Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
I’ve always heard that it’s not easy being a ninja. They say that it’s tough work, slicing your enemies. Well today I flew through the air to destroy a helicopter. Later on I jumped, dodged, ran, and very occasionally cut at an angry dinosaur, hacking away at a very vital health bar bit by bit. He killed me, usually with only one or two moves, more times than I could count. But eventually I killed him, and continued on. I fought waves of bad guys a dozen deep, who were shooting, stabbing, and trying to eat me. I was killed by one lone soldier; I tried again, and wiped out the entire room without being hit once. I continuously had my faith tested – in my ability and, during my lowest moments, in the plain possibility of beating the game. I fought magic, a cursed arm, creatures, soldiers, assassins, animals, and some other crazy stuff. And eventually, after so much failure, I came to clean the blood of thousands off my sword with a quick flick of the wrist, and then kept on killing. So when I hear it’s not easy being a ninja I have to correct people, because in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge it’s more like nearly impossible – but if you find challenging video games addictive, then this is one for you.
Razor’s Edge does one thing, and it does it to the extremes of difficulty. The game puts you into an area and doesn’t let you leave until you kill the waves of attacking enemies. In the campaign you do it for reasons created by a quick and loose plot, and online you just simply do it. In getting between areas there may be a parkour sequence, or simply a path to walk. You are timed and scored on how quickly you clear each area, thus affording the opportunity to gauge, and improve, your performance and skill level. This basic premise makes up the vast majority of Razor’s Edge, effectively putting all the emphasis on its combat system. This is alright, however, because the combat, while incredibly unforgiving, is also fair.
The combat system perches between simple and complex. It is simple in design, as the player is limited to using the basic actions of strong attack, weak attack, jump, block, and dodge. However, from this five-button simplicity a whole world of subtle complexity opens up; your spacing from enemies, your timing in attacks, which attacks you use when, and even knowing when to attack, are all skills that will be slowly and painfully developed by you as you play. This, coupled with the sheer amount of Ninja Moves (a list of about 500 different combinations of weak attack, strong attack, jump, and dash) provides a combat system with more depth than is at first apparent. This combat system is also easy enough to access, with a simple and customizable control scheme, as well as an overall crisp and responsive connection between the gamer and the character.
There are a variety of enemy types, each with their own unique attack patterns and levels of difficulty. Most enemies are incredibly powerful and will kill you very quickly. Many attack you at the same time that another is attacking. You will find yourself frantically dodging, jumping, and attacking for minutes on end while you fight through an area. Sometimes you’ll be successful and continue on to the next area, and sometimes you won’t, in which case you try the area again. The worst sections for this are the boss fights, with some of them taking me hours of replaying in order to beat. This is the sort of game that reminds you that practice makes perfect.
You earn different things as you progress through the single and multiplayer modes, including weapons, each with their own unique attack combinations and movement style, as well as Ninja Skills (special offensive and defensive abilities), and outfits. You also have the option of using a bow, Ninpo (magic), and shuriken (thrown projectiles). All said, there are a good variety of methods with which to attack your enemies, however due to the specificity of use of the bow, Ninpo, and shuriken, you will be forced into using your strong and weak attack with your preferred weapon nearly all of the time.
There are only a few letdowns in the combat system itself. Your character has the ability to run on walls and then attack, however when one tries to apply this in actual combat it comes off as very awkward and frustrating, effectively eliminating the option. This is because the mechanic simply does not seem to work with any degree of consistency – you do everything right, but a camera shift may cause an issue, or it simply just won’t happen. This is also the case when you try to use some of the Ninja Skills, which are unlockable special abilities. Since the rest of the combat runs smoothly and responsively, these few issues become that much more frustrating. Speaking of camera shifts, they do happen occasionally, however are quickly remedied by the camera stick or auto adjust button. Additionally, like a young ninja needs a mentor, the combat, for all its depth, deserves a proper tutorial. Unfortunately, the onscreen tutorial available briefly glosses over the combat system at best, only adding to the frustration of a gamer first trying to acclimatize to Razor’s Edge’s harsh combat difficulty. My final complaint about gameplay is about the widely-spaced save points. It seems you can go a while without the game allowing you to save, which, for some people who will only be able to play for 20 minutes at a time, will cause issues. However, this is a clear choice by the developers to increase the difficulty and will be a non-issue for anyone able to play beyond (approximately) 20 minutes at a time.
