by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of the NG3: Razor’s Edge page here)
There was a time I was excited for Ninja Gaiden 3. The first modern Ninja Gaiden contains my favorite combat component in gaming. And Ninja Gaiden 2 is right behind it. Some people love Devil May Cry or more recently Bayonetta, but I still swear by Team Ninja’s reboot of the classic Tecmo series. So of course, why wouldn’t I be excited for the third entry in the series? Well the more I saw on it, the more bummed out I became. They seemed to be going the wrong direction with the latest game and when reviews and other gamers’ impressions of the final product rolled out, I decided to skip it altogether. Now, years later I finally made some time to play through Ninja Gaiden 3 via the Razor’s Edge remake on PS3 and I’m sad to say that many of my fears were warranted. Even with the tweaks found in RE, Ninja Gaiden 3 doesn’t come anywhere close to its predecessors.
At its core, Ninja Gaiden 3 is still about fast-paced challenging combat, but small unnecessary tweaks to the existing system have worked towards diluting the product as a whole. You’ll still hack and slash your way through hordes of ninjas and demons. Blocking and dodging, jumping and keeping on the move are still a necessity due the game’s aggressive enemy AI. But everything just feels a little off. Like for instance the timing of combos which has an impact on the whole shebang. They also did away with essence which affects everything from the way health works, to how one regains magic (it is now charged over time through fighting enemies) and how one juices up charged attacks (gone is the extra layer of strategy of using essence to help quick charge them or saving that for buying upgrades). Change isn’t always bad, but these all felt like they took options and abilities away from the player which ultimately has a negative effect on things.
And encounter design continues to take steps in the wrong direction. Ninja Gaiden 2 already had some issues, but 3 takes thing even further down the wrong path. Most fights seem to just throw a ton of whatever the baddie of the level is at you and station some bow/rocket shooting guys around the perimeter for extra annoyance. The battles like those that made up most of the original’s, the ones that felt like the designers put real thought into, come only once in a great while here.
With all that said, I feel the fights against regular enemies are still better than most action games out there. There is still more depth here than most entries in the genre. Razor’s Edge has brought back multiple weapons which are all as fun as ever. Your basic sword is a perfectly balanced armament with speed and power while the brilliant Eclipse Scythe returns from 2 and will leave swathe of enemy limbs in its wake just as before. Along with series protagonist and master ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, three ladies are playable. Ayane and Momiji are back from previous appearances in the series and Kasumi comes over from Dead or Alive and they all have their own feel. Ayane is my favorite with her lightning fast combos, but I enjoyed using all three.
Where things really go wrong is just about everywhere else. There is an attempt here to make the story more compelling by giving Ryu a daughter-like figure for him to connect with and an antagonist who attempts to make him feel the weight of his actions, but it honestly just makes things worse. The game’s checkpoint system is erratic and frustrating. Button prompts and QTEs pop up more than I’d like. But nothing bothered me more than the bosses. It feels like they were running down a checklist of annoying ideas for these kind of fights. Minions fighting alongside the boss character? Check. Random save points that make it difficult to manage your health properly? Check! Overly long, drawn out and repetitive battles? Check!!! The T-Rex fight is on my short list for worst moments of the last generation. It is an all-around disaster. To think the original modern Ninja Gaiden has one of my favorite sets of bosses and we ended up here a couple entries later is difficult to for me to reconcile.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is worse than its predecessors in pretty much every way. At its best during standard enemy encounters it still beats out most action titles, but even there it doesn’t live up to the series legacy. Throw in all the garbage that surrounds that aspect of the game and it ends up being a mess. While there is a little fun to be had here (particularly in the Ninja Trials where a lot of the worst parts of the game are stripped away), overall it is too frustrating of an experience for me to look back at in any real positive way.