Ninja Gaiden 3 [Review]

  • Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (reviewed)
  • Published by: Tecmo Koei
  • Developed by: Team NINJA
  • Genre: Action
  • ESRB Rating: M For Mature
  • Number of Players: 1 offline, 1-8 online
  • Release Date: March 20th, 2012

Ninja Gaiden 3 has been a highly anticipated sequel for many fans of the series. The stylized and over-the-top action, insane and challenging difficulty levels, and a variety of weapons and fighting styles to choose from are among some of the things that kept fans coming back for more. This time around, developer Team NINJA set out to re-invent the legendary Dragon Ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, for his latest adventure – or slaughter fest. Whatever you want to call it. Ninja Gaiden 3 aimed to take a deeper look at that character and his world, through his eyes. How many fans knew that? Who knows? Most of those familiar with the series probably wanted to just kill stuff! How did the latest installment hold up to the series’ fame? It can be described with a simple alliteration: A lot more story, a lot less gory.

While present, the Ninja Gaiden series’ focus was never truly on the story. At least, that wasn’t the focus of fans playing the games. Instead, gamers went on a mindless gore-filled killing spree of ninjas, soldiers, and fiends. Well, Team NINJA accomplished what they set out to do with the story in this latest installment. Ninja Gaiden 3 focuses on Ryu Hayabusa’s conflict with a mysterious terrorist organization that is luring him to his impending doom. Ryu is forced to not only face the enemies presently in his way but also the karmaic effects of those he slaughtered with the Dragon Sword in the past. The game features a slew of new characters including a Japanese Agent named Mizuki and her daughter Canna who have pivotal roles in revealing Ryu’s more, human nature. A tiny treat for fans of the series included some brief cameos of characters from previous games. However, it became pretty apparent that this could easily be a stand-alone title, with few connections to storylines or plots from previous installments in the series. The story wasn’t exactly a masterpiece but definitely a more focused improvement over the last two games. There were noticeably longer cutscenes that helped develop the story and reveal character relationships along with a bit more engaging dialogue. I didn’t feel the story really caught my attention much until near the end or climax when a few twists to the plot were revealed. Still, it was nothing edge of my seat worthy, which isn’t uncommon for games. When it comes down to it, the story was about average.

 

On the other hand, gameplay has always been a strength of the Ninja Gaiden series. Save for some camera problems in previous games, the combat and platforming elements of the titles always led for some enjoyable and challenging game sessions. That is, until Ninja Gaiden 3 came along. The very components that made the series what it is today have all but been stripped down if not completely removed in this latest game. Ninja Gaiden 3 is still pretty much a button masher. This time around though, the challenge of the game feels a little lax, whereas previous installments were button mashers that you would still have to be smart about how you went about playing or end up dying every 5 seconds. The game is very linear and combat-wise, Ninja Gaiden 3 didn’t really feel challenging on any mode until you reach the latter part of the game where some more challenging monsters are suddenly introduced. You could probably go through the game just mashing buttons as you please with no real strategy involved. I do have to give them this though, the combat was fluid and stylized, something that was  fairly fun enough to keep my attention throughout the game. Included in the new game was a new “bone and metal” mode highlighted a lot of your actions with up close camera angles and slow motion. This really showed the intensity of the fighting despite how limited the combat was compared to the other games.

It surprised me, to say the least, that items, weapons, leveling up those weapons, leveling up your character, learning new special moves and Ninpo, are things completely unseen in this game. You still do have three weapon types: Sword/Melee, projectile, and your bow. However, these are static items that you have no control over changing. The melee weapon is your Dragon Sword which only changes with the story. For instance, without any plot spoilers, there comes a point in the game you will not be able to use the Dragon Sword due to a plot development. Once that happens, the story automatically progresses so you get another weapon but you can not change or upgrade any weapon you obtain in the game. You only have one type of projectile – shuriken, and your bow is only one type of bow with one type of arrows. There is not even a menu where you can pull up the weapons. You have what you are given in the story and that’s all. There are no chests to find in the game, no secret or hidden items, no orbs to collect for Ki or health as both automatically regenerate. You only have one Ninpo move and it can be used quite frequently as simple combat regenerates all of your abilities. It’s cool to look at but at the same time, it’s the only one. Everything that you found in previous installments of the game is pretty much gone. Granted the game survived without these elements, but it felt empty and for fans of the series that expect these to be present, it can be quite disappointing to find out that they are all gone.

