I have never had the opportunity to play a Ninja Gaiden title before. I’ve always heard about how the series is a hard, but fair action romp with some enjoyably ridiculous adventures following the ninja Ryu Hayabusa. With that sort of pedigree, it would have been no surprise if the third main entry in the franchise was met with the same acclaim. However, that was not the case. Ninja Gaiden 3 was given a far more harsh treatment than its predecessors, generating incredibly mixed reviews that had some liking it as a good continuation to the series and others reviling it for changing so much and, according to them, not holding to the series standard of quality.
In response to those opinions, the develops changed a fair amount of things for the re-release on the Wii U. From most of the reactions I’ve seen, a majority of the changes made the game far superior to its original incarnation. Now Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is available on PS3 and Xbox 360 and I don’t even want to think about how the original game must have been, as I found Razor’s Edge to be an immensely frustrating experience.
|PROS||Graphics and sound impress, Ayane is a fun character to play|
|CONS||Fundamental combat flaws, Uninteresting and ridiculous story|
|WTF?!||The random Shadow of the Colossus boss halfway through the game|
Before I get into the thick of it, let me talk about what the game does well. First off, the graphics are very impressive and are used to their fullest. The character models move as they would be expected to and are animated very well. The environments, while bland at times, still have a noticeable vibrancy to them and it all manages to hold up well no matter how insane the action on screen is. I can’t remember a time when I experienced slowdown and, considering the amount of movement and effects that could be on screen at one time, that is a fairly impressive accomplishment. At a technical level, the graphics are some of the best I’ve seen of their kind.
The music and sound effects are also appropriately used throughout the game. I can’t remember too many specific tracks off the top of my head, but each song fit the situation in which it played quite well. The sound effects fall under a similar idea. The sword slices, explosions, and other various effects all helped to immerse me in the game and performed their duty admirably. I’d be lying if I said that I never felt immense satisfaction in cleaving through groups of enemies thanks to the weight that every killing slice carried thanks to those effects. Unfortunately, this is where my praise shores up.
I can’t speak for the other games in the series, but I found the combat in Razor’s Edge to be some of the least enjoyable in any action game I’ve ever played. Aside from the aforementioned occasional moments of satisfaction, combat felt wholly unfulfilling and frustrating from start to finish. Many times, enemies just didn’t seem to die when they should have, causing the happiness at a good kill to turn to annoyance at the enemy for taking so long to go down. Even worse, the dodge mechanic, a staple of any game of this type, holds a fundamental flaw that kills most of the enjoyment that could be found in the game. It seems as though Ryu cannot dodge if he is in any part of his attack animation, be it the middle of a hit or the backswing and standstill afterward. This leads to a constant tendency where I saw attacks coming after I swung my weapon and had more than enough time to get out of the way, but I could do nothing to dodge it as the game would not register my dodge in the current animation for Ryu. I realize this is a hard problem to describe in words, but trust me when I say that the issue, however small it may seem, is incredibly significant in the thick of combat with enemies who will combo you into oblivion the moment you let up attacking or dodging.
Unfortunately, this constant issue rears its ugly head the most in the boss battles, which I honestly think would be the best part of the game if the combat worked better. With things as they are however, they instead become the most annoying sections of the entire game, where one missed dodge is enough to take off half of your lifebar, especially when the game has an inexplicable tendency to lower your max lifebar as you take damage until you find the next checkpoint to get it refilled. Of course, these checkpoints don’t always appear directly before the bosses, leading to many instances where I was fighting a boss and my maximum health bar was one-fourth of my max amount. That’s not even getting into the issues with Ryu’s enemy targeting. Again, more than once, this caused me to die because I simply wasn’t attacking the enemy I wanted and I couldn’t correct it quickly enough to see the right one, due to a camera that tends to go the wrong direction when you don’t have the opportunity to correct it and gets clouded with the madness of combat.
Of course, with a game as combat-focused as Ninja Gaiden, the developers give you many different weapons beyond the basic sword that always starts off these games. While each weapon does manage to have a sense of uniqueness to it that makes them feel distinct from one another, there are still some weapons that are clearly better than the others. The basic sword remains as one of the best weapons throughout, although the twin swords and the scythe are also viable. Despite the many differing weapon types, the combos for most are incredibly similar to one another as well, although the combos are another problem.
