So what is Ninja Gaiden about anyway? The main character as always is Ryu Hayabusa. For those not in the know, his first name, Ryu is the Japanese word for Dragon, and Hayabusa is the word for Hawk. So Dragon Hawk is the guy's name. His awesome name represents how much of a badass mother he is. He's fast, strong, agile, proficient with just about every weapon known to man, he can run on walls and water, use magic, and he's got killer biceps.
What's his angle? He's the good guy. What's his aim in NG2? I dunno. Save the world, obviously, but beyond that it's not that clear. As far as NG2 is involved, I don't really care for the story. Which is a bit sad, especially considering Ninja Gaiden's history. The NES games were revolutionary not just for their gameplay, but because it was rare for action games to have a deep story and cutscenes, if they had a story at all. The first rebooted episode's story has been written off as confusing, but it seemed pretty clear to me. You had a clear goal: to find the Dark Dragon Sword. There was a bit of mystery, some grudges, and lots of blood and tight leather. What's not to love?
In NG2 the story feels rushed. I have put some blame on the different locales. In NG, most areas were interconnected and it was possible to backtrack. Although I got tired of walking around Tairon, the central hub in NG, I kind of miss it in NG2. The unconnected levels of NG2 seem more like a bunch of random ideas thrown in, and don't create a flow of any sort. Stage 6 could have been stage 3, and there would have been no effect on the storytelling.
The first game was a bit more coherent in that sense, and the sequel suffers because of it. There's no clear bad guy you want to skewer, like Doku in NG. I was really looking forward to beating the hell outta that guy. He's been replaced by this guy Genshin, but he just doesn't have the aura Doku had. He's following this girl Elizébet, whom we know nothing about, except that she likes to wear an unbuttoned red leather jacket with essentially nothing underneath. Rachel, the damsel in distress from NG, makes a brief appearance, though her role is replaced by Sonia, a CIA agent. By replaced, I mean carbon copied. They both start off as fellow warriors, only to be captured and offered as sacrifices. Sadly, Sonia doesn't compare favorably to Rachel. Rachel could kick ass, and had some form of incentive to follow Ryu in the form of her evil sister. Why is Sonia tagging along? Romantic interest and plot aside, I still don't know, and I'm finishing up my second playthrough.
Strong female characters... wait a minute
I do like however that the story revolves around the Demon Statues, which - I'm assuming - are the same that are central to the plot of the first NES game. The final boss looks just like the one from the NES game, too. Nothing like a nostalgic tie-in to appease the howling masses. Now I'm just waiting for Irene Lew to show up.
The stage design is not as inspired as the first game. In fact, some of them seem recycled from the first game. The second stage is in Hayabusa village, which has barely changed since last time. Instead of a zeppelin, there's a big ass plane. There's still a church, and some underground water level and tunnels. Some levels have bits that are almost identical to the first one. The New York level is fairly new, though it's sometimes so dark, I would walk down a dark alley only to realize I'd been walking straight into a black wall. There are quite a few invisible walls, though I'm not sure how common they were in the first game, so I can't say if it's better or worse. The later levels I thought were better, though maybe just because they are not quite as dark. They're still linear as hell (a pun for those in the know), but for some reason I enjoyed them more.