Ninja Gaiden 3 Review: Great and GoryApril 03, 2012
I just don't get it.
When early reviews started coming in from advance copies of Tecmo Koei's much-anticipated Ninja Gaiden 3 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, none of them were good. In fact, one well-respected gaming website used the term, "awful" to describe the game. It couldn't be that bad, could it?
Well, having finally played it through, let me say that Ninja Gaiden 3 is in fact bad... ASS!
Yes, the third outing of legendary Dragon Ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, is just what you would expect from developer Team Ninja. It's bloody, fast-paced, difficult, and completely ludicrous. And these are all trademarks of the game series that dates back to the late 1980s arcades and the popular trilogy on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Ninja Gaiden 3 picks up after 2008's (and aptly named) Ninja Gaiden 2. Master Ryu is now living life peacefully in his village when a terrorist organization attacks London. Their only demand: they want Ryu Hayabusa. This forces the Japanese government to send two representatives to ask Ryu for his assistance.
Soon after, the hood goes back on and Ryu comes out of retirement, and with Dragon Sword in-hand, goes to London to begin a bloody journey that will take him to all corners of the earth with over the top characters, and fiends, and action, and women with over-bouncy...assets, and everything else that you'd expect from a Team Ninja creation.
The action is fast-paced, and in pulling back some from the past two games, Ninja Gaiden 3 puts more emphasis on action and moving the story forward, which is very reminiscent of the original arcade and NES games.
Those games weren't about different weapons, and shopping at Muramasa's traveling store, and finding little golden scarabs. They were about killing everything between point A and point B, and then moving on to the next level to do it all over again. Rins and repeat. That is Ninja Gaiden. It always has been from the start.
The Ninja Gaiden 3 controls are tight, which is expected of a Team Ninja game. Ryu has two attacks, normal and fierce, and a jump button that can be used to create combos with the two attack buttons. There is also a bow with exploding arrows (which is a godsend against flying enemies) and the ability to throw shuriken, which stuns the enemy.
There are also a ton of quick time events (QTE), which makes the action even crazier. With QTEs, Ryu can jump off the top floor of an imploding skyscraper and attack an Apache helicopter in mid-air with only his sword by carefully timing the pressing of X and Triangle (or A and Y if you swing that way). Crazy!
Ryu still has access to Ninpo magic, but instead of different spells, for different situations, the Ninpo in Ninja Gaiden 3 summons a fiery dragon that severely damages all enemies and heals Ryu in the process. Ryu can unleash the Ninpo spell only after filling the Ninpo gauge, and only by defeating humans and certain fiends can the gauge be filled. Because of that limitation, Ryu must be careful and use his blocks carefully to survive until the gauge can be refilled.
The enemies are varied in that each level introduces a new wrinkle to the formula. What starts as armed soldiers and military type enemies soon evolves into fiends. Even the evil Black Spider Clan, the sworn enemy of the Hayabusa clan, makes an appearance. But really, it's all just fodder for Ryu's blade.
And as usual, Ninja Gaiden 3 features some incredible boss fights.
Graphically, Ninja Gaiden 3 is a beautiful game. The varying of locales, from dry, sandy deserts, to the snowy, desolate tundras of Antarctica, to ancient jungle temples, mean that there is always something new to look at. And the game is gory. Extremely gory.
Blood and how it is spilled plays a role in the greater Ninja Gaiden mythos. With each kill, Ryu takes part in a morality play, where he is forced to come face-to-face with the knowledge that he may very well be a relentless murderer.
Without bogging down a game about a ninja who fights evil terrorists and monstrous fiends, the "morality" question is not driven down the player's throat. But it does hang over the game in ways that come into play by the end of the story mode, as one would expect.
Ryu is basically charged with eviscerating his enemies and he does his job well. There is nothing more satisfying than beheading an enemy that just did me serious damage. And there is never a shortage of things to kill. The enemies just... keep... coming.
There are nods to the previous two games, focusing on the history and characters of the Hayabusa village and Muramasa, the loveable old shop keep. But, as I said before, Ninja Gaiden 3 abandons the multiple weapons and the treasure hunt aspects, and the greater RPG-like elements. In doing so, Team Ninja has added a pretty stout online multiplayer element.
In addition to the story mode, there is also a Ninja Trials mode, which allows you to create your own ninja and then to train them, gaining levels and unlocking new moves, costumes, weapons, and so forth. That character can then be taken into online multiplayer Clan Battles for even more things to unlock. Ninja Gaiden 3's online multiplayer is incredibly fun and addictive, especially using the ghost kills. Ghost kills are a skill that you unlock with higher levels that allow you to completely disappear from the arena and then sneak up on your enemies for one button kills.
Also, the conditions for winning an online Clan Battle can change mid-game, and certain Ninjas can even switch sides while in combat. It's crazy and cool.
The online multiplayer modes add so much more game to Ninja Gaiden 3 as a whole, and definitely make up for the RPG elements being taken out of the story mode.
Now, there are some issues with the game. The voice acting is so-so, and the in-game writing is cheesy. But then again, it always has been. And sometimes, the monotonous stream of enemies does get old after awhile. There are some bosses near the end that made me physically scream at my TV, and I may have broken at least one controller. But again, that is also expected out of a Ninja Gaiden game.
There are three difficulty levels to choose from, and this review is based off the "Normal" mode.
Tomonobu Itagaki, the mastermind behind the Dead or Alive fighting game series, and the man charged with the revival of the Ninja Gaiden franchise in 2004, made headlines when he left Team Ninja a few years ago. His public, and very ugly departure (lawsuits were filed against publisher Tecmo, etc.) left a cloud of questions over the future of the Ninja Gaiden franchise. Luckily, Team Ninja pulled together and created a great and gory game that fits perfectly in the greater mythos of the Ninja Gaiden series.
Taking the RPG elements out of the story mode and then using those features in a fun and addictive online multiplayer mode is only one part of the evolution of the famed series. The end result is a game that has the flavor of the previous games in the franchise, dating all the way back to the 1980s arcade games.
As a reviewer, I understand that each of us looks at a game objectively, and (hopefully) bases his or her review on professional opinion and experience. I found Ninja Gaiden 3 to be a thrilling experience and it is easily one of my favorite games of 2012. As with everything in life, greatness is in the eye of the beholder. But after reading the initial reviews of this game, I just don't get it.
- Jon Hueber
Shop for Ninja Gaiden 3 on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 for a discounted price at Amazon.com (March 20, 2012 release date).