Multiplayer offers a fun expansion of the single-player’s gameplay, however with it comes the same difficulty. There are two modes: co-op/single ninja trials, and team death match. Ninja trials are simply you and an online human ally, should you desire a team mate, fighting enemies in an area. After each successful completion of the area, the player(s) appear in a new area, with slightly harder enemies. Although I have not been able to beat them all, there are at least 50 trials, ranging in difficulty. There are also in-game online leaderboards for each trial, giving you other player’s scores to strive to beat. It is a nice option for the player that is just looking for a fun challenge with a team mate or by him or herself. An interesting twist to the trials mode is that should one player die, the other player must revive him/her within a time limit or both will lose. This effectively forces teamwork. The second mode, team death match, is also called ‘clan wars’, and pits up to eight players, on two teams, against each other. This mode was most fun when playing against others of an equal skill level, and, accordingly, is frustrating when playing against players that outclass you. For this reason I would warn against diving into this mode too quickly along your path towards becoming a ninja.
The story of Razor’s Edge is a bit wacky, pretty wild, and typically cliché. You, for the most part, play Ryu Hayabuso, a ninja of little character depth, who finds himself pitted against a villain threatening the entire world. There is a subplot of a curse you’re infected with, as well as a few twists and other characters. The plot aside, the actual cut scenes are hit or miss. The lip syncing is fairly off and a lot of character movements are choppy and unnatural. As well, there is an inconsistency between cut scenes and playing, as Ryu is always holding his katana in the cut scenes, no matter what he was equipped with leading into it. However there are also a fair number of exciting scenes, with explosions and the like, adding to your thrills. Overall the plot neither offends nor pleases and boils down to a vehicle to take Hayabuso across a variety of environments (from jungles to dream lands) and fight an array of enemies (from helicopters to dinosaurs to mutant creatures). What it does do well, however, is add to the overall tone of Razor’s Edge.
Throughout gameplay, the music varies, while if anything erring on the side of being inconspicuous rather than annoying. It always fits its environment though, and even adds to the ambiance at times. The sound effects are great, which is a good thing, because with combat this intense, there are a lot of grunts and slashing sounds. The graphics are good where it counts, but can also leave something to be desired in other places. For example, the enemies all look great, especially the bosses, each looking and moving differently than the last, and given plenty of detail to boot, while the set pieces leave something wanting, as many – with a few notable exceptions – prove to be only moderately detailed and decorated.
All in all, the story, the graphics, and the sound work well together, and when coupled with the incredibly challenging combat, do a good job of making you feel like a ninja. Counting the limbs on the ground as your character cleans his or her weapon of blood, his/her body covered in it, one genuinely feels pretty darn tough. Not to mention the incredibly gory combination moves, the ability to maim your enemies then leave them hopping around, and the amount of times they shout out curses at you; this game goes over-the-top. It’s got a Kill Bill type of feel – wild, violent, a bit silly, and overall a lot of fun.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a game at once simple and complex, frustrating and then challenges them to improve at it to a ridiculous extent. This challenge will seem remarkably overwhelming at times; however it is clear this is what Razor’s Edge sets out to do. In this sense Team Ninja is overall successful. Only a few issues, most notably a very lackluster tutorial system, the awkwardness of pulling off certain maneuvers, and issues concerning cut scenes are this game’s greatest objective shortcomings. However, there is a large subjective element involved in the enjoyment of games. If you are the type of person that believes reward is equal to difficulty overcome, and has plenty of patience, then look no further – this is a game for you. However, if you are the type of person that gets frustrated by a near instant immersion into incredibly difficult and frustrating situations, then do your sanity a favour and avoid this game at all costs – because believe me, it truly isn’t easy being a ninja.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge scores a 3.75/5.0
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