Ninja Gaiden 3 Xbox 360 Review
The third game in the Ninja Gaiden series is quite a departure from the prior two installments. The emphasis has been flipped from gameplay first and story second to the other way around. In the earlier games every enemy encounter felt like nerve racking fight for your life, one mistake and it's all over. Now you can get by aimlessly smashing buttons and do almost as good as if you actually knew what you were doing. Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 forced you to learn the game and how it should be played in order to advance. In Ninja Gaiden 3 you can breeze by with simple button mashing. What I'm getting at is that Ninja Gaiden 3 is very different from 1 and 2 and hardcore fans of the first games unwilling to accept any change to the combat will be disappointed. That said if you're willing to think of it as a new game starring Ninja Gaiden and not a direct sequel to 1 and 2, such as Mega Man 6 to Mega Man X it can be a pretty enjoyable experience. The easier difficulty makes the pace a lot quicker and the game less frustrating, making it feel more like a movie style thrill ride.
The game opens with a unknown military terrorist organization randomly killing people and destroying buildings in the streets of London. The organization name is later reveled to be the Lords of Alchemy. Their goal apparently is to draw out Ryu Hasbosa, Mr. Ninja Gaiden himself into the open, and then presumably kill him. Wouldn't it make more sense to attack Japan or Hasbosa Village, places where Ryu is far more likely to be at? Regardless the good military organization JSDF enlists Hasbosa in Japan and pairs him up with a new partner widowed mother Mizuki McCloud then flies Ryu out to London walking right into the Lords of Alchemy's trap. After a bloody killing spree Ryu comes face to face with the terrorist organization's leader, a mysterious doll masked and red cloaked fencer, who looks like he stepped out of a Victorian England masquerade ball or a Assassin's Creed game. It wasn't until the game's credits that the character's name is revealed to be the Acolyte of the Mask. Then in the midst of their battle the terrorist leader lets out some high level magic and curses Ryu bizarrely making his Dragon Sword disappear into his right arm, which also disfigures it. This supposedly is caused by the ancient Slavic curse called the Grip of Murder. The Acolyte of the Mask then promptly runs away, and Ryu is left standing there; up shit dojo, without a sword. The next day the Lords of Alchemy hype man doll face broadcasts an ultimatum to the world Dr. Doom style, saying that all countries have seven days to surrender all control to him, or else he'll somehow vaguely kill everyone on the planet. The JSDF then sends Ryu out unarmed to a suspected base of the Lords of Alchemy in the desert. Luckily upon arriving Ryu's partner Mizuki supplies him with a combat bow and arrow. Since it wouldn't be a Ninja Gaiden game without a sword, shortly after Ayane shows up to give you Hayate's sword, with the caveat that it's only a loner. Between levels Ryu will hang out in JSDF headquarters and get mission briefings from tech guy Cliff Higgens and Cheif Isagashi. There's also some [What I thought was unnecessary.] character development between Ryu and his partner Miurski's daughter; the oddly named and mute by choice Canna, who uses her cell phone as a notepad to say what she's thinking. The story is pretty entertaining and generally moves at a fast pace like a summer blockbuster. I really like that each level is set in a different location around the world which makes for some nice scenery and keeps things interesting. My only complaint is that occasionally your partner Miurski or Cliff will contact you on your headset during a level and then comment on what you're doing or make bad jokes. The problem is that during these radio conversations Ryu will be forced to walk slowly and they are unskipable, which is very annoying. There are a few plot twists, some of which make more sense than others, but overall I enjoyed the story. I especially liked that the narrative is so crazy that I had no idea where it was going , or where the next level would take place.
The reaction to this game from the Ninja Gaiden fan base has been overwhelmingly negative. I think this is largely because the game is so different from the prior installments of the series. This isn't to say the game is actually bad, it just plays differently, to the point where skills and tactics from the earlier games probably won't work here. Whereas the earlier games were all about combos and using the right moves on specific enemies, in Ninja Gaiden 3 you pretty much just have to mash the quick attack button, and occasionally dodge to beat the whole game. To give an example, the first two games were similar in style to Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but Ninja Gaiden 3 is more similar to the God Of War or Dante's Inferno games. It's still a action game, but there's less exploration, QTEs, more story, and simpler combat that turns the game into more of a hack and slash and less of a precise technical game.
