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Slot Stairway to Heaven — Game Review

Rengoku II: The Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N

Solid dungeon-crawling with a unique aesthetic; supportive of different playstyles; slightly wicked techno-feel to the whole thing.


A straigtfoward game that¿s only original in its visual design; poorly presented sci-fi story despite interesting theme; repetitive.

My head is a cavernous barrel. As I plant my feet and missiles burst out of my face-hole, my neck snaps back with recoil. Embedded in my left arm is an efficient macro needle gun. My right arm tapers into a drill, its momentum capable of carrying me across the room to plunge into another unfortunate cyber-dweller. An examination of my calves reveals that they are disproportionately bulky due to a cooling system that allows me to rapidly fire my various munitions without overheating. All in all, I fit in fairly well with the other characters in Rengoku II — a traditional dungeon crawler (though being in a tower your goal is to reach the highest plane rather than the deepest floor) with a very nontraditional style.

Looked at a certain way, it’s awkward and bizarre, like the ridiculous fantasies of an extremely troubled middle school kid. But examined from another angle, there’s something cool about the literal «killing machine» aesthetic. Grotesque humanoids with weapons jutting out at every angle, resplendent in their mechanical detail, stalk utilitarian techno-dungeons in search of something to kill/rend/destroy. If you can get behind it, and mentally remove the stigma attached to the name Rengoku (a result of the first game’s clumsy incompetence), you’ll have on your hands a technically proficient example of the genre that’s perfectly enjoyable.

It might also be a bit pretentious. The opening scene contains black and white footage from various wars and philosophical questions pertaining to the nature of war and obscure names for levels and functions tied to Roman mythology and biblical allusion. When it comes to concept, though, Rengoku II is a very honest game. The game is about killing your enemies and searching for the ultimate killing tool, and it achieves a pleasantly single-minded experience. You have four buttons dedicated to your head, left and right arm, and chest, and each button is dedicated to attacking and killing with whatever murder implement you’ve decided to place there. Logically, when you’ve got an axe or a shotgun for a face, «talking things out» isn’t really a viable option.

The game does let you customize your body to suit your style of play. If you like violence with a close personal touch, attacks from different body parts can be linked together to create damaging combos. If you like to kill from a distance (or attract compliments on the size of your gun), there’s an impressive amount of variety to the ranged weapons. Other strategies could be to stun or overheat your enemies, plan around the special properties of support systems, or to minimize damage to yourself by concentrating on defensive parts such as shields and regeneration. There’s a lot to consider. As you upgrade and expand your man-machine using points (represented as elixir skin) and parts, you gain versatility from extra equipment slots you can swap out via a menu when the action is paused.

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Rengoku II: The Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N. (PSP) review

Rengoku II: The Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N. (PSP) artwork

«Rengoku II shocked me with its brilliance. I couldn’t believe how it took everything about the first game and made it a million times better when I was just hoping for slight improvements. The story, the gameplay, the customization, the graphics, everything is top notch. This game flirts with perfection.»

And she’s buying Rengoku II at Five Below.

When I played the first Rengoku game a few years ago, I was very impressed with a few aspects of it. The art style and character design is incredible. The androids with weapons coming out of every limb and head combined with the organic curved metal look and some scary skull faces and religious imagery in the background really, really worked. The basic idea of the game was awesome too; fight robots, take their weapons, equip said weapons all over your body (like equip a shotgun or chainsaw to your head). You end up with crazy looking robots that look very humanoid up to a point and then distort wildly. What didn’t work was the gameplay and the general flow of the game. It just wasn’t fun or engaging. Well, let me tell you. Rengoku II just might be the most improved sequel ever made. It retains the amazing art style, plethora of weapons, and character customization but cuts out all the awkward and un-fun gameplay and flow and drastically improves everything about the first game to a radical degree.

Much like the first game, you play as an ADAM in a Rengoku tower. ADAMs were developed as war androids. They are made of a malleable material called elixir skin that can be re-shaped to form weapons and equipment and repair itself. They proved to be highly effective and quickly put an end to the wars they were deployed in. In fact, they put an end to all wars. With no more fighting left to do, they were placed into Rengoku towers where they fight each other endlessly for the entertainment of the masses, who watch their battles on TV. The first Rengoku‘s storyline can pretty accurately be described as poorly localized Japanese non-sense. But Rengoku II‘s story is really interesting and engaging and is expertly translated. I was not expecting this at all. I thought the gameplay might be improved, but I was not expecting the clear, tight, fascinating story that Rengoku II delivers. Text during chapter breaks and in files you can read from the main menu flesh out the world of Rengoku and slowly drop revelations about the true nature of elixir skin technology, the ADAM you are playing as, the past wars, and the nature of the Rengoku towers. The writing is tight and personal. Scenes that seem like they are going to get lost in translation instead feature tight writing and expert phrasing of ideas. There are some great quotes in there, and the story takes some interesting twists as you simultaneously read about a special forces squad from the war era and the work of an AI scientist named Beatrice further in the future. It’s great stuff, and I just couldn’t believe how well it was written compared to the first game and my experience with localized games over all.

