Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Have you ever been turned off by a game’s difficulty? I can recognize that some gamers would be more about the experience rather than intense trial by fire gameplay, but the Ninja Gaiden series has always made that fire feel so good. Difficult but rewarding, this franchise has always had deep and quick combat that was sure to reward any soul brave enough to learn its intricacies. Ninja Gaiden 3 aims to welcome inexperienced players, but in doing so they crafted an ugly game that will both repel newcomers and cause series veterans to frown in disgust. Ninja Gaiden 3 is a prime example on how to drop the ball and mess up almost everything sacred.
Stories have always been out of the way in the Ninja Gaiden games and have been weak as a result. It was forgivable, as I was just there for the ninja on ninja violence, but that isn’t good enough for this new entry. It wants to cram its terrible story down your face to the point of where it negatively affects the gameplay.
Ryu is sent to stop some terrorists in London and that’s where logic begins and ends. Some cult is after some new world order (giving Ryu an arbitrary reason to travel the globe), but so many betrayals and nonsensical cutscenes cause literally every aspect to fall flat. Nothing is exciting or even generates any sense of urgency. Except for a single main villain, no one is memorable or even likeable, giving less credence to their increasingly stupid tasks they bill you with. Even though I doubt most readers will care about spoilers, the whole last act is so remarkably terrible that it made me consider this as one of the worst stories I had ever witnessed. Cringingly terrible doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Right after you pop in the disc, famed ninja Ryu Hayabusa is unmasked (and surprisingly American), foreshadowing the game’s focus on his human elements. Thankfully he doesn’t spout one-liners and talk our ears off, but the focus on his humanity was something that never sat well with me. Early on he is cursed from the burdens of the murders he has committed over the years, which causes the signature Dragon Sword to melt into his herpes-infested arm. Oddly enough, they try to pin this on him as a terrible deed and force you to feel some sort of empty regret. But right after the ineffective guilt trips happen, I’d go back to slaughtering whole villages and desecrating entire populations without batting an eyelash. A disconnect like this is so out of place and is completely pointless. Morality in a game solely focused on forced killing is just a stupid lost cause and a superfluous narrative aspect.
It seems even more weird given the sheer amount of killing you will do. In past titles, combat was the bread and butter of the game. Everything else was second fiddle and this seemed almost impossible to mess up. Somehow Team Ninja has found a way to completely bone up deep, involving combat.
Past titles would bank on fast reflexes and smart AI, making almost every battle a strategic fight to the death. Ninja Gaiden 3 takes this in a new direction by throwing wave after wave after wave of enemies into the current arena. There are dramatically more enemies on-screen at any given time, but their AI is so bad that they don’t really require much involvement to kill. Foes line up like cows for the slaughter, kicking any sort of satisfaction out the door. Mashing the attack button and occasionally dodging will get you through almost any encounter, making combat a mindless mash and a complete bore most times. Even boss fights, a series staple, have also massively dropped in quality due to their bland, repetitive nature. Setting the game on Hard doesn’t solve anything either, as everything is just harder to kill with little to no improvement to the AI.
This also de-emphasizes how cool the combat could have been because of how many times you have to do it. I ran into the same exact problem with Spider-Man: Edge of Time where the core combat can contain some level of thrill, but encounters are messed up beyond belief. If anything, it made me appreciate combat scenarios in games like Bayonetta and God of War.
But even then fighting isn’t as gratifying. At is core, the controls are less responsive than past titles. Some attacks just wouldn’t go through like they used to and some combos even strike Ryu motionless, leaving him wide open for attacks and death. Hell, even dash-cancelling isn’t as reliable. To put it in perspective of earlier entries, it felt like I was telling someone what I wanted Ryu to do and it was deciding whether or not to make it happen.
The treatment of the combat isn’t particularly shocking in the grand scheme of the whole game because almost everything else has been stripped down considerably or just ripped out. Change is usually welcome, but here it has been taken to the utter extreme. There is only one on-disc melee weapon (as of this writing, only the Falcon’s Talons have been patched in), one ranged weapon, no dismemberment, one Ninpo, no currency, no weapon upgrades, no learned moves, no consumables, and no shop. Past games have prided themselves on multiple weapons, upgrades, and Ninpo moves and their exclusion has made combat that much more stagnant. Action already suffered from monotony and the fact that changing it up isn’t even part of the question really puzzles me.
Most changes are not for the better, but a few are actually welcome. The list of moves, while smaller, can viewed live during gameplay. Showing what moves you can do along with which ones you are actually doing has a good instant feedback loop for the player. The dodge move has also been morphed into a slide that can get you out of the way of incoming attacks, but it can also function as an offensive stun move that can open the enemy up for more of a beating. Enhancements like these are small, but in a game littered with terrible ideas, the good ones stick out.
Framerate is important in a game like this; it’s basically sixty frames per second or go home. Past games have done well holding this steady framerate, but Ninja Gaiden 3 sloppily cobbles together a game that can barely run at times. It doesn’t ever devolve into a complete slideshow, but fights can usually become choppy and less receptive to my button inputs. It holds up reasonably well in the graphics department (even if the art style is bland), but this is yet another reason why there shouldn’t be dozens of enemies on-screen at once.
I was getting worried of whether I even liked Ninja Gaiden anymore. I popped in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 just to test my theory, and I still have a fondness for the series, just not Ninja Gaiden 3. A copy and paste job would have at least carried over some strengths, but instead they opted to go a different route and completely break everything that was once pristine. Most ninjas do their best within the shadows, but this one should have just stayed there.
+Technically decent graphics
+Combat shows rare glimpses of coolness
-Combat is repetitive and mindless due to the vast amounts of enemies
-Boss fights are lame
-Framerate can be unstable
-Too many successful elements from past games are stripped away
-Controls can lack that pinpoint accuracy and reponsiveness from past titles
Final Score: 4.5/10
Platform Differences: The PS3 version supports the Move motion controls.