Roguelikes are a niche genre. They combine the unending toil of murdering waves of baddies with the drudgery of plumbing the depths of near-identical dungeons, then wrap the entire affair in a thick layer of cliché Tolkein-esque plot points. Fans of the genre defend them for their addictive, zen-like qualities, but to the average gamer they come off as a second job, even moreso than the MMOG genre they eventually spawned.
Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns for the Nintendo DS is Atlus' latest attempt at courting those hardcore roguelike fans while simultaneously pushing enough copies to the average person to ensure Ferraris and appletinis for development groups from two disparate countries.
I was all set to strike Atlus down for filling my life with even more pixelated tedium when a funny thing happened: I suddenly got it. Somewhere around the 8-hour mark, my dopamine receptors latched onto the idea that this game pushes biochemical reward stimulus with the regularity of a Cuban doctor. I don't know if it's the cleverly written, self-conscious characters or if I'm a sucker for stat advancement, but I've logged something like 60 hours in Izuna 2, and plan to keep playing, despite the fact that the game really isn't "fun."
Izuna 2 continues the story of its predecessor. Izuna is a female ninja (a "kunoichi" for those of you who masturbate to wall scrolls) who treads that fine anime line between hyper-sexualized and completely adorable. Yes, she has breasts for days, but her charming naivete and baby deer eyes make the entire thing seem more Miyazaki than Guccione.
In the sequel, Izuna engages a number of quests that all somehow tie into the overarching "my friend needs to find her sister" concept presented early in the game. Like any roleplaying title, each quest takes you to new areas, gives you reason to slaughter endless hordes of enemies and generally frames the actual gameplay.
Gameplay in Izuna 2 is classic roguelike fare. You enter a number of more-or-less distinct, randomly-generated dungeons in a quest to reach the bottom and whatever big baddie or key plot element awaits you. During your spelunking, you battle endlessly replenished mobs of adorable enemies, all of whom offer you crucial experience points and items. Unlike newer roleplaying titles, though, boosting your character's stats is crucial. You will die many, many times in Izuna 2, and the only way to eventually reach the end is through killing literally thousands of these enemies. If you die in your attempt, you're simply returned to the town from whence you came; ready to dive back into the dungeon for another go-round, this time with all the experience you accumulated on your previous attempt. Eventually, you will reach the end, but as you can guess, you'll be traversing the same areas often.