Author: Heath Flor
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, March 29th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/ninja_gaiden_3/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
In their first Ninja Gaiden release since Tomonobu Itagalo's departure, the developers at Team NINJA are anxious to show fans they can succeed without the man who helped resuscitate the Ninja Gaiden series in 2004 by releasing their latest iteration, Ninja Gaiden 3. Lauded as a superb action game with a penchant for blood, Ninja Gaiden has seen great success in the past. The main character Ryu Hayabusa has become an iconic figure for fans who take pride in the notorious difficulty level found in the games.
Utilizing only a katana, bow, and one Ninpo spell, Ryu looks to conquer an unknown enemy force who seem to have a target painted on his back. Why they're after him is something you'll soon discover, but it may take more than a sharp sword to cut through the dull story.
One of the main purposes of Ninja Gaiden 3's storyline is to introduce Ryu Hayabusa as a gentle soul. Deep underneath his ninja garb, you will find a compassionate man who feels guilt for those he has cut down throughout his life. At least that's what we're supposed to think. Behind those pretty green eyes, and mascara-laden eyelashes lurks a killing machine.
The reality is Ryu has been cursed, and the Dragon Sword has fused with his right arm. The blood of all those he has slain courses through his veins and threaten to destroy him. His main goal is to remove the curse, and to do so means taking even more lives. Such is the way of the ninja.
Ninja Gaiden 3 gives us mixed interpretations of Ryu's character, as one minute his heart is breaking over a strange little girl he's only known for three days asking him to be her daddy, and then the next he's cutting a path of destruction through anyone standing in his way. While some enemies stop to beg for their life right before you cut them down, it's difficult to relate to Ryu's softer side since you must still kill them in the end.
Not only is Ryu growing a whiny (and inconsistent) conscience, but killing in the game has been toned down as well. There are no decapitations, only cuts and slashes down to bone, which never breaks; enemies continue to fight you long after Ryu buries his sword in them. You'll see blood gather on Ryu's blade -- and him whipping it off after battle is a great effect -- but you don't ever get to see the actual wounds he's inflicted.
The cinematic sequences are great, but choking down the story is difficult. The main plot oozes with cheese as Ryu is painted as a soft-hearted man ridden with guilt. In reality he seems to be getting soft, as he continuously allows people close to him who are hell bent on screwing him over. You'd think a ninja would be a better judge of character, especially at Ryu's age.
When I spoke with the current Team NINJA director Yosuke Hayashi last year at E3 and played the demo, I was truly impressed with the gameplay. While the overall style of the game is still enjoyable, the gameplay is incredibly linear and simplistic. After playing through the first level, there's really nothing exciting left to discover, showing a sad lack of variation.
The idea is simple: bombard the player with dozens of enemies and see how long you can survive. From there the game merely goes into a rinse-and-repeat cycle several times until you enter a boss battle. In fact, even the enemies suffer this lack of variety. The human character models are recycled over and over and repeat the same half a dozen verbal phrases or so. Not to mention their attacks are also reused. The recycling is so bad in Ninja Gaiden 3 you even end up fighting one particular boss three times throughout the entire game.
Upping the challenge consists of confining you to smaller fighting areas, and packing those smaller arenas with even more enemies. When that gets old, the game's camera swings behind a wall or some other obstruction so you can't see what you're doing. Since there's no real variation in gameplay, it's much more of a nuisance than a hindrance. Just keep attacking and dodging until the camera rights itself, and you'll be good to go.
The controls are great when they work. When they don't it becomes a frustrating mess. Dodging enemies consists of a slide which will actually take out their legs if you do it right, or it will slide you right into the path of a deadly combo. Unfortunately you have to hit the block button and move the analog stick in the direction you want to go. It works well most of the time, but every once in a while you end up holding your sword in a blocking stance instead of actually sliding, leaving you open for attack from the rear or sides.
The action becomes quite dull after the first level. This is not only due to lack of variation, but also the sluggish movements Ryu exhibits when attacking enemies. Though I can pick out a few God of War elements in the game, one thing missing is the fluid combat and combos. Every once in a while he just doesn't seem to want to swing, no matter how furiously you're pounding the attack button. It can't be attributed to lag, as there didn't seem to be much of that happening, so I blame it on the new auto targeting system, which can be hit or miss.
While I can see many people becoming frustrated with Ninja Gaiden 3's lowered difficulty, diehard fans will still be able to face extreme challenges in Hard and Master Ninja Mode. Playing on Normal is just a bit too easy for most fans accustomed to the abuse dished out by the Ninja Gaiden series, and I was able to beat the game in a little over eight hours. I would have felt proud of that fact if I didn't feel like someone was babysitting me through the entire play through with unlimited Ninpo, multiple checkpoints, and health regen.
The graphics are spectacular... for a PS2 game. Ryu's scarf is constantly flowing through objects, while jagged lines and frame drops prevail throughout. While some gamers may be upset you can no longer juggle boobs with the Sixaxis controls, there's still plenty of jiggling found during the cutscenes. At least the graphics engine works well for weird, weightless, waterbed boobs.
I have always enjoyed the sound of katanas slashing against steel and crushing bone. Ninja Gaiden 3 does not disappoint, and offers superb audio effects to go with the action. Even the traditional Japanese music found throughout the game adds tension and mystery to the game's atmosphere.
While getting into a Clan Battle match didn't prove difficult, staying in one did. Every single online match I entered froze on me within a minute. I tried for hours over a period of three days, and the game would freeze without fail every time. Unfortunately once you're stuck, the only way to get out of the round and back to the main menu is to reboot the game.
Online co-op sounds exciting, but I met with the same fate as my Clan Battle experience. I checked and double checked my Internet connections to make certain it wasn't on my end, but at this time it appears online gameplay is shaky at best. I was able to get into the Ninja Trials, but they consist of the same boring action I slogged through during the single-player campaign.
There isn't much to love about Ninja Gaiden 3 and the softer Ryu Hayabusa. While you'll find plenty of mindless button mashing action to be had, this new iteration feels stripped down and gutted from its core experience. Ryu is an ass-kicking ninja who serves up vengeance for lunch, not a whiny has-been overwhelmed by his conscience. Obviously he doesn't care in the end, considering he still took a couple thousand lives throughout the game, but it would be nice to not have to deal with the fluff in between.
The biggest fault of Ninja Gaiden 3 is it can't live up to the expectations of long-time fans. Sure the new Ninja Gaiden may bring in some new fans with its easily accessible gameplay, but it may very well end up isolating those who made the Ninja Gaiden series a success in the first place.
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