What do you get when you take one of the most brutal killing machines in gaming history and dedicate a game to creating a more passionate side of him? You’d get Ninja Gaiden 3, the newest game in the long running franchise by Team Ninja, who saw a change in directors with this latest outing. Ninja Gaiden 3 has been receiving it’s fair share of slack, with some praise. Ninja Gaiden 3, however, does not kill Ninja Gaiden persay, it just changes it, and not necessarily in a good way. As a stand alone title, though, there is unfortunately not a single impressive aspect that Ninja Gaiden 3 brings forth.
As I said before, the game attempts to show a more human side of a man who would make Jason Voorhees count his blessings. However, any attempt to do this using this games incoherent plot is nothing but moot. Starting off in the game’s opening chapter you are faced with a man begging for his life, with no other option but to go forth and strike him down. The game’s focus on making a sympathetic character out of Ryu is completely overshadowed by the thousands of lives you are taking without a second thought in between these few events. Even more so, the fact that you cannot opt out of killing these souls really makes it all pointless.
Trying to grasp Ninja Gaiden 3′s story is also pointless. From what I gathered, through careful concentration on the story, is that this guy is trying to create a new world. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Just when you think the story is going to come together and make some sense, it gets about ten times more difficult to follow. There is a curse involved, but I have no idea where that came from either. Ryu’s arm is encased in a veiny red substance that will kill him in a week as punishment for the people he’s murdered… or something… On the other hand it will allow him to unleash one-hit kill attacks on his enemies. Smart move, villains.
Canna, a small, mute girl, seems to be the main tool that Team Ninja uses to extract humanity out of Hayabusa. Of course this doesn’t work. Ryu comforts the young girl, then goes on to slay more people- he’s like a two faced monster. If anything it makes him look worse. I stand by the idea that there is a way to make a Ryu Hayabusa that is legitimately at conflict with his serial murdering. However, this is definitely not how you do it.
The gameplay is Ninja Gaiden’s most redeeming quality, I seriously admit to having some fun with it, but even that is brought down by poor stage design and a sometimes chugging framerate. You can use a vast array of Ninja moves, but learning them beforehand is nearly impossible, so it’s mostly a game of pressing the two attack buttons in rapid succession with some well timed dodges and blocks. Keeping an eye open for when your health drops and just being mindful of when to escape makes Ninja Gaiden 3 insultingly easy. Especially when the game is no more than a sequence of enemy rooms in the begrudging “ugh, here we go again” sense. Luckily, it gives you ample time to master how to defeat the game’s handful of enemy types, and to hate the ones that will always be outrageously unfair, like the mage-like fellows who can one-hit kill you at a moments notice. If you are patient enough, however, you will get a dragon summoning move called “inferno” which will usually take out the entire enemy room. The problem here is the gameplay itself never becomes more complex, it actually devolves as you go on.
Ninja Gaiden 3 throws in a lot of repetitive platforming too. The kind of platforming that feels like its just there as filler instead of actually trying to be part of the game. You can wall run, swing on poles (which you do about 2 times the entire game), and use kunai knives to climb just about everything (you do this millions of times). They missed out on opportunities to create some really intuitive puzzles using the respectably strong platforming elements, but its just used to traverse from place to place. The game does have a decent cinematic quality to it, like during some of the game’s engaging boss fights, but that did little to relinquish the boredom.
The camera will often be your biggest enemy in more than one way. In tight corridors it will snap to the direction you are facing, leading to numerous cheap hits. This wouldn’t be too devastating if the game didn’t insist on throwing insane amounts of enemies at you. It’s what I call the classic mixing up of difficulty with sheer enemy numbers. The game also does that cinematic thing using its “steel to bone kills” where it will zoom in the camera at disorienting speeds to show off the games gruesome kills. This makes combat extremely difficult in a different way. I found it hard to keep up with where I even was during some of the more enemy heavy sections. Sometimes though, as part of the story, Ryu’s arm will start to “hurt”. The camera will zoom in behind Ryu and he will move ridiculously slowly as you go to slay the last of the enemies in a single hit. The camera often gets hooked on walls in the mode as well.
I think somewhere along the line Team Ninja forgot what year it was. Ninja Gaiden is dated looking. While voice acting and character models are really solid, everything else is very ugly and choppy. It makes cutscenes look like these characters are standing before green screens. The backgrounds don’t even look real, or like they were rendered in 2005 when the rest was made in 2008. So on top of not having a good story to follow, or top notch gameplay to look foward to, Ninja Gaiden is also not fun to look at.
The game did bring one of the most unexpected things, the Shadow of the World mode. Included in this is an 8 person multiplayer clan battle mode. This was a mixed bag. When I say mixed bag, I’m saying its bordering between comical and just plain bad. Any sense of strategy is thrown out in exchange for every player huddled in a circle attacking everything in sight because its difficult to tell who is who. Characters will randomly slide around or no explainable reason and many times rooms will just glitch out, leaving you stuck in the practice rooms. You are given a few useless projectiles, and a stealth kill, but these are very difficult to make effective. Just by being smart about dodging, I was able to outplay most of the other players. As you level, you unlock a couple of new abilities and more customization, but that is the extent.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is not unplayable. At the same time it is dull, repetitive, and does absolutely nothing really well. The story is convoluted, the graphics ugly, the gameplay, it’s strongest aspect, is hit or miss for many. It shoe-horns in a multiplayer mode that is hilarious. Like I said before, there was a great game in here, one that would change this series forever, but they took absolutely every wrong step possible in that journey. If you asked me if I regretted my time with Ninja Gaiden 3, I’d say no, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.