Simply put, Ninja Gaiden 3 sucked. It was a mess of a game, aiming to appeal to mainstream gamers with toned down gameplay and a plethora of other issues. Riddled with concessions, fans of the series missed the challenge and traditional gameplay, while newcomers just didn’t like it. By the third entry in a series, it shouldn’t be the goal to reach an entirely new audience.
Luckily, Team Ninja has now issued a re-release of the game, dropping the “Sigma” and going for Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. Fans of the series already feel spurned after the disastrous third entry, so does this version make enough amends to earn a place in the Ninja Gaiden canon?
Short answer: maybe? There are plenty of improvements made to the core gameplay that more than make up for the original’s flaws, but something about Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge keeps it from being good enough to fit into the series.
The story is just as preposterous as it was in the past two entries, detailing Ryu Hayabusa’s journey to stop a terrorist group’s plan to take over the world. Heading the organization is the Regent of the Mask, a devilish masked man who taunts Ryu every step of the way. Through some twist of alchemy, Ryu is cursed with the Grip of Murder, causing his arm to become disfigured in a way that affects gameplay.
Not much of what’s presented here makes sense, and by the time mutated dinosaurs and zombies turning into medusas entered the scene, I stopped trying to piece it together. This isn’t a huge deal, though, since the main focus of the series is the action. Ninja Gaiden 3 dumbed down the violence and the gore a bit too much for fans’ tastes, but I’m happy to report that Razor’s Edge brings it back in all of its X-rated glory. Limbs fly across the screen, blood spatters the screen, heads roll on the ground and swords dance across enemies.
One of the biggest improvements this version makes is the inclusion of all post-release DLC, meaning Ryu finally gets to play with all of his toys for no additional cost. Whether it’s the traditional sword, wolverine-esque claws or slow-but-deadly scythe, there is tons of variation for dismembering those who stand in Ryu’s way.
Fans of the series know that the games are notorious for their difficulty, yet Ninja Gaiden 3 was surprisingly easy. For better and for worse, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge brings back the toughness in a big way. Boss battles are far more devastating to the point of pure anger, and even the ordinary cockney terrorist can bring you down with a well-placed stab, bullet, arrow, rocket, or grenade.
Some other additions include the new story missions that allow you to play as Ayane and the ability to play beaten levels as either Kasumi or Momiji. Karma points are brought back, and weapons, abilities and Ninpo can all be upgraded with these points. A few features, such as the quick-time events and Kunai climbing, don’t quit mesh with the rest of the gameplay that well though. The same goes for the online co-op mode and ninja trials, both of which feel unnecessarily tacked on.
So if all of these improvements have been made, then why does Razor’s Edge still leave a slightly sour taste? There are a multitude of small issues that hamper the game, keeping it from being anything other than the sum of its messy parts. After numerous games in the series, Team Ninja still has no idea how to program a camera that works. Countless deaths are caused by offscreen enemies that cheap shot Ryu to death.
Every battle plays out the same as well, following an identical pattern that becomes repetitive within minutes. First, find the pricks with the rocket launchers. Then, kill the pricks with the swords. Finally, kill the pricks with the shields/invisibility cloaks/geometric blocks. Despite the added modes and weapons, there’s not much variation to be found.
But perhaps the largest issue to be found is the lack of identity that Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge suffers from. If you told me that I would get to play as a ninja who fights a giant T-Rex, zombies and giant purple blobs, I would jump on that in a second. But it just doesn’t fit the game at all. The original is a modern classic, presenting a huge challenge that old-school gamers were missing. Now, the series has become a parody of what it once was.
The challenge is still there, but so many deaths feel cheap and unavoidable, placing quick dodges over strategy. That being said, the feeling of overcoming any of the more difficult sections without switching to a lower difficulty is immensely rewarding. But rather than feeling like an old-school challenge, it feels tough for the sake of being tough.
If you’re of the masochistic mindset, then Razor’s Edge is right up your alley. All of the small mistakes scattered throughout do make things even harder, but those who like their challenges a little cheap will find something to enjoy here.
This review is based on a review copy provided for us on the PlayStation 3.
There is much more enjoyment to be had with Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge than the original, despite the flaws that keep it from being a superior sequel.