Rikimaru has practiced the art of the ninja with fierce determination all his life. His sense of self-worth and vision of the future are rock-solid, and he is willing to risk his life for the right cause.
Tatsumaru -- Having trained with Ayame and Rikimaru for years, Tatsumaru has taken the leadership role of the Azuma Ninja, as Shiunsai has handed over the reigns to him. His physical skills and prowess exceed his brethren and are matched by few.
Azuma Shiunsai -- The leader of the Azuma Ninja, Shiunsai has recently stepped down, and yet still is one of the deadliest of the ninja, with quick, fierce sword skills.
Gohda Matsunoshin -- The current leader of the house of Gohda, Matsunoshin is compassionate, but unaware of the evil that lurks close to him.
Kagami -- Leader of the secret ninja society called the Burning Dawn, Kagami is determined to bring the world under the rule of her ninja, and comes into conflict with the Azuma and the House of Gohda.
Somewhat like weapon acquisition in the first game, to acquire ninja weapons in Tenchu II, players must earn high ranks for special weapons. Players can also pick weapons off dead enemies. While this isn't a complete list of the weapons, this is a good sampling. There is the obvious Grappling Hook, which hoists you up to higher levels, rooftops and more; Colored Rice, which marks the terrain so you won't get lost; Poison Rice, an irresistible snack for enemies to die from; Mines (it's pretty obvious what they do); Leaves of Stealth, excellent escape items, which enable you to disappear in a cloud of leaves, and then reappear behind your enemy; Smoke Bombs, which stun and confuse the enemy; Caltrops, which harm followers; Health Potions, which restore your health 100%; and the classic Shurikens, throwing discs that damage the enemy from afar. There is also a Ninja Rebirth item, which gives you a second chance at life. There are more, but we'll provide you with them later. There are at least 17 different items to collect and use.
In Tenchu II, players who are familiar with the first game will be instantly at home with their preferred character. Each character has about 12 attacks, and can move in full 3D, just like before. However, with a new, robust engine, players can do several things they couldn't dream of before. For instance, players can swim with several different paddles, on the water's surface, or with two different strokes underwater. There is also the Ghost move, which enables players to use a reed to breathe underwater undetected while an enemy is close by.
Players can also drag dead bodies from site. With smarter AI in Tenchu II, players will have to do more (always a good thing). Once you have killed an enemy in an obvious area, it's best to dispose of his or here body. By pressing R1 and O together, players can pick up the enemy and drag the body away and out of sight.
Players can also sheathe their sword. To do so, either double tap O or hold down Square.
Back in 1996, Virtua Fighter 2 was widely considered to be the deepest, best-playing 3D fighter around. For the most part it was, although the learning curve was considerably steeper than, say, what a Tekken player would have to accomplish to master Tekken. Tekkens, Toshindens, and, er, Criticoms aside, Virtua Fighter 2 was the hard-core gamer's ultimate bastion, due to its endless layers of depth and extensive move list, which only the most erudite could master. So it came as a bit of a surprise when Tecmo, of all companies, licensed the same Model 2 hardware that Virtua Fighter 2 used. Until that point, no other third-party company had used the Model 2 board to create a game. That Tecmo was not only licensing it but apparently developing a Virtua Fighter clone brought, at the very least, smirks from the gaming community.
Three factors separated the uncomfortably familiar Virtua Fighter-like characters from their well-respected brethren. The first was the addition of danger zones, which surrounded the perimeter of each arena and caused any character who stepped into the zone to explode skyward, causing significant damage in the process. The second gameplay twist was the addition of a hold button that lets the fighter use his opponent's attacks against him by way of reversals. The third and final "enhancement" was the implementation of an obnoxious "breast physics engine" that caused the female characters' chests to defy the common laws of gravity with a panache never quite seen before in a video game. It was only the danger zones that affected the gameplay, but the novelty of the third enhancement struck a nerve far and wide with young male gamers everywhere.
The arcade experience was ported home (well, Japanese homes, anyway) to the Sega Saturn with remarkable accuracy, minus real-time shadows and a few background details. What was retained, however, was the slick 60fps rate, along with the modified Virtua Fighter combat engine. A wealth of replay value was stuffed into the Saturn port, with each character having a plethora of hidden costumes that were unlocked with each replay of the game. Dozens of new outfits were unlockable, with some of the female characters' outfits bordering on "racy." Sadly, despite desperate pleas from US gamers, the Saturn version never made it to the States, although the subsequent PlayStation version did. The PlayStation version, which took training-dummy Ayane and made her a playable character, also added a couple of outfits, although the gameplay wasn't as razor-sharp responsive as the Saturn version had been.
Now a few years have gone by, and Dead or Alive 2 hasn't exactly been a secret. Using Sega arcade hardware, this time the Naomi board, Tecmo once again has raised the bar on its own expectations by adding not only multitiered levels, but lightning-quick tag-team action as well. While the arcade version, seen in little peeks over the last two years, evolved into something quite substantial, it was widely thought to be running on two Naomi boards. This was due to the huge multileveled environments, whooshing by at 60fps, with up to four characters onscreen at one time. Team Ninja, Tecmo's in-house development team, declared that it ran on one Naomi board and that the entire game would be ported to the Dreamcast, with little to no loss of quality.
