It hosts the classics of the genre, such as Final Fantasy III (or VI, if you’re one of those people), Illusion of Gaia, and Chrono Trigger, to name a few. But those are just the big guns, the games everyone and their grandmother has heard about. Inindo: The Way of the Ninja is one of a slew of Japanese Role Playing Games that came stateside for the SNES and has, for one reason or another, been forgotten by the wayside. Does it deserve to be left there?
The short answer: no. Released circa 1993 by Koei, Inindo has a lot going for it that other JRPG’s of the era don’t have. First, the hero isn’t your average boy-whose-village-is-destroyed-by-the-villain-and-is-out-for-revenge kinda kid. Err, actually, that’s exactly what he is. But this boy is a ninja in a somewhat historically accurate feudal Japan, and the villain he’s going after is Oda Nobunga.
If that name is familiar to you, and not because you’re a historian of ancient Japan, it’s because KOEI has been making Nobunaga’s Ambition historical strategy games since 1986. That said, Inindo is the first and only traditional RPG to find it’s way into KOEI’s Nobunaga-repertoire. The historic setting definitely gives the game a unique feel–you still visit inns, but you also visit Tea Houses. You still get party members, but you have to gain enough of their trust and enough levels to be able to recruit them. You can also start a duel with recruitable characters, and beat the stuffing out of them to show that you mean business. Shame I couldn’t do that in other JRPG’s–I’m talking to you, comic relief!
The setting is enhanced by bits of historical facts dished out by the NPC’s that you’ll talk to in towns, and also from the occasional shifts in political power in certain regions as you walk through them via an overworld map. Every so often, a risk-type map of feudal Japan will pop up, and cycle through battles between feudal lords (called “daimyō”). Nobunaga is one of these, and each political shift brings him closer to total rule over the region. After you get renowned enough, you can speak with daimyō’s, and spy on other rulers for them or carry out various tasks to curry favor. When you have enough, you can unite them against Nobunaga.
The shifts in regional power within the game occur when a certain amount of days have passed, which is calculated via the overworld’s day-night cycle. Yes, you heard right–this 20+ year old SNES RPG actually has a day-night cycle, shown by the dimming and brightening of the screen while traveling on the overworld map. Your character has to rest, too, and when he wakes up, he can be ambushed by traveling recruitable party members. Lose, and you get robbed of all your cash and are injured, causing attack and defense penalties that require medical attention or items to remove.
Sound rough? It is. This is a tough game, but gets less so the more you push on. You can’t grind excessively, because duels don’t give you experience, and there’s programming that makes enemies disappear if you’re way too powerful for them. And guess what? Overworld random enemy encounters are super-rare. This can give the game a somewhat linear feel, which may turn off some RPG’ers.
Aside from all the nifty features present in Inindo, it is, at it’s heart, a traditional JRPG. You fight turn-based battles against giant rats, snakes, and “bushwhackers,” which I guess is what KOEI called bandits in the early 90’s. The graphics have been bashed by other critics as NES quality, and while that’s not true, they can’t compete with the SQUARE, CAPCOM, or ENIX RPG’s of the era. The spell and attack effects are underwhelming, and the character sprites and background illustrations are the bare minimum for a 16 bit system. That said, the unique elements of Inindo kept me coming back for more, and the promise of different events on different play-through’s tells me I’ll be hitting this one up again down the retro road.