Ninja Gaiden III: A Gaiden For The Rest Of Us
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 console.
A couple of years ago, I picked up Ninja Gaiden 2, the sequel to the franchise reboot. I’d heard many things about the difficulty of the game, but didn’t heed anyone’s warning. I got home, popped it in to my Xbox 360, and went right along hacking and slashing my way to the first level boss. After trying for about an hour or so and getting nowhere, I came to the realization that this game was too much for my level of skill. To my shame, I promptly traded it in for store credit the same day. While I enjoy the challenge of a good game, Ninja Gaiden was simply too brutal for me.
Ninja Gaiden 3, however, has gone in a slightly different direction than its predecessors. In order to appeal to a more mainstream audience, the developers tweaked the difficulty of the game for less skilled players like yours truly. But how did this affect the fundamentals of the core gameplay? Let’s take a look.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is a third person, hack-and-slash action adventure game published by Tecmo Koei and developer Team Ninja. In Ninja Gaiden 3, Ryu Hayabusa is called into action by the Japanese Ministry of Defense. They inform him that a terrorist organization has taken over the Japanese Embassy in the United Kingdom, demanding no ransom, only Hayabusa himself. During the conflict that ensues, the game’s main protagonist, the Regent of the Mask, inflicts our hero with a curse: the Dragon Sword, tainted with the pain and suffering of all of the souls that have been struck down by it, becomes absorbed into Ryu’s arm and threatens to pollute his entire body. This is only the beginning though, as the Regent has even larger plans, and Ryu must stop him at all costs.
Ninja Gaiden 3 has received some pretty significant gameplay changes from the previous two installments. Most notable of these is the level of difficulty in the game, as it has been “re-tuned” to allow a wider audience to be able to participate in playing without the frustration that many experienced in Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2. Normal and Hard modes are more toned down with enemies dealing less damage in previous installments, and the addition of the Hero mode enables automatic blocking and dodging for most basic attacks. While it does bring gameplay down to a level where most people can play, it does have some disadvantages, as it has essentially been reduced to a button mashing extravaganza where the player only has to use the primary attack button to get through a group of enemies.
After the enemies have been dispatched, you move along to the next area where another group of enemies is waiting for you. The cycle repeats itself through most of the game with only a couple of areas changing things up. Sometimes, you’ll have to sneak up on your foes to take them down one by one, whereas other areas will have you running Indiana Jones-style from some massive monster trying to kill you as you leap over and dive under obstructions that fall in your path. Dismemberment has also been removed from the game entirely in favor of the Steel On Bone concept. Attacking enemies repeatedly and wearing them down initiates a quicktime event where you will have to quickly tap the buttons that are prompted on-screen as Ryu slowly cuts through his enemies.
Other changes to gameplay involve a reduced set of magic powers (Ninpo) and the implementation of Ryu’s cursed arm. Ryu’s Ninpo attacks have virtually been eliminated in favor of a single attack called Art of the Inferno which can be used when a second bar below the health gauge is close to full. Activating Art of the Inferno transforms Hayabusa into a dragon that engulfs the immediate area and the enemies within in flames, killing them all. After the attack has finished, the spell will restore a portion of Ryu’s health. Also, after completing a battle in a given area, any unused portion of the Ninpo gauge goes away and fills your health.
The cursed arm comes into play at certain points in the game where you’re fighting a massive number of bad guys. The arm activates and cripples Ryu’s movements, but greatly increases the strength of his attacks, making this portion of battle a mixed bag. While you’re able to cut down enemies within a couple of blows, the camera zooms in closer to Ryu, and the ability to pan is slowed down making it difficult to find your enemies to cut them down. This forces you to rely on clicking the right analog stick to center your view on the closest available enemy instead of just turning to face them. Furthermore, the implementation of this feature is nothing more than a scripted event, only triggering at certain points in the game for what appears to be nothing more than dramatic flair.
