You know, there’s an interesting aspect of the reviewer part of this job. Because our site is smaller than, say, IGN, they usually get review copies of games first. I’m certainly not complaining; there’s a certain amount of thrill involved with knowing a game might show up in your mailbox soon. However, it means things get interesting when something like Ninja Gaiden 3 is released. Despite being hotly anticipated by fans, the game’s reviews have been less-than-stellar. This is especially true considering my own personal anticipation for the game.
While I don’t think Ninja Gaiden 3 is without it’s flaws, it certainly doesn’t live up to the standards of the previous entries in the series.
For the uninitiated, Ninja Gaiden is a game where you’re just about anything other than stealthy. You play as Ryu Hayabusa, the last in a long line of the Dragon Ninja clan, the ancient protectors of the Dragon Sword, the sword
of evil’s bane with the power to vanquish evil. Ryu is usually thrust into some sort of ancient, dark power that’s trying to take over the world, but this time around, he’s working for the Japanese govenment.
Why? We don’t know. All we know is a group of extremists keep asking for Ryu. It’s never really explained why (at least not until it’d be considered spoilers,) but they’ll keep smashing stuff up until Mr. Hayabusa appears for whatever sort of purpose they want him for. So Ryu just sticks to what he does best: slicing baddies into itty-bitty pieces.
To throw a wrench into the mix, Ryu is stalked by a man(?) known only as Regent of the Mask. Mask lives only to see Ryu suffer for all the kills he’s made over the years, and throws a curse on Ryu known as the Grip of Murder, a curse that not only makes Ryu’s arm ultra-gross, but begins to take over his entire body as he kills more and more.
Believe it or not, Mask was actually the most interesting character. Ryu is supposed to be a silent ninja, and takes a wacky turn trying to be more emotional and human in this game. Mask is the mysterious, classy, skilled combatant that matches with Ryu perfectly. Most of the other characters either aren’t important or are so flat that you won’t remember their name after the credits roll. Even now, I’m having trouble remembering the name of the kid who asks Ryu to be her daddy after you fight a robot dinosaur.
Read that last sentence again. I’ll wait.
You see, in an effort to be much more cinematic than the previous games were, there’s a lot of story here. The problem is that almost none of it makes any sense, and there doesn’t seem to be much reason for it. At least in previous games, if you went from defending an ancient village to being a stowaway on an airship, the reasoning made sense. It’s not uncommon in Ninja Gaiden 3 to go from an army base in a jungle, being knocked out and waking up in some sort of virtual reality world, and attacking the enemy base in ANTARCTICA. Take note, Team NINJA, variety in backdrops is a very good thing, but there’s a very, VERY big reason why you should never go from one end of the spectrum to the complete opposite to completely off the spectrum entirely. It’s confusing, annoying and you’ll have critics making jokes about it in reviews a week later.
Due to the emphasis on story, the gameplay has taken a hit. Gone are the menu options allowing you to customize your experience with different weapons, magic and other gear. Now, you only get one sword, a bow with auto-target, no extra gear, and your only ninpo magic is summoning some kind of massive fire dragon to wipe out all the enemies in the area. Your infected arm also gives you the power to have a ninja-esque teleporting attack to insta-kill a handful of enemies in the area. It’s incredibly depressing that all of the light RPG elements from the previous games are completely gone.
The linear nature extends to the level design. Other Ninja Gaiden games allowed for a limited amount of exploration within levels, usually uncovering secrets or other unlockables. Here, you’ll find that levels are about as “streamlined” as they can be. And that’s not a good selling point for the game. The levels are also littered with annoying “ninja tool” sections that require players to climb up walls or traverse hanging ropes. These wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t literally there around every corner.
And waiting for you around those corners? Enemies. Tons of them. The game gets repetitive pretty quickly. The whole game can be broken down into the formula of enter room, enemies attack, figure out how to leave that room, more enemies attack, finally leave room, repeat until the end of the game. It even got to the point where I could tell exactly before Ryu was about to fall through yet another floor into a room full of bloodthirsty enemies, all waiting to rip my throat out through my nose. It certainly doesn’t help that enemies are much more annoying this time around due to their habit of ganging up on you, leaving you without an opportunity to break away and start landing attacks. Ninja Gaiden is supposed to be hard, but it’s still supposed to be playable.
The combat remains mostly the same as the old hack ‘n’ slash games, however, with some very big and hindering differences. There’s ever-so-little lag with button inputs that means you’ll need to have even quicker reflexes in order to time your attacks and blocks perfectly. It should be noted that the new Hero Mode allows for automatic blocks and dodges if your health drops below halfway, meaning your only dangers come in the form of bottomless pits, but the mode itself shouldn’t have to exist, given the track record of the franchise.
There’s also the inclusion of quick-time events this time around, which honestly would make sense if it was confined to boss battles, and if the game actually told you when quick-time events were occurring. Chances are if you boot up the game, you’ll wonder why you’ll be sword-deep into someone’s neck when they suddenly kick you off of them. This is because you were supposed to keep mashing the button, although the game never tells you to. The developers were completely expecting you to use button mashing for the entirety of your offense. This means you’ll be in combat much of the game, frantically pushing buttons like a maniac trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be pressing. Even with jumping off of high points or from a helicopter to a rooftop, you’ll hit a wrong button and be punished for not being able to predict what the game was thinking.
It’s as stupid as it sounds.
Mix this in with the overwhelming amount of things going on on-screen at once, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I’m almost confident that all the slow motion and zooming in and quick movements are to make up for awkward animations or something. I couldn’t tell, most of the time, as I could only see a flurry of blood and steel.
I also question the removal of the gore from the old games. The developers mentioned in an interview a year ago that they took gore out because they didn’t want it to be the main focus of the game, but it feels much more like they just got lazy with actually rendering what human insides look like and how they’d act. It breaks immersion completely to be slicing enemies in two but without the “two” part.
Thankfully, most of the graphics and the driving metal soundtrack are pretty good.
It should also be noted that Ninja Gaiden 3 features multiplayer. A handful of typical modes are featured, along with some light customization options, but really, the multiplayer isn’t worth your time at all. The mess of controls on the single player does not transfer well into the mess of online play.
Despite it’s many flaws, I did still have fun with the game. I can’t comfortably recommend it to really anyone as a purchase, given the short length of the single player (clocking in at about eight hours,) and the completely unnecessary multiplayer.
Playing Ninja Gaiden 3 is a lot like eating at White Castle. You aren’t sure if you should go through with it, since you’ve had good experiences with similar stuff before. You go through with it, despite the fact that you’ll be getting to know your bathroom very well for the rest of the night, and although it’s probably way more caloric intake than you’d like to deal with, you still enjoyed the food. It’s the side effects that make you question whether it was a good idea or not. The core mechanics in Ninja Gaiden 3 are great, but there are too many idiotic design decisions and the game suffers from such an extreme lack of polish that you’re not sure if you should go for it or not. You shouldn’t. Not now. Maybe next week when you’ve got a coupon and you won’t feel as bad, but not now.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game, which was provided to us for review purposes.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is easily the weakest of the series, but it still provides some great action.