One of the most important parts of combat in any action game of this ilk is that the combos flow well, both internally from hit to hit and externally to the next combo. Sadly, this is not the case with Razor’s Edge. In a similarly significant issue to the dodging problems, finishing basic combos often seems to leave Ryu completely vulnerable for more than enough time to get bum-rushed by any number of enemies. Granted, this doesn’t happen after every single combo, but the issue is prevalent enough to cause constant frustration with the combat, exactly like the dodging issue. Naturally, it’s no surprise for more powerful moves in action games to leave the player vulnerable on a miss, but the issue shouldn’t extend to the most basic moves the character can pull off, as is the case here. The combination of a problematic camera, high vulnerability time, and dodging issues makes for a combat system I find fundamentally flawed. In the end, the main draw of the game, the combat, was simply not fun.
The combat may be the main issue of the game, but that doesn’t mean it was the only problem I found. Also notable is the story, a poorly-told tale of characters I didn’t care about trying to achieve goals I wasn’t interested in. At the base level, Ryu is called in by some secretive agency to help against a terrorist group who called for Ryu specifically as they attacked Britain. Long and painful story short, Ryu gets cursed with his signature Dragon Sword in his arm, causing great pain and an annoying “kill all the enemies before you run out of life” gameplay mechanic, so he has to go on a journey across the world to both cure his curse and stop the so-called “Lords of Alchemy.” Of course, this is just a flimsy framework to justify the different environments Ryu visits. I can barely remember any character names besides Ryu (aside from a surprisingly-awesome late game character). The story is told with all the delicacy of a train wreck, and the game occasionally seems to go off into completely unrelated events only to suddenly be brought back to the main plot. I believe the best way to describe it is a series of various things that happen in this particular order, spliced together in an attempt to make a coherent narrative. Obviously, this does not work.
Before I finish talking about the story, I am aware that Ninja Gaiden 3’s story had silly parts to it and a fair amount of the ridiculous things that happen are not supposed to be taken seriously. However, I have seen ridiculous done well before, both running with the silly theme throughout an entire story and attempting to take the events seriously despite their funny nature, as this game tries to do. Unfortunately, this is not a good example of a serious take on a silly story. Instead of entertaining me, every new unexpectedly absurd plot point only annoyed me more. I can see what they tried to do, but the sad truth is that they failed at their goal.
Normally, this is the part where I would talk about how the multiplayer component fared. However, I find myself mostly unable to do so for a very simple reason: I couldn’t really find anyone to play with. Despite my multiple attempts to play online over the course of multiple days, I found a grand total of seven different people online. As such, I feel like my commentary on the multiplayer aspect is incredibly limited. From the little I did get to play, I can say that it seemed like a relatively standard multiplayer mode, taking the main story’s combat and applying it into standard deathmatches and tough co-op challenges. It works just as well as combat does in the main game, so take that as you will. The only other notable aspect I can talk about is the annoying fact that every deathmatch has a random chance to become a free-for-all as opposed to the standard team match, with no control over that occurrence. I apologize for my very limited description of the mode, but I can’t say much about something I could barely play.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the differences between the standard Ninja Gaiden 3 and Razor’s Edge. While there are an impressive number of differences, the most significant are the numerous tweaks to combat, the reintroduction of the impressive gore on display, and the addition of a couple chapters focusing on guest character Ayane, from Dead or Alive. New weapons and combos were added that expand combat more, such as the aforementioned twin swords and a few of the favorite moves throughout the series. The original was also apparently missing the dismemberment that fans loved from the previous games, so the developers added it back in with graphic detail. Ayane, on the other hand, has a couple story chapters devoted to her that I honestly found to be the best part of the game. Thanks to a seeming elimination of the delay issues, I actually had a bit of fun playing as her and could only dream that she was the main character in Ryu’s stead. Even with the issues I have with Razor’s Edge, I can respect that the developers clearly wanted to please their fans after the issues people had with Ninja Gaiden 3 and the fixes turned out to be some of the best parts of the game. If I say nothing else good about the game, I respect the fact that they really tried to improve it.
In the end, I’m sad to say that Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, even with the legitimate improvements made to the original, is a major disappointment for me. I have always had a liking for action games of this nature, but every time I played through a level, I asked myself why I wasn’t playing a better example of such a game. With an awful story and a fundamentally flawed combat system, Razor’s Edge gave me more than a healthy dose of frustration with a smattering of slightly fun battles in-between. Sadly, I can’t recommend this game to anyone, regardless of stance on the series and the action games in general. Some diehard fans may be able to find something to like here and I’m sure there are a few who disagree with me in more than a couple ways about the game’s systems, but all the other fans, alongside everyone else, can safely give this one a pass. Wait and see how they handle the Ninja Gaiden after this one, because I honestly believe that they can and want to do better if Razor’s Edge is any indication compared to the original.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes and was completed in about 8 hours, with an additional 3 attempting to play online. The title was played on the PS3, but is also available for the Wii U and Xbox 360.