Ever since Itagaki left Team Ninja in 2008, fans wondered where the Ninja Gaiden series would go. With Yosuke Hayashi directing Ninja Gaiden 3, the series would seem ready to move forward. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case.
The story is fairly straightforward and sticks with simplicity much like its predecessors. A terrorist group attacks London demanding Ryu make an appearance. Of course this is all a trap. Ryu is afflicted with a curse and the Dragon Blade disappears. From there on, he has to find out what the terrorists are scheming with questionable allies.
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The plot progresses fine with minimal amount of cutscenes to keep the fast-pace, that’s in tradition to the series, going. The plot twists and the obvious betrayals are here and while it’s not bad, it’s not something that’s great either. The conflicts that Ryu has to handle are executed extremely poorly. While he has to save the world by going against the terrorists, he has to deal with the curse that is plaguing him. It’s a constant juggle between what is the bigger problem (external or internal) and ruins the experience.
On the flip side, Ninja Gaiden 3’s protagonist is portrayed better. From the get-go you realize that Ryu is a much more talkative person this time around. With Troy Baker leading the helm, you get a masculine voice from him and it definitely fits. Unlike the previous games, Ninja Gaiden 3 attempts to make Ryu a much more human character, for better or worse. While you attempt to see a more compassionate side to Ryu, his ruthless side suffers for it. Other characters are extremely shallow and hardly developed. They’re simply there to fulfill certain roles for plot progression.
While the story is average with its ups and downs, the combat is an entirely different case. Gone are long traditions of the series such as collectibles, karma, currency, alternate weapons, ninpo, and upgrading. In fact, everything that the series has been known for has been either stripped down or removed entirely making it a barebones game.
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Ryu has a single main-weapon to use throughout the entire game – the sword – with a bow and shuriken to round out his arsenal. In addition to his physical armaments Ryu can also utilize Ninpo. However, unlike prior installments he only has one Ninpo move which eliminates all the enemies on screen and refilling a bit of your health.
Ryu can create combos using the quick and strong attacks to kill enemies but the entire process is watered down. Due to cinematic finishes, your enemies will fall before you even get to finish your combo. The cinematic finishes also makes it so killing enemies are less about your skills making each kill a worthless experience. In addition, they are so fast that it’s difficult to even tell what is going on making combat more hectic than it should be. It’s all flash and no substance. Rather than doing cool things yourself the game makes you believe you’re doing all the cool things.
If that wasn’t enough Ninja Gaiden 3 further complicates things by bombarding you with countless number of enemies. Instead of challenging and smart enemies to go against like in the previous games, Ninja Gaiden 3 opts for quantity. The sheer number of enemies that are thrown at you makes it difficult to successfully pull off combos, or sometimes even survive. If you die it feels cheap.
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Diversity is a key problem in the game. The lack of enemy types makes each encounter monotonous and boring. Every fight is the same with nothing mixing it up and therefore making the entire journey to the end worthless. In fact, by the end of the game it all seems entirely unfulfilling.
Boss encounters are a trademark for the series. It challenged you toyou’re your wits, put you skills to the test, and allowed for quick reactions. That’s all gone. If you analyze the movements and patterns of all the major bosses, they are all essentially the same. The massive ones just charge at you like idiots and can be cut down by dashing and attacking. In fact you can win against any boss using this cheap tactic making the so-called boss encounters just another tedious obstacle in your path. There’s no worthwhile reward.
However, the most painful gameplay aspect of Ninja Gaiden 3 is traversing through the terrain. There are locations where you have to scale walls or climb across a crevice using a rope. By alternating between the left and right trigger buttons you make your way to your destination but this breaks up the pace of the game. Not only this but it’s frustrating when the environment or enemies work against you. It’s not a matter of difficulty, rather why it’s in the game in the first place.
Another aspect of making travel painful is the slow-motion segments. While Ryu will be running through jungles, hallways, deserts and what not, there will be times when he suddenly stops to a slow walk to communicate. Ryu is able to run and talk at the same time in certain sections of the game so why does he walk and talk? It just doesn’t make any sense. To add to the trouble, Ryu’s cursed arm sometimes paralyzes him halting the entire pace of the game. These glaring moments, while done to emphasize Ryu’s pain, is nothing but a mere hindrance.
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In addition to the story mode that pans out around seven hours, there’s the multiplayer mode. The two modes are Ninja Trails and Clan Battles. Ninja Trails is a horde-mode where you and a friend can kill waves of enemies. It’s fun due to a friend joining in and helping you through the dozens of enemies that you’ll plow through. Just knowing that you have company makes the experience all the worthwhile.
Clan Battle is a competitive team deathmatch mode where two groups of four ninjas face off until either side wins. It’s an interesting idea and works rather well. There isn’t nearly as much chaos as one would think and the reward of having to go against other humans is an interesting twist. The combat is virtually the same as single player with the addition of other Ninpo skills and customizable gear. Oddly, there’s more customization and fun to be had with multiplayer than there is in the single player.
Ninja Gaiden 3 sticks with the same graphics as Ninja Gaiden 2 but it’s not a bad choice. Everything still looks great. Textures are crisp, the colors are fine, and the character models look refined. To top it all off the game runs at a solid 60 fps with little to no slowdowns. There are no technical hiccups and the game definitely benefits from it. If anything is unfortunate about the game is that it doesn’t try to push the capabilities of the hardware more.
The audio fits the fast paced style with metal music playing in background. It’s a solid track and nothing feels out of place. The voice acting is great and nothing feels overdone. Each character portrays emotion well, particularly Ryu.
Ninja Gaiden 3 has questionable design choices and fundamental problems that ruin the experience. Removing mechanics makes the combat devoid of any personality resulting in a bad aftertaste. To add to the problems, the difficulty of the game has been rewritten for quantity rather than the quality of enemies. One has to wonder if this is the result of poor direction or attempting to appeal to a wider audience. Regardless, Ninja Gaiden 3 appears to be something awesome but it’s not.