Further, platforming has always been a pretty big part of the Ninja Gaiden games. While platforming may have been almost impossible due to some camera issues in previous games, it was part of the overall challenge that one familiar with the games might expect to come along with it. To my surprise, this was another bit that was all but removed from Ninja Gaiden 3. There were a few places that you would have short wall runs or need to mash the jump button to get up to a higher level, but nothing truly in the platforming department like you would expect. You may have considered Ninja Gaiden games as action/platforming games in the past – Ninja Gaiden 3 is pretty much all action. Another disappointment for fans.

 

Well, maybe you saw that Ninja Gaiden 3 at least added PlayStation Move support. At least this might be worth checking out for a new swordplay experience, right? Wrong. The PlayStation Move integration in Ninja Gaiden 3 was a poor and shallow implementation. In a way, I don’t really blame them for the way that it was used due to the overall nature of the game. Once again, Ninja Gaiden is a button masher, so you can’t expect precise and 1:1 swordplay. Instead, the Move can only be used on ‘Hero Mode’ which is the easiest mode in the game and consists of a lot of waggling back and forth and side to side for heavy and light attacks. Really, there seemed to be no consistency, accuracy, or anything engaging about it. What made the experience a bit worse was the fact that instead of integrating the Move nav controller as well, in order to navigate around the game and move the camera, you still have to use BOTH of the Dualshock controller’s analog sticks. I would definitely say, this is one of the games that uses Move and can be skipped.

One thing that I actually thought was interesting however was the new online additions to the game. Ninja trials have returned with both single player and co-op gameplay. You are given a slew of levels and challenges to complete – you can do this either with a friend or by yourself. The one thing that I didn’t exactly like about the single-player side of the Ninja Trials was that you still have to connect to the online server in order to play. My first few rounds of single-player, half way through, I got disconnected from the server and lost all progress. However after that, I played quite a few more rounds by myself and with some folks online and had no real connection issues. The interesting part about Ninja Trials however, which is probably why they require an online connection even during single player missions, is that you no longer are using characters from the game. Instead, you are using a custom “unnamed ninja” character that you create. Although character customization is quite limited and pretty much are limited to your symbol, and the color of your skin and clothes, any progress you make with your character in the Ninja Trials can be carried over to the new competitive online mode, Shadows of the World. This new competitive online mode incorporates a lot of the ninja moves you can find within the single player side of the games that you can use against players world-wide. You are put on a team of up to four players on and can choose from a few different stages. Essentially, your goal is to kill the other team’s members as much as possible. The team with the highest number of kills at the end of the round wins. The combat was fun but I thought the implementation could have been a bit deeper. While you may enjoy the first few rounds you play, after progressing a few levels with your character, the game can feel a bit repetitive. There were also a few limitations with the online mode that I thought held back the possibilities in gameplay which included the fact that you only have a sword for a main weapon that can not be changed (bow and shuriken are also present as secondary but still can not be changed), and one Ninpo. Hopefully if another Ninja Gaiden game comes along, they will learn from all of the feedback they get and improve both the online and single-player modes.

When it’s all said and done, Ninja Gaiden 3 essentially can be viewed in two ways: A decent game for newcomers to the series or a massive disappointment to fans. With the removal of so many elements that made the series in the past, fans may feel like they got the short end of the stick whereas newcomers to the series might enjoy the over-the-top action that did provide for a fun visual experience and fairly casual gameplay accessible to just about anyone who picked up the controller. When I started to review the game I had a little inner conflict because the game in itself is not inherently bad. In fact, I would say it improved visually, improved story-wise, the combat was fun in short spurts, and the camera problems we faced in the first two games were all but gone. I could say that I enjoyed myself while playing the game but when it comes down to it, the experience wasn’t memorable. In addition, the fact that the main people who would be looking toward this game are those familiar with the series and all it had to offer, I really have to give consideration to how they would feel as they are the larger part of the following, those who were likely anticipating this game the most. With that in view, the game felt a bit empty, watered down, and lacking in so many respects due to the removal of so many elements in that are staples of the series. For this reason, it pains me to say, I can’t say that I exactly recommend or justify a purchase of Ninja Gaiden 3 full price. I would still say give it a go, maybe as a rental or when the price is lowered. Ninja Gaiden 3 had a lot of potential but wasted it mainly to focus on a deeper side of the game that most people going to play the game wouldn’t care about, the story.

FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10

 

(A free copy of Ninja Gaiden 3 was provided for this GamerXChange review by Tecmo Koei)

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