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Monday, April 23, 2012

Ninja Gaiden 3 (6.6/10)

I often cite the Ninja Gaiden series when I use the term 'God Factor.' The god factor refers to those action games where, once you get the hang of the controls, you feel invincible as you lay waste to wave after wave of foes. Combined with the infamous difficulty level the series is known for, there are few titles that can compare when it comes to feeling a true sense of accomplishment upon completion. So I was understandably excited when I saw that Team Ninja (sans their legendary rock star leader Tomonobu Itagaki) was working on the newest installment. However, it turns out Itagaki may have been a true catalyst, as Ninja Gaiden 3 was supremely disappointing.

Let me get this out of the way right from the start: I'm not even gonna bother trying to make too much sense of the story. Legendary ninja Ryu Hyabusa has been called upon to once again save the world, but this time his enemies have come back to haunt him. Early on Ryu's arm becomes infected/cursed/gross, a physical manifestation of all of his victims. Meanwhile, an evil terrorist organization is threatening the world with evil forces and there is some super-natural stuff going on as well... blah blah blah.

None of the games in this series have exactly been narrative gems to begin with, but this one is more confusing than the others. Just rest assured you're going to fight a crap load of bad guys, monsters, and giant bosses. The reasons behind doing so are convoluted at best, stupid at worst. And poor Ryu! What has happened to our hero? Ryu used to be a quiet, contemplative ninja. Now he talks constantly and even takes off his mask! Is nothing sacred?!? And to top it all off, there is no busty heroine! I could hardly be bothered to roll my eyes....

But that's okay because the action has always been Ninja Gaiden's trademark, arguably the best in all of gaming. But somehow they've lost the thread of this as well. Right from the first scene you'll notice that quick time events (QTE's) pervade the gameplay. Normally I don't mind QTE's nearly as much as some people, but they are far too prevalent here. But what's really gone is the challenge, and that's also what is most disappointing.

As a series, Ninja Gaiden is probably responsible for more broken controllers than any other game out there (with the possible exceptions of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls). It was what Team Ninja had hung their hat on. You had to earn the end game. But for some inexplicable reason, Ninja Gaiden 3 is almost depressingly easy. It's not necessarily that the combat is easier, but rather Team Ninja added some finishing moves that remove any challenge. If you kill enough bad guys in a row then your cursed arm glows red. Then Ryu unleashes a rudimentary QTE where he instantly runs through his foe before jumping to the next. You can take out four or five in a row before the effect wears off. What really drives me nuts is that every time you feel like you're getting in a rhythm with the combat, these bloody QTE's pop up and ruin your combos! Combat no longer flows, but is choppy and interrupted. But that's not even the worst part....

The worst part is the Ninpo attacks. Ninpo, or ninja magic, was used primarily as a last resort in previous games. It was a precious commodity, one you needed to use sparingly as it was hard to come by. Now, it is the last resort, but not in a good way. Rather than have different varieties for different situations, you have one all-powerful magic fire dragon attack that wipes out everyone on the screen. Basically, you have a gauge that fills during combat. Once full, you send forth said dragon to munch on your enemies. Here's the problem: it's too easy to fill and gets used FAR too often. Since each mini-area is essentially an arena where waves of foes are set upon you, using your dragon is basically an easy out. As a result, the game becomes tedious as you bounce around with your cursed arm, maiming foes with ease, just waiting for the moment your Ninpo gauge is full before unleashing your fiery friend. And then you do it again. And again. It's tedious, it's boring, and it's easy. But most of all, it's NOT Ninja Gaiden! I mean, you even have regenerating health! What... the... hell!!

I'll give Ninja Gaiden 3 this... despite it's lowered difficulty, you still feel incredibly bad ass when you take out thirty or so bad guys with nary a scratch. It's an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, the 'God' Factor is once again very high, but because all the difficulty has been removed, the sense of satisfaction isn't as intense. I never really felt like I earned my skills.

The first two games of the series allowed you a host of weapons to slice and dice the bad guys, spirits, and demon fish you face. For some truly inane reason, you only have swords to play with this time around. Part of the fun was messing around with the different tools in a ninja's arsenal. Of course, since Team Ninja decided to also do away with the currency and upgrade system from the previous games, the enjoyment of leveling up multiple weapons is absent as well. Ninja Gaiden 3 has been cut down to just the core action experience, and that goes beyond just the lowered difficulty and quick time events. There are no more Resident Evil style puzzles to unlock after finding funny shaped keys. I really feel like, in their attempt to streamline the experience, the developers cut out far too much in the end. Some of the things that make Ninja Gaiden intrinsically Ninja Gaiden are gone, and the game suffers for it.

One thing I noticed is that the graphics that were once so overwhelming now look antiquated. Back when Ninja Gaiden released on the original Xbox, I'd never seen cutscenes that looked so amazing! Now, it's simply standard. Oh, and I know I probably shouldn't say this, but the lack of giant animated cleavage was also moderately disappointing as well.

While the game runs pretty smoothly, I did encounter some lag. However, there were other graphical glitches as well, like texture pop-in. As bloody as the game is (well, as bloody as it can get once you subtract dismemberment...) I found multiple instances where the resulting blood splatters would hover.

The soundtrack is still a highlight, I've always felt like it worked well. But the dialogue is trite at best, and the voice acting doesn't help. When in combat enemies spout repetitive lines that don't fit the context. Towards the end when you face more foes, they will even repeat over each other. It sounds like they are singing in a round! It's laughably bad.

If you're a Ninja Gaiden veteran, you know that the camera is arguably the biggest hindrance on the action. After so many tries you'd think they'd make some of the requisite changes, but they don't seem so inclined. It doesn't pan as quickly as you'd like at some points. At other times there are so many enemies on the screen (especially towards the end) that the camera makes it difficult to tell where you are. I found myself mashing the attack button just hoping I was hitting the bad guys. This is only exacerbated by those moments where your cursed arm gets the better of you and the action slows down... and so does the camera. Getting caught up on the environment is a major hitch as you stagger around blindly trying to find someone to hack at. In an interesting contrast, during the QTE's in combat, the camera moves so fast it's enough to give an epileptic fits.

One new thing introduced in Ninja Gaiden 3 is an online component. I'll be honest here, I didn't mess around with it too much (I was too annoyed with the atrocious campaign!). However, it was fairly interesting. You can play four on four matches that can be entertaining, and there is a rudimentary upgrade system in place so you can customize your avatar. However, the polish quickly wore off for me after I realized that it basically came down to who started their combo a fraction of a second before the other. Just like the single player campaign, strategy goes out the window.

Here's the thing... if you gave me this game with some non-descript ninja hacking up bad guys and changed the name and I still wouldn't think it was particularly good. It's kind of like a watered down version of Dynasty Warriors. At best, Ninja Gaiden 3 is a passable action game, but considering its pedigree, it really should have been better. The fact that we are talking about Ninja Gaiden and Ryu Hyabusa adds salt to the wound, making the resulting farce all the more unbearable.


Score = 6.6 / 10

1 comment:

  1. Depressing that they fell so much. Though I've never really been a fan of the series, I prefer Dynasty Warriors.