Ninja Gaiden 3 Review
Game: Ninja Gaiden 3
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Ninja Gaiden is a series that has been going, one way or another, for 24 years now, with its roots initially starting out as an arcade title which also appeared on the NES; from here a trilogy was released through the late 80’s through to the early 90’s. But after a re-release in 1995 of these three classic titles, Ninja Gaiden went into the history books and was never heard from again; until 2004 when it was rebooted and released for the original Xbox, and was hailed as a brilliant open world hack and slash title. All this even though it was infamous for being an extremely difficult game to play, not because of the controls but because the enemies were fast and tricky to contend with; and the camera angles were a tad undesirable.
In 2008, Ninja Gaiden 2 was released and was more of the same but with better enemy A.I., graphics and new weapons. However, there were still problems, the camera angles were still a little sketchy, it lacked visuals in certain areas and had frame rate issues in unscaled 1080p HD. Now after four years of waiting, Ninja Gaiden 3 is here and has had some dramatic changes made to it. Have these changes improved the game and fixed the issues that the previous titles have suffered from in order to make it a proper master ninja of a title? Or have they done so much that they’ve gone from a ninja to a drunken lout on a Saturday night with the fighting skills of blade of grass?
STORY: The start of the game shows a scene from near the end, all you see is an X button, upon pressing the button you’ll see blood fly and a very angry looking Ryu Hayabusa, eyes glowing red with the fury of a thousand dead souls aimed right at you. After pressing this X button a few times Ryu retrieves his sword from you and pulls his mask off, revealing his true identity and the viewpoint of the person that Ryu has killed fades away. The game cuts to Ryu walking towards the edge of a building, with the city in the distance in the middle of an apocalypse. From here a massive monster with a huge sword smashes the building to pieces, but that won’t stop the Ninja Master as he jumps from flying debris and cuts the gigantic being nearly in half, lands and charges at the being’s face.
Flash back to a week earlier, where the Japanese Self Defense Force and the Ministry of External Relations request assistance from our hero, as terrorists have gained control of London and the Prime Minister and have only one ransom demand, which is that they want Ryu Hayabusa. What could the terrorists want with Ryu, and how the hell did a terrorist attack turn into an apocalyptic nightmare? Only by playing the game will you find out!
The story of Ninja Gaiden 3 is very intriguing and it delivers the story at the pace you would expect a Ninja to move, bloody fast, but it doesn’t go so fast that you can’t keep up; everything is spelled out to you so you know what is going on. In general, Ninja Gaiden 3 is quite a solid piece of story telling with plenty of twists and turns along the way (although for a Ninja, Ryu is quite forgiving), and the characters emote with each other well, so you do find yourself caring about what happens. It also questions the fact that Ryu has killed a lot of people and asks if he is a hero slaying evil or simply a cold blooded murderer. The story is a little cheesy at times, due to the Japanese/English cross over, and you may end up swearing at some of the characters, but otherwise this is a decent and entertaining story to go through.
GRAPHICS: The modern day Ninja Gaiden series has always been top quality in the graphics department, and this installment certainly does not disappoint either. The locations are all beautifully designed as you travel around the world slaughtering your enemies. It also has to be said that the amount of blood spraying is now on par with an old samurai/Quentin Tarantino film, and adds to the games brutal nature. Whilst fighting, the pace is extremely fast and there doesn’t appear to be any slow down when the enemies pile up on you (and they will. In vast quantities). All of this is quite an achievement, especially when you consider the speed of the game.
All of the characters are fantastically rendered although they may not have the detail you would get in most modern day games, their character design is clearly in the same vein as other Japanese based games, with everyone all smooth faced and beautiful, but this isn’t a bad thing as they still look good and as believable as can be. Besides, you must be terrible at being a Ninja if you are covered in scars. The cutscenes are essentially using the in-game engine, you cannot really distinguish the difference, but they do look fantastic, the action is, as always, amazing and complete carnage, with the apocalyptic scenes near the end of the game look brilliant, with buildings collapsing and aircraft falling out of the sky. So, in essence, you are getting everything you would expect from Ninja Gaiden. The only disappointment is the fact that there is a distinct lack of bouncing boobs like its predecessors, and this needs to be addressed should there be any further releases.
SOUND: The musical score for the Ninja Gaiden series has always been good, with a mixture of Japanese music combined with an orchestral feel for the cutscenes and when exploring, changing pace when necessary and then going into a metal soundtrack when the fighting commences. Ninja Gaiden 3 has all this and it suits the game fantastically, with the segues between the types of music done seamlessly. The voice acting for this title is also very well done, with the actors all doing their bit to make their characters believable; although the script can be cheesy at times, but this also adds to the charm. The sound effects are excellently captured as well and sounding as they should, with a special mention to the explosions and the sound of the flaming dragon Ninpo deserving a special mention as these sound terrific.
The only complaint really is that pretty much all of the enemies are British, and are either cockney or well spoken gentlemen, but there is humor to this as a cockney shouting “Bloody hell its a Ninja!” had this reviewer chuckling away, but I doubt this was intended. Not many other games have decent sounding enemies but this does stand out a little.