Now I have to say that as much as I liked Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 as well as their Sigma counterparts, the games were too hard, and it was often a little too frustrating and stressful play through sometimes, to the point where I'd get a bit jittery and have to take a break after a few levels. This is not the case with Ninja Gaiden 3, with the exception of the Ninja Trials. I find Ninja Gaiden 3 much more fun and enjoyable to play through, in fact don't want put it down and it's actually addictive. At the same time though it feels a lot less rewarding when I do well or beat a level in Ninja Gaiden 3 in comparison to 1 and 2 since it's so much easier. Ninja Gaiden 3 is also a lot shorter than the other games in the series, since if you're playing on normal it only takes about 4 to 5 hours to beat the eight levels. That being said it was a fun five hours, that I might play through again and not dread like the other games. So if you're open minded enough to accept that there can be different kinds of Ninja Gaiden games, then you might really enjoy it for what it is, and not for what it isn't.
Combat in the game is a lot simpler. The X button does a quick slash with your sword, and mashing it causes you to perform a combo. The Y button is your strong attack and is slower, which leaves you open, but it's great for jumping attacks and good for finishing a combo. The B button throws shurikens, which do little damage but are great for stunning enemies so you can start a combo. The LB button causes you to draw out your bow and arrow which you can fire with the right trigger. You can aim the bow with the right analog stick, or you can just tap the R trigger to automatically fire at the nearest enemy. Holding the L trigger down causes Ryu to block. Occasionally some enemies, especially bosses and mutants will have unblockable attacks such as throws or dash moves. Most the time the enemies hands will glow red for a brief second right before the attack initiates. Then you must dodge the attack by simply pushing up on the left analog stick while holding down the L trigger. Which makes you teleport behind the enemy where you can then proceed to easily combo them. The teleport dodge is super powerful and because of it I beat most bosses in the game in only one or two attempts. When a enemy is low on health and you rush attack them you'll sometimes trigger a Steel on the Bone chain attack which is a instant kill which can sometimes take out most of the enemies on screen. As you kill enemies Ryu's arm will glow red with the blood lust and by holding the Y button unleash Ultimate Technique that will kill up to six enemies in a row with one hit. If your magic bar is full, you can also hold down the Y and B buttons to use your Dragon Ninpo attack which usually kills all enemies on screen and also refills your health. Your health will also be refilled at the end of every enemy encounter. This is done since the red yellow and blue essence orbs that fallen enemies dropped in the prior games have been removed. So you might ask well; "I How am I supposed buy anything from the store if I don't have any essence? "The answer is that they removed the store since they also removed the ability to find or purchase additional weapons beyond your basic sword. Now I always thought that the extra weapons in the Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry games felt like after thoughts, and weren't as good as your main weapon. Still secondary weapons were a interesting diversion that helped increase the variety of gameplay, and spiced up repeated playthroughs. Extra weapons can still be acquired through DLC like the already released ninja claws or scythe weapons which are free to use and switch to at any time in the single player, but must be purchased separately for use in multiplayer and are kinda overpriced at $3 each. Gore in the game has also been reduced, especially when compared to the 360 version of Ninja Gaiden 2. There is still a lot of blood when you attack enemies, but no dismemberments.
Initially it seems like there isn't enough enemy variety in the game, since throughout most of the first three levels of the game you'll only fight large groups of the same two soldier enemies over and over again. But the enemy pool deepens with level four that adds spider ninjas as well as mutant gorilla and snake monsters. Plus there are a few other basic enemies like helicopters, dogs, insects, sorcerers, and birdlike lesser fiends. The bosses though are the true highlight of the game's enemies which offer tremendous variety and spectacle, even though most are easily defeated.
