ANNOTATED GUIDE TO

PART TWO- The Levels

Mystical Ninja contains nine levels, each one set in a different region of Japan and featuring a distinct theme.

 

WARLOCK ZONE I: Mystical Ghost (location: Edo)

Warlock Zone I is ghost-themed and features a number of ghostly characters from Japanese mythology. The objective is to kill the scary leader of the ghosts who are terrorizing the city.

Edo, the city where the level takes place, was the ancient center of Japanese politics and commerce. It was renamed "Tokyo" in the 19th Century.


Ghost Enemies

These things have a style of face that is commonly used on Japanese characters. Think of Cactuar from Final Fantasy or all the things in Mischief Makers. The origin of the "three hole" style of face comes from haniwa, ancient Japanese clay sculptures made by the indigenous peoples of Japan. This particular ghost closely resembles a haniwa sculpture with his oval body and limbs.

A Haniwa in Final Fantasy Legends II

The jolly fireballs are known as Hi no Tama, Hitodama, or ghost flares. They are balls of flame with a mind of their own who are said to hang out with other ghouls and help light their way through the dark night. If you see a hitodama in the sky it's a bad sign.


The weird flying umbrellas are, oddly enough, a real creature in Japanese mythology. The Japanese believe that after sitting around for a 100 years, inanimate objects will become possessed by spirits and come to life. Umbrellas that have become possessed in this fashion are known as Kasa no Obake or Karakasa. They tend to be one of the most common "possessed object" goblins you see in Japanese folklore.


This guy, who pops out of the ground, is just a generic sort of undead human. We call them zombies, the Japanese call them shibito. The Japanese instruction manual calls him tsuchioyaji, or "soil man."

It's worth noting the fact that he wears white. In ancient Japan people were always buried in white, and as a result most Japanese zombies and ghosts wear clothing of this color.


Kid Dracula Cameo

If you attack the wall to the right of the Horo temple entrance a little head will pop out. You can collect it for a free $100.

The face is of "Kid Dracula", a fairly obscure Konami character who starred in a self-titled game for both the NES and Game Boy.


Bell

Halfway through the action zone there is a giant metal bell Kid Ying can "gong" to kill all the ghosts on the screen at once.

There are a lot of little bell shrines like these all over Japan. Ancient Buddhists used to ring large, ceremonial iron bells as a way to ward off evil spirits.


The boss of Zone I is a Yurei, a traditional Japanese female ghost. She wears a white kimono and has long black hair topped with a triangular hitaikakushi paper hat (a traditional burial vestment). In both the game and popular lore the yurei is accompanied by two floating will-o-the wisps. The thing from the movie The Ring is based on this sort of monster.

 

 

WARLOCK ZONE II: Statue of Cat (location: Shikoku Island)

Zone II is a very short level that is home to a big festival full of masked weirdos. They are up to something sinister, and Ying and Yang must investigate.

It takes place in Shikoku, which the heroes sail to from Edo. Shikoku is the home of the famous Obon festival, which is a big annual event with much dancing and drumming.

 


Hyotoko

The bad guys in Zone II are said to be part of the "Hyotoko gang." There is a popular style of humorous plays in Japan known as Kyogen, which feature actors who wear various silly masks intended to represent different character archetypes. The Hyotoko mask is one such face, and represents a generic sort of idiotic male character. His lips are puckered and his eyes are bulging in an expression of moronic bewilderment.

The roaming characters in Zone II wear traditional pink Hyotoko masks. They also wear open happi coats with no shirt, traditional male dress for Japanese festivals.

At the end of the level, Kid Ying bursts into a bunch of the Hyotoko gang members having a little festival. Two stand on top of a stage beating a giant Taiko drum, while the rest dance around in a clockwise pattern. This is the traditional Bon Odori dance common at Obon festivals in Shikoku.

The various Hyotoko-faced enemies
A traditional Hyotoko mask


Lantern Man

The boss of Zone II is Lantern Man, a weird beast-looking thing with a huge lantern structure coming out of his head.

The character is based on the Japanese "Lion Dance." People usually associate the Lion Dance with China, particularly Chinese New Year, but they have it in Japan as well.

A dancer holds a big wooden lion mask over his face, sticking his legs out of the side to act as the lion's legs. A decorated sheet covers the rest of the human's body. The awkward sort of jerky way Lantern Man walks is very similar to the movements of the dance.

As far as I can tell the lanterns are just supposed to be typical Japanese paper lanterns, common decorations at festive events. They don't normally come out of a dragon dancer's head, but I am sure you knew that.

A small child recoils in horror from a Japanese lion dancer.

 

WARLOCK ZONE III: Amusement Park (location: Awaji Island)

After defeating the Lantern Man, a cat tells Ying and Yang that the Emperor's daughter has been kidnapped. They go to Awaji Island to try and track her down.

Level three has very little to do with ancient Japan. It may shock you to learn, but there were no Ferris wheels or video arcades in the 17th century.

Instead of Japanese cultural references, the amusement park level contains a lot of in-jokes relating to Konami, the company that produced Mystical Ninja. This is because Awaji Island, where the level takes place, was also the location of Konami headquarters at the time.

