Well, I finally did it. After buying Ninja Gaiden 2 the day it came out, I beat the game on Path of the Master Ninja, the hardest difficulty level possible. As far as video game accomplishments go, I think that this one is particularly braggable, especially considering that the Ninja Gaiden franchise is known for its insane difficulty. I put my time in and persevered, coming close to quitting many times but ultimately sacking up and obliterating the Archfiend. Was it worth all the time and frustration? Keep reading to find out:
If the jump from Path of the Warrior difficulty to Path of the Mentor difficulty is like going from high school athletics to college, the gap between the Mentor and Master Ninja difficulty levels is analogous to the gap between college and the pros. In Path of the Master Ninja, enemies attack in waves, and after completing a standard, non-boss battle, I felt like I needed a cigarette. Enemies are more aggressive than ever, spam projectiles at a constant rate, and deal massive amounts of damage with every attack you fail to block or dodge. It’s friggin’ impossible. Thankfully, there are a couple of techniques that can help you get through the game and still retain part of your sanity.
The most important technique – and I really can’t stress this enough – is essence farming. Once enemies are killed, they stay dead, except for in about three or four points in the game. I took advantage of this and essence farmed: I killed the enemies, absorbed their essence, and then returned to do it again and again and again and again. The spot I picked was in Chapter 1, after crossing the bridge and defeating the ninja archers that appear at the top of a set of stairs. With a ton of essence (about 250,000), I could power up my weapons and buy healing items, helping to level the field a bit. I’ve read that even the top players essence farm on Path of the Master Ninja, and to defeat the game on that difficulty without doing so seems unfathomable.
The other technique I employed was taking advantage of invincibility frames (or I-frames). There are certain moves and attacks that grant Ryu invincibility during their animations, such as the flying swallow technique, the guillotine throw, and best of all, the easy-to-execute Blood Rain combo with the Eclipse Scythe (jump, then XXYYY). By sticking with these moves in crowded areas, you can minimize the chances of an attack damaging Ryu. The invincibility only lasts for a second or two at most, so while the techniques do help, by no means are they an alternative to skill and determination.
Those techniques helped a lot, but I still had to continue at least hundreds of times. Boss battles become frustrating to the point that punching holes in your wall seems like a better way to spend your time, and the sheer number of enemies the game throws at you is almost always overwhelming. Eventually, though, you figure out attack patterns and which weapons are optimal in certain situations, and parts of the game you never thought you’d pass suddenly don’t seem so tough anymore.
So back to my original question – was it all worth it? Absolutely. Few games are very challenging anymore, and finishing a game of this difficulty at the hardest level possible gave me a sense of satisfaction I haven’t felt since the days of the 8-bit NES. I took everything the creators of a notoriously hard franchise threw at me and hacked it to bits with my sword, scythe, and falcon’s talons. Admittedly, the cut scenes aren’t much, the plot is a little silly, and the music quality is inconsistent, but if you’re playing Ninja Gaiden 2 for anything other than an incredibly difficult action game, you’re playing for the wrong reasons. Ninja Gaiden 2 is graphically a gorgeous – and crazy violent – game, and if you’re up for a hell of a challenge, try beating it on the Path of the Master Ninja. And don’t say you weren’t warned about how frustrated it made you.
If you’ve played and/or beaten this game, let me know your thoughts.