REVIEW: Rengoku 2: The Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N.

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Rengoku 2: The Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N. is the second PSP game I bought, and my favorite. At the store counter, both cashiers said it was repetitive and terrible, and I said, “Ladies, I beat Deep Labyrinth.” They shut up because they thought I was insane, or they didn’t know about Deep Labyrinth. While I hadn’t played its prequel, I was ready to love Rengoku 2. I was won by a line in the manual: “You must work your way up to the top floor of Purgatory tower. But what awaits you there—salvation or despair?” The premise—hordes robots trapped in a giant tower, fighting each other, dying and being reborn infinitely—is hard to mess up.

Rengoku 2 delivers what you’d expect. You battle up 99 floors of robots, collecting their parts and raising your stats. It’s a very pure experience. The combat is fluid, mostly circle strafing or performing melee combos, depending on your preference. The dungeons—series of interconnected large rooms—don’t slow the battling with unnecessary exploration. The weapons and gadgets are interesting, with swords, axes, chainsaws, drills, shotguns, rockets, bouncy lasers, mines, stealth, shields (like a knight’s), jumping legs, etc. And there is engaging robot customization to be done.

Statistics-wise, it’s pretty streamlined. You upgrade defense, heat sinks, and the number of item slots on your limbs. Individual items increase effectiveness with use, gaining more power and ammo, and you get permanent multipliers for killing with a particular weapon class (grapple, slash, impact, bullet, and quantum), so there’s a benefit to specializing. I used bullet weapons (crossbows and shotguns mostly) exclusively and by the last level I had 15x damage, which was catastrophic. But the most absorbing part of customization is tweaking your load-out. Items mount on your head, torso, legs, and each arm, and alternate items can be swapped from extra slots on the fly, meaning you can have around 10 or 20 items always ready to rock, any of which can combo with others.

It’s true, the ladies at the game store were half right. Even with all the customization, Rengoku 2 lacks variety. You basically do the same thing for 99 floors: defeating robots with various configurations, in single or group combat. It’s a formula only broken by the occasional boss. But the combat is smooth and fun, tricking out your robot is satisfying, and the cool premise is well realized. Rengoku 2 is one of the few games where I wasn’t ready for the end. In fact I’m still seeking some elusive code to unlock a hidden hard mode.

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