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Sep 28, 06 at 9:45pm ^positive review from got-next.com
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There's a lady who knows that this game kicks ass.
Reviewed by: James Cunningham e-mail September 20, 2006
I'm not going to pretend that Rengoku II: The Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N. is a game for everyone. It's a dungeon crawler focused exclusively on combat, with a huge variety of weapons and plenty of customization options available. Like all dungeon crawlers, though, it's a game people seem to either love or hate. I loved it, but if you're reading this then you've probably seen other reviews that have been less kind than I'm going to be. While it's a big world filled with diverse opinions, it would have been nice if those reviews read like the writers played the game longer than ten minutes.
In the world of Rengoku, A.D.A.M units fight each other for the amusement of the world after the wars they were originally designed for came to an end. Artificial intelligences recorded from the memories of dead soldiers; they've been honed into perfect killing machines by endless battles. The ultimate fighter, Gram, has awakened in one of the towers acting as the arena for these battles and must fight through eight levels to regain his true memories. There are bits of vaguely pretentious pseudo-religious imagery all throughout the story, including each level and its boss being named after one of the seven deadly sins, but fortunately none of it is that important to the main theme of the game, which is pure fighting action.
Everyone loves weapons!
When Gram starts off on his trek, he's basically unarmed. Each of the four face buttons correspond to head, right arm, left arm, or torso; and all he can do is punch, head-butt, and tackle. There's also a fifth option, legs, but that's reserved for support items that get used automatically. Defeated enemies can drop weapons, however, and this is where the fun begins. Swords, guns, chainsaws, axes, hammers, bazookas, lasers, and more come in wide variety of styles; and learning the properties of each is crucial to figuring out how to chain attacks together.
Combos are relatively simple to execute, with most weapons able to segue from one to another with ease, but the diversity of the weapon attributes means that creating effective combos takes a bit of experimentation. A hammer that sends enemies flying is best used before a close range axe attack rather than after, for example. Stun, lift, knock back, speed, and even charge time all need to be considered in making the perfect combo machine. All weapons also have a certain number of uses before they need a recharge, not to mention heat generation issues.
With repeated use, all weapons will overheat. Some do it faster than others, but once a certain threshold is reached the limb the weapon is on overheats and can't be used again for several nerve-wracking seconds. Adding to the fun, are enemies armed with heat-based weaponry, sending rivers of fire across the screen and leaving you dodging madly while searching for a cool-down power up.
In practical terms, what all the above means is that, when picking a projectile weapon for example, do you go for the homing laser that shoots up to eight beams at a time but need a bit of charging for the full effect, or the a similar weapon that does lesser damage but also raises the enemy heat level? Of course, the dumb-fire bazooka packs a major kick plus stun when it hits, assuming the target doesn't dodge, but three of four shots put it dangerously close to overheating. Single-shot rapid fire lasers that bounce off walls and pierce enemies, maybe or just the ever-handy machine gun, pinging away small chunks of health at a rapid pace? I spent more time balancing weapon load outs than I do choosing clothes in the real world, although I'll admit this might be different if I could choose between different kinds of homing-laser hats.
As Gram fights his way up the tower, the available arsenal just keeps growing. Extra weapons can be melted down into "elixir skin", which is Rengoku II's version of experience points, and defeated enemies drop it as well. Back at the save room that starts each level, this can be channeled into hit points, physical and elemental defense, and heat resistance for each of the five areas weapons can be equipped to. The final option, and the most expensive, is extra slots for equipping weapons. While only one weapon per limb is usable at a time, having a backup weapon (able swapped in at any time or when the one being used inconveniently runs out of energy) can be a lifesaver, especially when a quick change of tactics is needed. Being able to adapt on the fly is the difference between survival and Rengoku II's version of death, which is more of an inconvenience than anything else.
When Gram dies, which will happen often, he gets sent back down to the bottom of the tower. A quick teleport to the floor he was killed on gets things moving again, but all equipped weapons are left in a tidy pile where he died. It seems somewhat annoying at first, but it actually forces you to try a different strategy from the one that got you killed the first time. It's easy to fall into a pattern of attacks, and this forced me to try new and previously ignored weapons more often than I care to admit on the journey to the tower's pinnacle.
Wait, you mean there's more?
Once the top of the tower has been reached and defeated, the second half of Rengoku II opens up. While the first tower is a series of ornate rooms, each level done in a theme, the 99-floor second half of the game sacrifices what little level design there was for a series of connected boxes. On the plus side, each of the three 33-level sections of the second tower have their own rule set, throwing some interesting twists into how the game is played while focusing even more intently on combat than before.
Heaven A knocks Adam back to the strength he started the game at and automatically takes care of any stat raises between one floor and the next. More importantly, the only weapons Adam can have are those he can equip, and once one is out of energy it's gone forever, or until an enemy drops it again. No extra inventory; weapons are used, stored on a spare slot, or discarded. Heaven A constantly forces changes in strategy because of this, and has the most replay value of any area in the game.
Heaven B, on the other hand, lets you keep all weapons found in the original quest but drops stats down to their beginning levels again. Leveling up stats is manual, rather than Heaven A's automatic, and by the time Adam reaches the 33rd floor he should be back to full strength. Unfortunately it's the most tedious area in the game, at least the first 25 floors or so, because the weapons from the end of the first tower are far more powerful than anything the lower level enemies of Heaven B can stand against, even with Gram's seriously diminished hit points. It's worth working through the dull parts, though, because when the action gets going again it's as fun as it ever was.
The final area is Heaven C, and it's the most brutal section of Rengoku II. Stats don't get lowered, but only weapons found in the area can be used. They go into the standard inventory and get to be kept once the tower is completed, but Heaven C houses enemies wearing the strongest and rarest weapons in the game. Death means getting knocked out of the tower and restarting, and it happens often, so saving and reloading happens constantly. But the joy of new and exotic weapons calls, and anyone playing this far will be unable to resist their siren song. The final levels of Heaven C were absolutely brutal, and truly satisfying to defeat.
And the award for "Better Than You'd Think" goes to...
There's a lot of fun to be had all through Rengoku II's 30 hours of play, but it's a very gameplay-focused title. The scenery can be tedious, and every enemy in the game – except for the bosses – is the same guy with a new weapon selection, but combat is so fast and responsive that this becomes almost irrelevant. Going into a room, quickly assessing threats based on who's got what weapons, and taking the bad guys out as fast as possible before they do it to you becomes incredibly addictive, especially when your chosen weapons work well together. Rengoku II is a big, fun, fast-paced brawler, and there just aren't enough of those around these days.
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