If by a man's work shall ye know him, Tomonobu Itagaki is a smashed Xbox 360 control pad. In fact, he's a special kind of smashed Xbox 360 control pad. He's the kind that was desecrated in a frenzied tantrum of bile and frustration, its destruction soundtracked by a stream of vitriolic swearwords so extreme any senior citizens within earshot would spontaneously combust.
This is because Itagaki is the man who presided over the creation of Ninja Gaiden II. It is a very easy game to hate. And yet I find myself going back to it again and again, like a masochist who just can't walk away from their sadistic other half.
But before I delve into Ninja Gaiden II's dark side, it's fair I point out that there are a lot of things I find instantly gratifying about the game. It looks lovely (at least I think so), the soundtrack is great and the combat is awesome.
I could wax lyrical on meaty controls and globules of claret, but for the purposes of brevity, let's just say I find the sight of Ryu Hayabusa ploughing through corridors of ninjas with a scythe to be an absolute delight.
I came to NGII quite late in the day. I first played it at the same time I was wading through the review code for Final Fantasy XIII. It provided a great counterbalance; having spent hours working through what amounts to an interactive anime, it was refreshing to play a game with a similar visual aesthetic in which, when you pressed a button, your character cut someone's head off.
I also appreciated (and still do) that all the cut-scenes are short and skippable. There's no point at which the player is forced to sit through a lengthy cinematic which tells part of a ridiculous story it's hard to care about. You're simply given a large sword, presented with a room full of enemies and allowed to get on with it.
However, there are plenty of reasons to take issue with Ninja Gaiden II. In the interests of giving the game a fair shake, we'll start by putting aside its ludicrous story and leering, immature treatment of the fairer sex. Both are pretty abominable, but they don't exactly make Ninja Gaiden II unique among video games produced in the Far East.
Ninja Gaiden II's most notable quality is that it is insanely hard. Perhaps bolstered by the fact the Ninja Gaiden series has a reputation for being challenging, Itagaki's Team Ninja decided the best way forward was to make NGII the most difficult instalment yet. And that this was best done by hamstringing the player right out of the gate.
It doesn't matter how many hours you put in, how many combos you learn or how sparingly you use those Ninpo attacks. The game counters this with enemies which spawn on top of you and bash through blocks like they're made of paper.
It drops you into boss battles with creatures who can only be defeated with the application of combo-knowledge and lightning reflexes. It stations opponents at hard-to-reach distances, allowing them to bombard you with rockets which you're forced to juggle until you're hanging on to life by a thread.
And then it laughs. It laughs in your face as it ramps up the difficulty by introducing enemies with unblockable attacks, along with opponents who explode and cause damage when beaten. All the while, Ninja Gaiden II strings you along by hinting that button-bashing might actually be enough to win the day. Yet it never is.
But Ninja Gaiden II isn't just difficult in terms of the level of skill it requires. It's difficult in cheap ways, too.
A lot of this is down to the game's atrocious camera. Move it to the right or left of Ryu and it snaps back behind him. Tilt it forward or back to look up or down, and the same thing happens. Attempt to pan around the side and it moves at a grindingly slow pace. All of this would be irritating if you were filming a documentary on the movement of sloths, but when trying to fend off lethal attacks from all sides it's downright infuriating.
It doesn't help that enemies in the game occasionally take advantage of the rubbish camera, attacking from off-screen before you've had the chance to spot them. A couple of creatures - notably the fire-shooting bats - float onto the screen just above the camera's eyeline, so you can't see the buggers coming until a series of fireballs start blasting through your health bar.
And when Ryu meets up with a bunch of enemies in an enclosed space, forget it; the camera zings about like a ping pong ball in a tumble dryer. I once fought off an entire corridor of creatures whose identities I never learned because the camera focused on Ryu, from the front, for the entire fight.
But the most maddening thing about Ninja Gaiden II's camera is the fact that there's no reason for it to be as terrible as it is, other than to increase the game's overall difficulty. In other words, Itagaki and Team Ninja didn't just make their game hard. No, they went ahead and made it hard and unfair.
So when you play Ninja Gaiden II, you die a lot. An awful lot. The game over screen becomes something you're accustomed to seeing, and each time they appear the words "Do you wish to continue?" seem increasingly like a mocking dare.
Perhaps this is why I love Ninja Gaiden II. It offers up a challenge that few other games can match. I know the game is difficult and I know it's rigged, but that just makes me want to beat it even more. It's like sitting down to play poker with the champion of the World Series, knowing full well the deck is stacked in their favour, but being able to glimpse victory anyway.
Trouncing a talented opponent is satisfying enough. Hammering them down when you know they're cheating is absolutely sublime. In the case of Ninja Gaiden II the way in which you triumph is heavenly, because it involves some of the most satisfyingly brutal combat to ever grace a console.
There's one particular scene which captures the essence of the game's visceral hold on me. It's late in Chapter 10 and it takes place on the long flight of stairs up to the Temple Of Sacrifice.
As you move forward a huge troop of ninjas descends, slashing and hacking away. Many attack simultaneously, so there's no way to block all of them. Those who can't reach you start hurling shurikens, which makes it eye-wateringly hard to execute combos and impossible to build up an Ultimate Attack.
It's also a good idea to use Ninpo attacks sparingly because you never know when you'll get a chance to replenish them. Meanwhile, because the battle takes place in an enclosed space, the camera is about as much help as a chocolate fire engine. To win here you must zip between opponents, causing the maximum amount of damage and dodging as many attacks as you can.
The battle takes about six minutes to complete. This may sound like a small amount of time but it feels like an eternity while you're in the thick of it. As the action unfolds limbs and heads are lopped off, swords slash and clang together, and arterial spray paints the walls and floors scarlet. The soundtrack is a mixture of screams, orchestral pomp and cussing from the player.
When the last enemy falls and the camera finally allows you to enjoy the view of the carnage you've wrought, it's impossible not to gaze upon the scene and think: "Damn. I am such a badass."
I know Ninja Gaiden II is no good for me. I know it's a cheat and a liar. I know that all of its promises come with a catch. But I'll go back to it again and again, like the masochist I am, because I'll take the punishment in exchange for the glorious highs.
I think the narrator in Fight Club puts it best:
"That old saying, you always kill the one you love? Well look, it works both ways."