Well Tecmo has finally completed that daunting task, and Dead or Alive 2 has finally hit American (and strangely, not Japanese) shores. The Dreamcast has no shortage of fighting games, with Soul Calibur heading the list and Virtua Fighter 3tb, Power Stone, Tech Romancer, Star Gladiator 2, Psychic Force 2012, and Street Fighter III all having their merits. Does DOA2 bring enough to the table, to usurp Namco's Soul Calibur as best fighting game on a system replete with fighting games? In some ways, it most definitely does.
Although the original DOA for the arcade, the Saturn, and the PlayStation all played well enough to hold their own against comparisons with Virtua Fighter 2, it still wasn't nearly as deep as Sega's flagship fighter. The combo system was limited, and the depth of moves wasn't nearly as limitless as in VF2. Another criticism was that the hold mechanism made the game too easy and caused inordinate turtling, especially in two-player games, due to the ease with which a frontal attack could be shut down. Dead or Alive 2 addresses that issue and raises the curve on the requirements needed to master the new system. While it seems simple, it basically triples the difficulty in trying to parry an opponent into leaving himself open. Instead of just letting the press of the hold button (Tecmo refers to it as the "free" button) do all the work, you must now determine whether an opponent's attack will arrive at a high, medium, or low level. Only if you've eyeballed the correct point of entry will you successfully deflect the attack. Timing is also crucial to the successful reversal of an incoming attack, as attempting to use the free button too early or too late will simply leave you open to attack. Luckily, proper use of the free button lets you launch a heavily damaging counterattack on your opponent. In fact, many battles are decided this way, as some characters are a little too good at reversing your attacks on you, forcing you to rethink your full-frontal assault.
DOA2 has caught up with the Joneses and has integrated full 3D movement into the game. DOA2 allows movement into and out of the foreground by way of the analog pad, although the digital pad and a press of a trigger will achieve the same results for those who like the precise feeling only a D-pad can give you. The 3D movement doesn't factor into your success nearly as much as it does in Soul Calibur, but it most certainly helps. The environments in DOA2 also affect your strategies depending on whom you're playing against. Multitiered environments are certainly a big part of it, as your proximity to a ledge or stained-glass window can be the difference in about a sixth of your life bar should you take a hit that sends you flying over a ledge, five stories to the ground below. While some arenas can send you or your opponent plummeting three or four times, some levels offer uneven surfaces on which to fight. The final boss, Tengu, has a stage similar to Aoi's snow-stream stage in VF3. While there's no water running on Tengu's stage, it supplies dips and mounds that affect where your blows will land. It also affects when you need to use the free button, since an opponent standing slightly higher than you will require careful consideration as to where you'll want to parry.
The danger zones are less prominent in the game, appearing only on certain stages and in less obvious ways. The stage with churning pistons, for example, has fuel canisters lining the walls, and if one character lands a particularly forceful blow on another, close enough to the wall, it will cause the canister to explode, multiplying the damage factor of the attack. These factors, combined with the quickened pace of the gameplay, result in a far superior game than the one that first appeared in '96. However, despite the excellence of the regular single-character game, it pales in comparison with the mighty tag-battle mode.
Like Tekken Tag Tournament and Street Fighter EX3, DOA2's tag-battle mode lets up to four characters engage in an onscreen melee. Unlike TTT, DOA2 does it in rapid-fire machine-gun fashion. With a snap of the tag button, you can rifle back and forth between characters almost as fast as you can push the button. The only thing that will interrupt a tag is if the character trying to leave is getting hit. The character not currently fighting will recover health, similar to the characters in Marvel vs. Capcom. When one character is knocked out, his life bar will crumble, forcing the other team member back into action, making it a fight to the finish. Certain characters, such as Bass Armstrong and his daughter, Tina, can combine for special tag attacks that are nothing short of devastating. Finding a good balance between tag partners adds a lot of replay value as you try out different teams of slow and fast characters and brawlers and grapplers and even pairs as simple as girls and boys. As you become more comfortable with your team, you'll begin to discover the wide range of combo possibilities. For example, let's say you pick Ayane and Jann Lee, two fast and hard-hitting characters. If you were to start a combo with Ayane, you could switch mid-hit to Jann Lee, who could rocket in and finish the combo with three more punches and a kick. Before your opponent even hits the ground, you could switch back again to Ayane to add a slap and a sweep or two. It all depends on how well you know your characters and their moves. Amazing. In case it seems as if fights are over a little too quickly, you can always adjust the damage levels for longer, more satisfying battles. The real fun starts when you have four people playing at once. For perhaps the first time, aside from Sega's sports lineup and maybe Chu Chu Rocket, you have a real reason to plug four controllers into the front of your Dreamcast. If you have a balanced team that knows how to use the free button effectively, you could stall as your teammate regains his health on the sideline, switching back and forth as necessary. Matches often seem like a tug of war because only the players at the top of their game will survive. Unlike other 3D games on the Dreamcast, button mashers don't last long in DOA2, requiring you to really learn the nuances of the game. There is also a throw button that, if landed, will unleash some highly damaging moves. It doesn't take notice of location as much as Soul Calibur does (throwing from the side or back usually results in the same throw).
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