A lot of people complain about the influx of QTEs in the game, a term coined by the game Shenmue which stands for Quick Time Events, where a button is displayed on the screen and must be pressed quickly, and sometimes mashed in order to succeed and continue gameplay or progress a cutscene. There are a lot of QTEs in Ninja Gaiden 3. Fortunately however most QTEs in the game aren't that hard to complete and the button inputs are consistent. So if you have to jump off a building, they're going to want you to press A, then move the control stick left or right and then press the Y button just before you land to kill the nearby enemy. Whenever you get the last hit on an enemy you'll usually have to finish them off by mashing the Y button, which is less annoying then it sounds. Every time you have to dodge an attack during a cut scene you'll have to press up on the left analog stick while holding the L trigger. Also many times in the game you'll come across a flat wall that you're expected to climb using kunai knives. Which triggers a QTE where you have the alternate pressing the L trigger and the R trigger in order to scale the wall. These segments which sometimes happen two or three times during a level are boring, and really slow down the pace from the otherwise breakneck speed.
I did notice a few glitches associated with the QTEs however, where sometimes the button prompt would not display on the screen. This seems much more prevalent later in the game. An example is at the end of level four. The bosses final attack has them grabbing you in a choke hold. The screen tells you to mash the X button to slow down your health from being drained. However in order to win you have to not only mash the X button but also push to the left on the left analog stick. But the push left instruction is never displayed on the screen, which is why it took me 30 attempts before randomly pressing other buttons besides X allowed me to finally beat the boss.
I actually welcome the removal of puzzles elements from the game, such as the item fetching and backtracking found in the earlier games. It is a shame how linear the game is however. The game feels like a theme park ride, partially because it's so action packed and fast paced, but also because there's only one path to move forward and there are so many scripted events.
There's also the Shadows of the World multiplayer mode, which starts out horrible, but later improves into simple mediocrity. There are two multiplayer modes; Clan Battle is basically eight player team death match and the Ninja Trials which are similar to mission mode in the earlier games and can be played by yourself or with one other person online. My main objection to the Clan Battle mode is how unforgiving it is to new players, since it can be incredibly frustrating and unbalanced. When you first start playing your sword will only be about 1/10 as strong as most other players and you'll only have three shurikens and two arrows for your bow, whereas veteran players will have upwards of 30 for both them. Plus basic moves like the Flying Swallow or using your Ninpo magic attack must be unlocked by leveling up. I guess this is similar to Call of Duty games, where as you level up you unlock better guns and attachments, but here it just feels like they're intentionally holding you back, limiting your abilities and making you suck until you reach level 20. So there's no way to win the matches before your at least level 15 or have a really strong team carrying you. Getting the initial 10 to 15 kills that give you enough experience to unlock most of the moves so you can actually be a competent player is extremely difficult and seemingly arbitrary. If it wasn't for some people leaving their character unattended and ripe for easy kills for multiple matches, I may not have been able to pull it off myself. The only strategy here really is to take potshots with your bow and shurikens, or blindly slash into the middle of a melee hoping to steal a kill, or at least get an assist. Once you get to level 20, you are finally fairly powerful, and have a good chance of winning most solo duels.
The multiplayer doesn't require much skill, it basically revolves around getting the jump on another player and not relenting your attack until they're dead. If someone gets the jump on you and start slashing away it's oddly not a good idea to block, instead dash away and then counterattack, otherwise it'll just slow down the speed that it takes for them to kill you. A lot of times people will snipe with the bow and arrow since it shoots fast, but it's little damage makes it unlikely to kill someone, but it is good for getting assists. If someone's spamming you with arrows, dash away and then pummel them with shurikens since they shoot faster than arrows, as trying to counter snipe them with arrows will just lead to your death. In a melee brawl it's best to use arrows to whittle down the heath of an opponent that one of your teammates is facing. Speaking of brawls, another good tactic is to walk slowly toward the skirmish, which will turn you invisible and then press the Y button for a cheap one hit takedown called a Ghost Kill. Another strategy is once you're Ninpo is level 2 or greater launch it at the group [Since it won't hurt your allies.] for multiple one hit kills. One difference from the single player are the changes made to the Steal on the Bone attack. In the single player it's pretty much a guaranteed multi-kill. Here however you'll compete with your opponent by mashing buttons to determine who wins the duel and it can't be chained to multiple foes. Winning obviously instantly kills them, lose however and they might survive or stagger away before bleeding out. While staggering at low health you can only walk and attack forward, and are unable to turn in any direction. You can be revived to full health by another player when staggered. Also if your staggered and think you're doomed and you are level 25 or above you could perform hara kiri, a Japanese form of suicide and kill yourself. Hara kiri will still increase your death total, but robs your attacker of the kill, granting them only an assist, gives you the 1000 points for the kill instead. After getting about two kills you can also uses your Ultimate Technique where your sword glows red. Even though it's capable of killing multiple opponents at close range, the charge leaves you wide open to attack and you'll rarely be able to successfully perform the move, at least without being very lucky.