 


shriner

On the bridge area, you encounter these guys carrying backpacks with jack-in-the-boxes inside. According to the Japanese manual, they are Karakuri Shounin, or mechanical toy vendor's. An earlier version of this guide thought they were something higher-concept.


Logo sighting

Some of the little carnival booths have the red-and-orange Konami logo on them.


Gradius

If you shill out $100 in the park's arcade booth you can play a modified version of the first level of Gradius, a classic arcade game released by Konami back in 1985.

It's a fairly faithful port, as you can see by comparing this screenshot of the Mystical Ninja version with the screenshot of the original arcade version. The Mystical Ninja version of the first level is a bit shorter (and thus easier) and the graphics and sound have been spruced up. You only get one life and the game doesn't keep score.

You can see the brand name of the TV is "Konami" as well.

Fighting the boss. Note lack of points or lives.
The original arcade version was more spacious.

Konami Girl

The dame who hosts the arcade booth is a Konami mascot character known as Konami Girl. She's the sidekick of Konami Man, who, as mentioned, appears at the maze / trivia booths.


Takosuke

The "boss" of Zone III (not much of one, since you can just walk right past him) is another one of Konami's trademark characters, Takosuke (also known as Takohiko) the octopus. He's best-known for appearing in the Parodius franchise.

When you finish the level you can see Tako terrorizing Konami HQ in the background (hover to zoom in).

 


WARLOCK ZONE IV: Defeat Otafu! (location: Ohedojyo)

Their visit to carnival proving useless, Ying and Yang continue to Ohedojyo in search of the Princess.

There is no such place as "Ohedojyo" in reality. The use of that name suggests Konami of America did not have the most competent translators.

The name is actually just a phonetic translation of Oe dojo, with "Oe" being the name of the city where the level takes place, and "dojo" referring to a place of martial arts training.

 


Konami Code

Right at the beginning Zone IV contains another Konami in-joke. When you enter the second house near the start, the guy inside will say 'Just between you and me... if you use the command "up up down down L R L R B A", nothing will happen.'

He is referencing the famed "Konami Code" which is a sequence of buttons you can press in most Konami games (except this one, apparently) to activate various cheats.


Otafu

Otafuku (also known as Otafu, or Okame) is a cliched face image often used on masks in humorous Japanese Kyogen plays. The image is supposed to represent a classical sort of female beauty ideal, and over the years an Otafuku face has evolved into a generic symbol of joy and happiness in Japan.

The whole theme of Zone IV is based on Otafuku (the villains are said to be part of the "Otafu Army"). All the enemy characters have chubby white Otafuku faces, which is supposed to be funny and ironic. A western equivalent would be like having an evil army based around the yellow smiley face. The clowns in the previous level had Otafuku faces as well.

The bosses of Zone IV are a two fat wrestlers, followed by a giant floating head. The loin-cloth wearing fatties are obviously supposed to be Sumo wrestlers, from the famed Japanese national sport.

The flying head is simply a giant Otafuku. The traditional plumpness is what's being particularly parodied in this battle. As the face gets closer and closer to death, it gets fatter and fatter (and jollier) until it eventually explodes. At various times, the face also scatters its features, which is a reference to a traditional Japanese "pin the tail on the Donkey" type game in which Japanese children try to assemble a Otafu face from paper cut-outs.

Members of the "Otafu Army"
A traditional Otafuku mask


Buddha

In the background of the Otafu Army base you can also see statues of the traditional meditating Amida Buddha, albeit with a jolly Otafuku face.

Japan is no longer a predominantly Buddhist country, but it was in ancient times, hence why there are more Buddhist references in Mystical Ninja than you might expect.

 

WARLOCK ZONE V: Ninja Castle (location: Iga)

After defeating the Otafu gang, Ying and Yang inadvertently rescue a ninja woman named Yae. She advises them to go visit the wise man of Iga.

Iga province was considered the birthplace of the Ninja, and was home to a variety of Ninja clans. Hence why it was chosen as the location for the Ninja Castle of Zone V.

 



The action portion of level features a variety of mechanical Ninja enemies. Each one uses a different style of traditional Japanese Ninja weaponry:

These guys throw four-sided ninja stars, or shuriken, just like Dr. Yang.

These guys, by contrast, wield the katana, the traditional Ninja sword.
The boss of the level, master Ninja robot Sasuke, throws out Kunai. Kunai were originally designed to be spades for the garden, but Ninjas adapted them into a deadly throwing weapon.



WARLOCK ZONE VI: Tengu Mountain (location: Kyoto)

The wise man of Iga tells Ying and Yang to go find the White Mirror of Izumo. It will show them the way! But first they have to go through Kyoto.

Kyoto is a mountainous, forested region of Japan. So is Zone VI.

 


Tengu

Tengu are the mythical beasts after which Zone VI's Tengu Mountain is named. They are these weird humanoid creatures that supposedly dwell high in the mountains. Tengu have long noses, colored faces, and magical shape-shifting powers. They're are also supposed to be good at martial artist.

