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Item - Test of the Ninja

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Series: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Gamebooks — no. 5
Translated Into: Le Défi du Ninja (French)
Ninja (Italian)
Ninja he no michi [忍者への道] (Japanese)
Ninjas eldprov (Swedish)
La prueba del ninja (Spanish)
Author: Smith, Curtis
Illustrators: Caldwell, Clyde (cover)
Williams, Gary (interior)
Date: November, 1985
ISBN: 0880382600 / 9780880382601
Length: 189 pages (233 sections)
Number of Endings: 8
User Summary: You are a samurai in training and must pass many challenges on your way to becoming a warrior.
Demian's Thoughts:

This is the first book in this series to take on the wood-grain appearance that would last until the final volume. While the adventure doesn't fit into any of the AD&D game worlds (it's set in historical Japan, not Kara-Tur, the closest AD&D equivalent), it's an excellent gamebook. The story isn't bad, the characterization is considerably above average and the game design is great, making the player feel quite unrestricted in terms of choices. The only problem with this book is that it feels like the beginning of a series but isn't; its ending is far too abrupt for a story with no sequels. Despite this frustration, it's well worth reading.

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Guillermo's Thoughts:

This is an odd book even in its own series. Despite the fact that TSR's approach toward the Far East usually integrated fantasy (such as in their Oriental Adventures rules set or in the Kara-Tur region of the Forgotten Realms setting), the setting chosen for this book is Thirteenth-Century Japan, without the presence of magical or fantastic elements. In my opinion, it's an excellent gamebook, strongly influenced by the films of the great director Akira Kurosawa. Characterization and plot advancement are central parts of the book. Many choices require reasoning and skill checks provide challenge without making the book frustratingly tough. The intriguing plot and well-designed gameplay make this book a winner.

The only thing I didn't like about this book is the fact that, as Demian mentions, the book only covers what might be seen as the beginning of a potentially interesting storyline. Upon finishing it, one can't help but wonder whether a plan to develop sequels was made and later aborted. Nonetheless, this is a great gamebook in its own right.

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karalynn's Thoughts:

I was happy to see a gamebook with a historical Asian setting (or anything non-standard Euro-fantasy, really), but the glamorizing of ninjas made me a little wary. It was actually delivered a pretty satisfactory experience, but more for the gameplay than the world.

You're a very specific character with a name, an exact age, and even a best friend who's going through samurai training with you. (This will probably appeal best to younger readers; I was amused at having to go through school again, so to speak.) A surprising amount of the character is left to you, however. The choices you're given aren't the standard "turn north or east" ones; the first one asks instead about your state of mind--whether you suspect your friend of playing a prank on you or not. It gives you the feeling of truly making decisions rather than jerking a puppet along a map. And the first fight isn't just a single-paragraph encounter: you can make a series of moves, each of which leads you to a new section.

I'd be quite curious to see other work by this author and see how he does outside of a controlled school-type setting, although he did make it fairly interesting even within those constraints.

More reviews by karalynn

Kveto's Thoughts:

The only book of the series set in real-world Japan rather than a fantasy world, in this one you play Kursai, a young samurai student in 13th century Japan.

A really good book with a good use of the game system, tough choices and a good mystery. Most of the book concerns your training in samurai school and your big, evil rival who hates you. It has a very detailed graduation fight, then a really cool sequence where the younger students attack you in hundreds, a kind of practice suicide mission. It also involves Ronin and princesses and Mongols, there's a lot to like (although the title is a bit too revealing).

This book really feels as if it were written for a different series altogether (several times you lose all your hit points yet it tells you to keep reading), but that doesn't mean it's not a lot of fun. I loved it as a kid. Nowadays, we know that all of that "bushido" honour was nonsense and samurais changed masters as often as NHL players change teams, the katana is the most overrated sword in history and ninjas were dressed as normal peasants, not all in black. But none of that knowledge takes away from this entry. It's still a great deal of pleasure.

More reviews by Kveto

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