Throughout matches you also get contracts which are special objectives to get kills using specific moves like; Ghost Kills, bow and arrow or Steal on the Bone or under certain parameters such as get the first kill of the match, kill the last person who killed you or kill multiple opponents without dying. There was even one match where Ryu Hasbosa showed up and the contact instructed me to kill him. There's also an objective to betray and kill one of your own teammates, and once it's completed the teams are dissolved and the game becomes a free-for-all death match. The reward for fulfilling these contracts earns you extra XP to level up quicker. As you level up you can also unlock new ninja suit colors, masks, armors and kanja symbols to put on your back, which is a somewhat interesting character customization side light.
Every multiplayer stage has six Golden Scarabs on it as well as one Crystal Skull casually hidden in them. Collecting these will give you more experience and help you level up your character quicker. Every five levels of experience you will unlock a new color of your ninja suit. I was disappointed to learn that I couldn't use blue until I reached level 40 since I wanted to look like classic NES Ninja Gaiden.
I didn't notice much lag in any of the matches, although I did get disconnected from the server five times. I must mention the games weird lobby system. The host picks the map, which rotates after every match, but the host can't determine how long a match is played and matches are always set to five minutes. Pressing ready on the lobby will take you to a strange training area where you can practice your moves against an AI opponent that won't fight back. Personally I'd much rather see who's coming and going in the lobby than fighting a useless opponent. That's not to say that training isn't a good feature, I just like to be able to say I'm ready without having to go to the training area and wait the two minutes for the match to start. Matches require at least two people, but it will always wait two minutes for other players to join between matches unless there is a full eight players are in the match and everyone presses ready, but alas that never happens. With the first two free DLC compatibility packs there are only five maps; Ninja Village which is h from level 5, Snowfield which is based on the area in level 6, Jungle Lookout which is based on the enemy camp in level 3, Submarine Hold which is based off of a area in level 7, and Desert which is based on level 2. Hopefully they will eventually add more maps, since every multiplayer games need at least twenty.
The only universal strategy I can think of for multiplayer is to run into a group while mashing X. Then Hopefully you'll get a Steal on the Bone attack, which will fill your Ninpo up. Then continue mashing X until you're about to die, then use your Ninpo, since you'll be temporarily invincible while casting it and hopefully kill a few more enemies. Then either your Ninpo will be refilled again or your arm will glow red so you can use the Ultimate Technique. Regardless when you eventually die, just repeat the process and before you know it you'll have twelve kills and only a few deaths. Also if you see someone charging their Ninpo attack you'll have three only options to stay alive since you can't kill them while they're charging it. You could obviously run away, charge your own Ninpo, or what's most effective is to jump over their head right before they cast the Ninpo which will make you dodge it completely, but it's difficult to get the timing right.
