Ninja Gaiden II Breakdown

Psst, wanna know a secret? You can get like every Ninja Gaiden song ever over on the Classic Gaming Ninja Gaiden website. SHHH! Not too loud!

Well… you can’t get stuff that’s in print and being sold as a soundtrack currently (like the new X-box NG OSTs and such) but you can get all the old classics. And aren’t the NG classics the only tracks worth hearing? They are.

The only problem is that you have to have a (free) Gamespy account to download the songs, and you have to download them one at a time. Can you believe that? I know. You can’t. We’ll have to see if the webmaster here at CRM feels like helping us out in the upcoming days. His mood consistency is just so obnoxious! Grrr…..

Fortunately, yours truly has the goods on Ninja Gaiden II for NES. ‘Coz that’s all-round the best one. It’s one of the best games for NES, actually. Imagine early Castlevania, but faster and with ninjas and cinematic storytelling between stages. That’s the game, in a nutty shell..

Ninja Gaiden II possessed me to an absurd degree. A lot of my compositional ear is a direct product of hearing Ninja Gaiden or Castlevania stage music loop endlessly for hours — nay, days! Plus, Ninja Gaiden throws in all these crucial cinema sequences between stages (those might’ve been the first of their ilk, in fact) depicting a tragic love affair between Ryu, the last ninja in the universe, and Irene Lew, a sexy, helpless, blond CIA-agent who is always getting kidnapped by black magick demons. Ah, but it didn’t end all badly because, “after the events of Ninja Gaiden for NES, as chronicled in the Ninja Gaiden OVA, [Ryu] moved to America where he married Irene and bought an antique shop he ran with her.” (Nice grammar, Wikipedians…)

It may seem like a strange plot today, but those were the ’80s, man! I guess you had to be there…

One thing that confused me as a kid, since I hadn’t seen any Japanese animation yet (anime was exclusively hentai back then, so the legends go) is the fact that Ryu has a Japanese name but looks distinctly western. It’s kind of a weird message to send a Japanese audience, since Irene is as caucasian as they come. But, considering the NES could only display like 16 colors on-screen at once, from a palette of probably 52, (compared to Genesis’ 54/512 and SNES’ 256/16,000+) maybe they had to bite the bullet and just make everybody white and pretty. Not to mention…why is Ryu sleeveless in the cinema sequences? That always struck me as weird, but I guess it’s to define his muscles and his “character”. Because, in case you didn’t know, there’s a universal fail-safe formula for developing characters in a Japanese story, which is: muscles = personality.

Holy smokes, I am rambling. Okay, so NG II has a lot of ingenious level design, but I have (ahem) other things to talk about. The music here is so simultaneously melodic, inspired, melancholy and laid-back it is crazy. The first level has a sort of smooth jazziness to the chords and melodies. And the music choices for the levels with a lot of water are always kind of sad and indicative of the emotionally turbulent mood a downpour of rain invokes in a stressed-out, anxious person (it’s what the Japanese would call, “rage of violence”).

The later levels, where Ryu enters the crazy demonic realms and hideouts — these have truly gorgeous music. This stuff is so romantic! And no, I don’t mean dusty academic romanticism, I mean like – the essential nature of romantic experience or thought. A sense of awe and wonder that inspires you, the beholder. This is the stuff of phantasmagorical hard-ons! So epic, explosive, yet tragic… It’s the kind of stuff salary-men on the Tokyo subway use to rejuvenate themselves after a 16 hour work day in Shinjuku. If you can project this romanticism onto kids thru a game, that’s pretty professional storytelling/sorcery.

Tecmo – Train (Stage 2-1) – Ninja Gaiden II (NES)
Tecmo – Castle (Stage 3-2) – Ninja Gaiden II (NES)
Tecmo – Ice (Stage 5-1) – Ninja Gaiden II (NES)

And yo, how death metal is the theme of Ryu’s battle with Ashtar? It is totally grimed out! Yeow!

Tecmo – Ashtar Battle – Ninja Gaiden II (NES)

Oh, and not to mention the intro music. The Ninja Gaiden series on NES still to this day has some of the finest video game cinema segments in existence. Tell me the music from the opening scene with Ashtar doesn’t just curdle your blood.

Tecmo – Intro/Ashtar – Ninja Gaiden II (NES)
Tecmo – Credits – Ninja Gaiden II (NES)

It would seem the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console now has the precursor, plain old Ninja Gaiden. That’s all pretty and nice, though the second one holds the key to my heart. Yet I must give credit where credit’s due; the first one does have nuns throwing crosses in the later levels.

I was going to use some screenshots but I just didn’t have the heart to write funny stupid screen captions for this game. Instead, enjoy a speed-run.

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~ by chaosrexmachinae on February 29, 2008.

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