Level bosses in the game appear to have been greatly simplified as well, reducing the combat with them to not much more than a “dodge and attack” scheme. Most enemies in Ninja Gaiden 3 will go down simply by brute force instead of finesse, and by enabling the Hero mode, half of the work of avoiding the boss’s most devastating attacks is done for you. This makes the combat aspect of the game so simple that even people who were looking forward to a more casual level of challenge will find the game a bit too easy – even for them. This doesn’t always happen though. The worst battle experienced was when battling a Tyrannosaurus Rex (yes, dinosaurs). It seemed that the towering dino wanted only to wander around the room aimlessly, occasionally charging in a random direction to slam its head on the ground and knock itself unconscious long enough for you to get your digs in. It seems the point of this battle was just to stay out of its way while it incurred brain damage to death on its own. Obviously, in this case, the T-Rex became extinct due to a poor AI.
While not a constant issue, camera problems do crop up occasionally in the game. This comes in the form of the camera occasionally tucking itself behind a wall to obstruct your view, or seeing the outline of a bad guy while the camera settles nicely inside of their gut. This is something that developers should have learned to take care of ten years ago when having controllable camera schemes was still new, and it’s disappointing that some continue to struggle with the concept today.
Another problematic area with the game is the auto targeting system. While it makes sense that you would want it to prioritize a target by threat (which is does), it doesn’t follow through to elimination of the target. Once an enemy is wounded enough, it will switch you off to another healthy target, leaving the wounded man to sit at a distance, whip out his pistol and take pot shots at you while you’re taking out the rest of the small army that’s been thrown at you. Before a single man hits the ground cold, you’ll find yourself facing off against 10 to 15 bloodied and wounded attackers. Having the auto target follow through and eliminate the threat completely before moving on to the next would probably save a lot of frustration, and a bit more of your health gauge.
Although there seems to be quite a few pain points, there are some redeeming qualities with Ninja Gaiden 3. It has a pretty enjoyable story to it (even though it is a bit predictable) with an excellent voice acting cast. Troy Baker (Batman: Gotham City, Fullmetal Alchemist) takes on the role of Ryu Hayabusa, supported by Michael McConnohie (Vampire Hunter D), and John Cygan (Solidus Snake – MGS 2 and 3) as well as some newcomers that do a fantastic job bringing their characters to life. The story flows together well while combining different elements, such as Ryu’s internal struggles as he contends with the scores of enemies fallen by his own hand, the budding friendship with Japanese MOD Specialist Mizuki McLoud and her adopted daughter, and the conflict with the Regent of the Mask. But picking out the Regent’s true identity in the first 45 minutes of the game is something that simply shouldn’t happen.
Ninja Gaiden 3 also looks absolutely phenomenal. From the cutscenes to the action, frame rates are slick and modeling is absolutely top notch at 1080p. No stutter or texture pop here, just pure, plain gorgeousness. Couple that with excellent motion capture and you have a game that really sells itself as high quality in terms of graphics. Colors are vivid and the special effects are of movie quality. Some of my favorite effects deal with some of the magic used by the alchemists in the game where they have a modernized digital look as they materialize out of thin air in the form of blocks that assemble, and then materialize a spell (or in the case of most bosses, a new appendage).
Lastly, we have the multiplayer. Ninja Gaiden 3 is a perfect example of games that have multiplayer shoe-horned in with no real direction of what to do with it. You have two options: Ninja Trials and Clan Battle. Ninja Trials is essentially a mode where you have to take on a number of tasks (or trials) such as performing X-number of kills with a bow and arrow, or a number of combinations. Clan Battle is essentially Team Deathmatch ninja-style. The problem is that it uses the same control scheme as the game, so the combat basically turns into who can button-mash better than who.
In the end, I really enjoyed playing Ninja Gaiden 3, because I (of admittedly lesser skill) was able to play through it until the end. However, it seems that Team Ninja (in an effort to appeal to a wider audience) dialed the game’s difficulty down from 11 to 1, when all they needed to do was add an Easy mode to tone down the enemy’s health and strength, while integrating the Hero mode options for people who want a casual experience. Then they could have left the Normal and Hard modes for the masochist to enjoy. Camera issues and predictable writing further mar the game and really bring down the track record of this rebooted franchise. Hopefully in the future, Team Ninja will find some balance to appease the masses and make for a more enjoyable experience for all.
Ninja Gaiden 3 receives a 3.25/5.0.
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