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Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon

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Reviewed by Raymond Almeda Mystical Ninja is easily one of the most unique titles to come along for any system in quite a long time. To put it mildly, this game is bizarre. Mystical Ninja combines classic action RPG elements with a modern 3D environment; but that's only the beginning of this games claim to uniqueness. Mystical Ninja is certainly the most Japanese-influenced game to appear on the N64; it boasts more pronounced Japanese cultural influences than most Japanese imports. If the game has a caveat, it specifically involves those influences. American gamers who are turned off by direct Japanese-English translation will have serious problems with Mystical Ninjas offbeat humor and cultural references. But RPG-seeking gamers who appreciate radical creativity and quirky Japanese humor will be very pleased with this title. Mystical Ninjas weirdness is firmly established from the opening cut-scene. A giant peach-like spaceship appears from nowhere to hover ominously above a Japanese village. The giant peach emanates a beam which transforms the traditional Japanese castle into a European castle. Naturally, the village is terrorized. Someone's got to do something! Enter our hero, the spiky-haired Goemon. Goemons mission is to track down and confront the mysterious bad guys, restoring the castle to its original form. Along the way, he is joined in his adventure by the rotund Ebisumaru, the shapely fem fatale Yae, and the intimidating mechanical Ninja Sasuke. Although the game ostensibly "stars" Goemon, players can alternate between these characters at will. As with most RPGs, each character gains unique skills and weapons that are necessary to complete the quest. For example, Ebisumaru obtains a shrinking magic that reduces his size; he can therefore walk through small holes. Yae may obtain a flute that summons a magical dragon. More interestingly, each character has his or her own distinctive mannerisms. The slightly overweight Ebisumaru is hilarious: his moderate speed jog looks like a schoolboys skip. When running, Ebisumarus arms flail wildly by his side. The gameplay is consistent with traditional action RPG fare. Gamers must wonder throughout the Japanese countryside, visiting different towns and related places, carrying on three-sentence conversations with assorted locals. Naturally, there is no respect whatsoever for private property rights; Goemon barges into pretty much anyones home or place of business without asking permission. Overall, Mystical Ninja follows the traditional Zelda formula, and theres nothing wrong with that. But Mystical Ninja has a definite sense of humor. I particularly enjoyed some of the sly jokes dropped by Konami developers throughout the adventure. One citizen made reference to the traumatic Japanese to European castle transformation and asked, "Does this make me a model EU citizen?" Another storekeeper cracked a joke about being a nihilist! And from time to time, an absurd audio laugh track is inserted within text-based dialogue. It all makes for an unforgettably strange (and pleasantly unpredictable) experience. The game even contains joke references to its very existence. On one occasion, Goemon encounters a couple of guards who are always standing at alert on a bridge. One of the guards observed that it is actually rather exhausting to be constantly standing alert on a bridge, waiting for someone to finish a game. The graphics of Mystical Ninja are good, if not excellent. The game is occasionally hampered by graphic clipping and slightly choppy animation, but these minor annoyances in no way affect gameplay. Despite these small flaws, the graphics are often very good. While they lack the polish of Super Mario 64, the game nevertheless feels comparable. Goemon wanders across wide-open spaces that do not utilize any artificial N64 fogging. Its a great feeling to scale Mount Fugi and always be able to see the ground from its apex. Mystical Ninja also includes many impressive polygon-based bosses. Although the assorted smaller enemies are more odd than intimidating (ie. they often resemble short, fat Japanese dolls), the larger bosses are quite memorable. From time to time, Goemon is transformed into Goemon Impact, a giant robot (a robot who, incidentally, has dreams of becoming an American movie star?!). Goemon Impact battles some giant bosses in a very different style of gameplay. Defeating the bosses is usually a matter of finding the right formula of moves. The sound in Mystical Ninja is very good. Particularly enjoyable are the small touches, such as the different Japanese comments of the characters. Each character has his or her signature remarks that are made when jumping, fighting, and so forth. There are also some excellent samplings of ambient sound interspersed throughout the game, such as waves washing upon the beach. The music of Mystical Ninja naturally has a very Japanese flavor, and is superb. These excellent tunes will be ringing in your head long after you have turned off the game. Mystical Ninja is a thoroughly pleasant surprise for the N64. Any N64 owner with a longing to play a great Action/RPG should look no further than Konami's premier adventure. Bear in mind that, because of the games pronounced Japanese influences, its unique style is not for everyone. But gamers seeking a distinctively creative adventure are going to love it. Mystical Ninja is not the second coming of Zelda, but it is an extremely entertaining game.

Overall B+

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