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The gameplay of Rengoku II is just as well realized as its story. You must traverse 7 or 8 floors of the Rengoku tower you are in, fighting lots of enemies and then a boss. To unlock the boss room, you must clear several challenge rooms of harder enemies on each floor. You start the game with only the ability to punch and headbutt, but each enemy you kill has a high chance of dropping one of its weapons when defeated. This percentage goes up if you continue to attack the enemy after it is dead but before its elixir skin breaks down. You will very quickly amass a huge arsenal of varied weapons of all types. You continue to get more and more new weapons and weapon types throughout your playthrough and all the way through the post game content. Weapons can be equipped to the head, each arm, and the torso, and special equipment can be equipped to the legs. Weapons include almost anything you can imagine, from several classes of melee weapon, handguns, rifles, crossbows, automatic weapons, grenade launchers, mine launchers, rocket launchers, missile launchers, energy cannons, and quite a few more. Its incredible how many weapons there are. The back of the box claims 300, and that certainly seems right. I maxed out my inventory of 20 pages worth by the end of my time with the game. What’s more, you actually need to constantly rebuild your ADAM’s setup to take on new threats and challenges. Over and over again you make what you think is an unstoppable, perfect build. You cruise through a few rooms only to get beat down in your next encounter. Then you sort through your equipment and find something that will help you pass the set of enemies you are stuck on and you are cruising again, thinking you’re unstoppable. But 30 minutes later, it’s back to the drawing board. There’s no way you can keep up with all the weapons you pick up, but you’ll go through a lot of them and have tons of memorable and fun builds that play wildly differently from each other. Almost every weapon type is usable in the right context or combination, from melee builds, to short ranged weapon builds, to long range builds and every combination you can think of, and a few of the more exotic weapons and equipment can really change the way you play. Just don’t get used to any particular playstyle or weapon type; you’re going to need to switch things up soon if you want to keep moving.

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At the heart of Rengoku II‘s gameplay are its battles. They are typically extremely fast and bloody. You can kill another android in seconds, and in some cases, they can do the same to you, although in most cases they need to rely on numbers to wear you down. The game’s controls are as follows: You move with either the analog nub or the d-pad. Tapping L locks you onto the nearest target, directing all your attacks toward them and allowing you to strafe. Tapping it again changes your target. Double tapping a directional button or the nub makes you dodge in that direction or roll out of the way if you are knocked down. The face buttons all correspond to the weapons and equipment you have added to your ADAM; triangle activates the head weapon, square the left arm, circle the right arm, and X the torso weapon. Weapons can be fired in rapid succession through combos, allowing you to chain lots of slower attacks together. For example, if you have a shotgun equipped to your arm, you obviously can’t rapid-fire it, but you can combo it into an attack with the rocket launcher on your other arm and the chainsaw on your head. These combos have limits though; you can basically involve each weapon in the combo once before having to wait a half-second to start another chain (unless you get the rare power-up that makes you invincible and makes it so your combos can go on infinetely).

Weapons carry limited ammo (or uses in the case of melee weapons). You can replenish them by finding pickups in the environment or by returning to the terminal, an area on each floor where you can edit your loadout and teleport to different floors. Weapons also generate heat; over using a weapon can fill up its heat gauge. The gauge constantly goes down, but if it fills totally up, the weapon catches fire and becomes unusable until it cools all the way down. You can carry multiple weapons in each slot as you upgrade your android, and you can press select to quickly pause the action and open a menu that lets you switch your loadout.

A typical combat scenario starts when you walk into a room and an enemy or two teleports in. Oftentimes the doors will lock as well so that you must fight if it’s your first trip through that particular room. In a bit, some more enemies are probably going to teleport in, so you need to kill the first wave fast so you don’t get overwhelmed. You might need to quickly close the distance to use your melee weapons or just open fire with your long range gear. Or you might fire a machine gun as you close in for the kill. Or you might have something on you for every situation and just react to the enemies’ actions. Your go-to weapon might overheat, causing you to fall back to a back up, or you might become heavily damaged and try to hide behind some obstacle until your elixir skin can heal. Or you might make a mad dash for a healing power up that can save you, or a cool down power up that can get you overheated weapons back online. Or you might get taken out immediately or by the last wave of more powerful enemies and be forced to re-design your whole setup. I played Rengoku II for nearly 30 hours and I stayed engaged with its masterful cycle of constant loot pickups, character re-designs, and varying play styles. Right up to the bitter end I was changing and tweaking and rearranging to make my character work against the enemies I was facing. You also need to continually upgrade your stats using the excess elixir skin that enemies drop. This allows you to upgrade the amount of weapons that various body parts can carry, heat resistance for those parts, and general stats like defenses and HP.

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Once you �beat� the game, there is a massive amount of story-based post-game content that mixes up the general formula in some interesting ways that force you to play the game differently. This content is about as long as the main game, maybe longer, and it is worth the ride. There are some great experiences to be had and some truly epic equipment to find. Some of the equipment sounds broken when you read the descriptions, but it all has to be piloted correctly or you can still be defeated quite quickly. My final, ultimate build is something I’m really proud of, and it really feels like the constant improvements you make are part of the story and themes.

Rengoku II‘s music is slightly European techno. A majority of it is really good. There is some subtlety to a few of the tracks that works well with the look of the areas you are in.

The one ding I can think up about the game is the fact that whether you use the d-pad or the nub, there are problems with controlling movement. The nub causes you to accidentally dash a lot, and the d-pad forces you into more tank-like controls. Settling into a combination of both is the way to go, and once you do the problem doesn’t really bother you. I never had a time where this problem caused me to loose a battle, but it is an annoyance.

Rengoku II shocked me with its brilliance. I couldn’t believe how it took everything about the first game and made it a million times better when I was just hoping for slight improvements. The story, the gameplay, the customization, the graphics, everything is top notch. This game flirts with perfection. It’s engaging and interesting despite the fact that it just boils down to hundreds and hundreds of short, bloody battles. I never got bored with it even though technically I was just doing the same thing over and over. The constant need to re-design your character and change your playstyle keeps things fresh, as do the interesting new areas and new terrain features, the challenging bosses, and the way you get introduced to each new weapon by having it fired at you. Rengoku II is really something special; a full realization of the type of gameplay loop most action games can’t even dream about producing. It’s a 4 out of 5.

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Community review by Robotic_Attack (May 30, 2015)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays. almost.

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