The other component of multiplayer are the Ninja Trials, which pit you against three waves of enemies where the objective is to achieve the highest score possible and survive. Curiously you can only use your multiplayer character in the trials. I suppose this is done so that when playing online co-op you can better tell each other apart, but I'd still like to have the option to play as Ryu. The trials are pretty much the game's challenge mode, and there are six different difficulties. Acolyte and Mentor each have 10 different trials, with the rest only having five apiece. I personally found anything above Mentor difficulty to be way too hard and beyond my skill level. Each trial takes place in different area usually taken from a segment in the single player game. There are three waves, with different groups of enemies, and the third wave sometimes has a boss fight. Your health you will refill after every wave, and if you die you can restart at the beginning of the wave you were on. As the difficulty level increases enemies will be more aggressive, plentiful, and you'll take more damage from them. You also get a limited amount of continues if you die during the trial. For example on Acolyte you'll have five continues, on Mentor four, and on the highest difficulty none. Fighting human enemies during trials seems fair, but demons and fiends are really cheap with throws and unblockable attacks. There also seems to be a glitch where if you die and then continue a trial from the current wave all enemies will spawn at once which makes things a lot more difficult than before you died.
Clearly multiplayer is not the highlight of the Ninja Gaiden 3 experience, but nor is it the main attraction. So if you're skeptical or weary of trying it out, I wound recommend just avoiding it altogether, since it's honestly pretty bad. Those who are curious or brave enough to stick with the multiplayer however might find a few glimmers of fun here and there when you're a high level fighting against a whole team of noobs. Hardcore fans would probably also appreciate the high difficulty of the ninja trials, though few will be capable of completing all of them.
I think that the graphics in the game are pretty impressive, especially the character models which are nicely detailed and fairly realistic. Texture work is also quite good, and really adds to the feel of the environments, especially in the jungle level for instance. Unfortunately the game has an awful lot of screen tearing, to the point where it's almost constantly happening every time you move in the game. It's more prevalent in brighter areas, but it's still unacceptable, though I eventually got used to it.
I actually really like the soundtrack of the game. There are slow melodies that emphasize the emotion of certain scenes in the game, and then you have fast paced metal that plays during battle sequences. Voice acting is decent, but the line delivery is often questionable, especially with the Acolyte of the Mask character. It could be a translation errors or maybe the direction is bad, but there is a lot of unintentionally funny dialogue in the game.
Controls in the game are tight, responsive and similar to other entries in the series. The left analog stick moves your character. The right analog stick adjusts the camera, but unfortunately the camera always resets it's position every time you move, so adjusting it is kind of pointless. Clicking the right stick will show you the correct direction to proceed in the level. The A button is Jump. The X button is quick attack. The Y button is strong attack. The B button throws shurikens. The LB button causes you to draw out your bow and arrow You can aim with the right analog stick, or you can just tap the R trigger to automatically fire at the nearest enemy. Holding the L trigger down causes Ryu to block. Tapping the L trigger while moving causes Ryu to slide in the current direction. Press the L trigger and up with the left analog stick at the same time right at the exact moment when an enemy's attack is about to connect to dodge it and teleport behind them so you can counter attack. When your arm glows red, by holding down the Y button you can charge your Ultimate Technique, then let go of Y to use it. When your magic bar is full, hold down both the Y and B buttons to use the Dragon Ninpo magic attack.
I liked Ninja Gaiden 3 because it's a really fun game. I don't care if the first two games in the series had better combat, harder AI and a better sense of exploration. This game, by itself was enjoyable experience. The graphics are great, the combat is fun, though simple, the story is cool, and I liked the good variety of settings where the levels took place. Sure the game is often too easy, the levels are really linear, there's too many QTEs, it's plagued by screen tearing, and the multiplayer is terrible, but none of that stopped me from having a great time with the game's short campaign while it lasted. I honestly think that fanboys of Team Ninja's former leader Tomonobu Itagaki are actively rooting for the game to fail and are slandering it with the faint hope that Tomonobu Itagaki might return to Ninja Gaiden if the this gaem does poorly. To give an analogy I like to think of Ninja Gaiden 3 as the Super Mario Bros. 2 of the Ninja Gaiden series; it's pretty different when compared to the Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3, but it's still a really good game. If you're willing to keep an open mind and not denounce the game simply because Tomonobu Itagaki didn't work on it then I think most people will be pleasantly surprised by how good the game actually is. I give Ninja Gaiden 3 a 8/10 since it's a great game, but it's too short, and the multiplayer mode is awful.