GAMEPLAY: This is where the Ninja Gaiden 3 dramatically changes. Where before you had an open world experience with many places to explore to find items and weapons, collecting yellow essence from defeated enemies in order to upgrade your weapons. All this has now gone, and the game is a more linear style with Ryu now armed with only a sword, a bow and shurikens; the sword is changed occasionally as the plot determines, but you can get other weapons as DLC. You also only have one Ninpo power, which is a flaming dragon that clears the area you are in. Combat wise there isn’t much of a change, as you still have quick attack, strong attack, jump, a Ninja slide/dodge, a shuriken throw and a button for firing off the bow when you retrieve it; complete with an auto target function for the bow. All the sword combo’s from the previous titles are at your disposal, but the command list doesn’t have the names for each combo, just a small box when you press the select button that has a lot of X and Y’s in it.
Playing the game is still as insane as ever, with speed and accuracy with your combos taking precedence; feeling bloody good when you’re playing, with taking damage giving you that constant reminder that you weren’t thinking far enough ahead; it can be a little punishing at times. Your health bar is at the top screen and is already at the maximum size, but taking damage will not only take you health down but also reduce the size of the health bar itself. To regain your health bar size, you have to fill your Ninpo meter as the amount of Ninpo you receive will recover the health bar size after a battle in relation to how much Ninpo you receive. Getting those combos in are very important, as well as dodging successfully to keeping the combo going. If you fill your Ninpo bar you can press Y and B together to activate it and once the area is cleared, you health bar will go back to full size.
The bosses range from quite tricky to extremely hard, but are not annoying when you work out how to defeat them, however, with the added pressure of having your health bar shortened makes these, and any battle, a more intense experience. Yes, the game is still as hard as the others but you know that they are do-able and once you get your practise in and ensure you keep a good rhythm when fighting, it becomes very enjoyable; making you feel like a ninja, bathing in the blood of your foes.
You still, thankfully, have the wall run and bird flip features to help you get around obstacles, but now you have the ability to climb certain walls. By holding down the triggers on certain walls you will attach yourself to it, and by releasing one trigger and then pressing it again, Ryu will start to climb using the associated hand. This can get a little tricky at times, especially if you need to climb quickly but once you get the knack of it you will be zipping walls in no time.
There are now also quick time events that are not so quick that you panic and and up killing your character. Things all slow down to a crawl and the associated button(s) pop up and give you enough time to carry out these events. Having these in now actually suit the game quite well and makes Ryu’s ninja skills more impressive, as well as increasing the action factor.
Now that the game is more simplified, many fans may be disappointed with this new style, but while they have taken away a lot of the things that made its predecessors great games, it still stands out on its own and is still as good to play as the other games, if not even better. With the other games you may have got frustrated with the open world aspect, or not having enough essence to upgrade your weapons, but now that this has all gone you strangely kind of miss them.
The one thing that is upsetting is the DLC weapons, as part of the fun of Ninja Gaiden was using all the different weapons, however now only having essentially one weapon with others available that you have to buy is quite annoying. It would’ve been better to have a small selection of weapons to begin with, then having extras released as DLC at a later date.
MULTIPLAYER: Ninja Gaiden 3 does have some interesting multiplayer features to it. These are available in the main menu under the ‘Shadows of the World’ option. First off you have Clan Battle, which is 4v4 player battles with each player having a task or “Shadow Contract” to fulfill. The next feature is called Ninja Trials which is essentially the games co-op mode, which you can also play by yourself. By clearing each of these trials and performing in game tasks, like defeating your enemies using Ninpo, earns you Karma, which will increase your customisable ninja’s level and allow you to perform more actions.
LONGEVITY: Ninja Gaiden 3 is not the long slog it used to be, this latest game will only take you between 8-12 hours to finish the main campaign, obviously depending on gamer skill and difficulty setting, but the fact that it now has online gameplay will maybe have you playing a little longer than usual. Ninja Gaiden will probably keep you occupied for a couple of weeks, or maybe even longer, depending on whether or not you liked the new changes that this title has undergone; and enjoy the multiplayer.
VERDICT: The fact that Team Ninja has dramatically changed this title will have people divided, with one side wanting the old traditional way to return and the other side not being that fussed about the changes, and enjoying the game that it has now become. This reviewer has always been a hardcore fan of the modern Ninja Gaiden series and although the old ways have gone (they will be missed and, despite all the changes, it’s still quite button mashy) Ninja Gaiden 3 is still a fantastic title to play and firmly stands on its own light footed two feet. The action and gameplay is insanely fast yet great to play, the storyline is well written and acted out, the level of carnage will satisfy any gamer’s blood lust, the package as a whole looks beautiful and more importantly, you still feel like a bad-ass Ninja running up walls and slicing bad guys in half when you play this game; which was the main appeal in the first place.
Whether the next installment should be in this new style is an argument for another day but if Ninja Gaiden 4 was released in this new style, I would still happily play it and be thoroughly entertained; it would be nice if, next time, they mix the old style with the new style though. Only time will tell.