TSR, $2.50, ISBN 0-88038-260-0
Ooh, you finally get to play a ninja in a
Super Endless Quest Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Gamebook, thanks to Curtis Smith, so you are going to be kicking high and throwing ninja stars in Kara… oh wait, you’re a samurai in Japan. That’s not too bad. Hold up, Japan? Did someone from TSR steal a submission meant for Choose Your Own Adventure?
Never mind, you are here, so you are going to kick some rear ends. Your name is Kurasai Hidenaga, and you are 19, just about to graduate from the prestigious ancient Japan samurai school, Chomei Sensei No Dojo. You have your father’s jet-black nightsword, and you serve Lord Tomodata, at least you will when you get your certificate in samurai-logy. And that’s what you will be doing here. Pass the Test of the
Ninja Samurai, and move on to greater kick-ass adventures!
Gameplay here will be familiar to gamebook players—there are a few stat blocks here to make saving rolls against. Some are fixed, some are determined by the roll of a die and adding some number to the score, and there are some additional stat points given to distribute as you see fit. There is nothing too complex here. Oddly enough, there are no special skills to choose—you certainly won’t confuse this one with The Way of the Tiger gamebooks, let’s just say!
The whole campaign starts with a pretty exhilarating fight, and you will soon realize that, after the last few entries in this gamebook line, The Test of the Ninja is the first one that feels like an actual gamebook that helps players of the more basic Endless Quest-style gamebooks transition to more advanced ones. While this one still has some degree of linearity in terms of routes and story arc, it does a good job in giving you the impression that you have far more agency and control over your actions than those more basic exposition-heavy gamebooks.
The narrative is rock solid and entertaining to read, and the characters here feel more alive than those in typical gamebooks. You have a tagalong character here, but he’s far from annoying or prone to making unhappy jokes like way too many tagalongs in Dungeons & Dragons gamebooks.
Furthermore, the atmosphere works well with the illustrations to make you lose yourself in this fun and vivid adventure—you will forget that you’re sitting in your room and simply turning the pages, that’s for sure.
All in all, some comparisons to those The Way of the Tiger gamebooks are valid. Sure, the story arc here is pretty predictable and even standard as far as gamebooks in feudal Japan or feudal Japan-like settings go, but it’s a fun story to play and live out in. Yes, this one is far less brutal and is fairer than The Way of the Tiger, but it is no less enjoyable for that. It is a solid vicarious getaway to a fun place where you get to go from zero to hero with style.
You may grit your teeth when you come to the best ending that hints at more adventures to come, only for no sequels to materialize, but still, you’re not likely to regret taking the Test of the Ninja.