Tengu Mountain features numerous rock carvings of Tengu faces, easily identifiable by their long noses. Midway through the level Kid Ying must fight three real-live Tengu as well. Two of them have red faces and wield katana swords. The third, blue-faced one throws a leaf-thing. This is supposed to be a Japanese Aralia leaf, which the Tengu use to make fans to control the wind.

A Tengu mask
A Tengu statue (holding an Aralia leaf)



Kabuki

The boss of Tengu Mountain is a fun character who is supposed to be a Japanese Kabuki  actor. Kabuki is Japan's oldest and most famous form of theater; it is known for its elaborate costumes and highly expressive performances. Most of the plays tell stories of life in ancient Japan.

The boss character dresses in traditional Kabuki style, with bright colors, long billowy robes, wig, and wild face paint. When he moves, he makes the trademark exaggerated gestures that are typical of a Kabuki actor.

 

 

WARLOCK ZONE VII: White Mirror (location: Izumo)

After trekking through the forest, the duo finally get to Izumo and begin searching for the White Mirror.

Izumo is a coastal town, which explains why this level is heavily water-based.


Zone VII features these bomb-dropping birds as one of the level's primary enemies. I assume they must have some relevance to Japanese folklore, since a very similar character appears in Super Mario Brothers 2 and the Adventure Island series. I've learned that whenever one game appears to be plagiarizing an idea from another, usually they are not plagiarizing at all, but simply using the same obscure Japanese cultural reference.

I've had no luck researching the matter to date. Can anyone help?


Ryujin

The boss of Zone VII is a sea monster named Hakuryu. He's based on the legendary Japanese sea-god Ryujin.

Ryujin was said to be a giant, white, snake-like dragon. He lived in the ocean, controlled the tides, and ruled over the sea creatures.

A contemporary drawing of Ryujin

 

 

WARLOCK ZONE VIII: Save Princess (location: Ryukyu Islands)

Ying and Yang defeat the sea dragon and obtain the enchanted mirror, which tells them the Princess is being held captive in Ryukyu.

This level takes place in the Ryukyu Islands, an archipelago located in southern Japan. The islands were an independent kingdom until they were annexed by Japan in the 19th Century. Americans might know them best for containing the Okinawa US military base.


Language

The people in Zone VIII all speak a strange gobbledy-gook language that you can only understand after purchasing an expensive translation book. This is because the Ryukyu Islands historically spoke different languages from the mainland Japanese, including Amami, Kunigami, Miyako, Yaeyama, Yonagun, and Okinawan. All of these languages are essentially dead or very near-death today.


Hannya

Zone VIII also introduces a new enemy, the Hannya carpenters.

Hannya is another traditional style of Japanese mask. Intended for villainous characters, Hannya faces are demonic looking, with yellow eyes and horns.

The carpenter enemies all have Hannya faces, as does the game's final boss, as we will later see.


Daruma

The theme of the action part of Zone VIII is Daruma. Legend has it that the original Daruma was a great philosopher in the fifth or sixth century who spent so much time sitting in a cave philosophizing that eventually his arms and legs atrophied and fell off. Today his legacy lives on in the form of Daruma dolls, which are these little red round things with no limbs. When you have a wish, you buy a Daruma, and color in one of his pupils. Then when your wish comes true, you color in the other one as well.

The various roly-poly enemies in the Zone VIII fortress are all based on Daruma dolls. The boss and mini-boss are based on two unique variations of the traditional version. The mini-boss, with his multi-colored mid-sections, is based on the "Daruma tower" children's game. The objective is to use a tiny hammer and try to smash out the bottom sections one at a time, without causing the whole tower to collapse. Sort of like "Jenga."

The final boss takes the form of a balancing toy with a Daruma head. I'm sure you've seen these sort of things before, we have them in America as well. They call them "wobblers" or "bobbers" or "balancing men" or whatever. They have two arching arms, at the end of which are two weights. The weights keep the toy balanced, and you can place it on the tip of a stick and it won't topple over.

 

The Daruma baddies
A traditional Daruma doll
The Daruma tower toy



WARLOCK ZONE IX: Final Story

Ying and Yang rescue the Princess from the Daruma dolls and return her to the Emperor. But oh no! It's not the Emperor at all, but rather the evil General Shogun in disguise! He throws them into the royal dungeon, which they escape with the help of the ninja woman Yae.

Then the final boss!


Samurai

The final boss of the game is a character called General Shogun. He's the leader of the Hannya carpenters. When he appears in human form during one of the cutscenes you can see he wears a Hannya mask just like his underlings.

In the boss battle General Shogun rides inside a giant mechanical Samurai suit, which in turn rides a fearsome beast. Samurai were of course the ancient warrior class of Japan, who wore elaborate, colorful suits of armor. Shogun attacks using archery, which was one of the main staple weapons of the Samurai.

The beast he rides a mythical Japanese lion-dog hybrid creature, known as a Shisa or Koma-inu.

It's amusing to note that "Shogun" means "general." So in essence the character's name is General General.

A print of a Shisa. The character in the game is clearly based on this style of drawing.
Samurai armor



And that's it, pretty much. I would really appreciate help in identifying any other cultural references / in jokes / secrets in this great game. Email me at jjmccullough@gmail.com


BACK