The Ninja Gaiden series has been around for quite a while, starting off with its 8bit side scrolling action back in the late 80's and moving into the more familiar 3D fighting action with its reinvention on the original Xbox. Though the series has only just reached its third in terms of the tales of Ryu the master ninja, each version has had many iterations across many consoles, adding, editing and trying to make it the best possible version. Now most of these games had always been a firm favourite, adding a solid challenge with some fantastic visual effects but something went awry with the third game, with reviews being quite damming; enough to steer me clear away from even considering a purchase and this is going to be the hardest hurdle for this version to overcome. Whatever you have heard about Ninja Gaiden 3 you should forget, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razors Edge puts the Ninja Gaiden series back on the right track and is once again a title worthy of its heritage.
With relative peace attained after the battles in Ninja Gaiden 2, Ryu has once again settled at Hayabusa Village, with all being well until a shady government official appears with some worrying news from London; terrorists have taken over the city and are killing numerous political prisoners (if only). It isn't clear what this has to do with Ryu until a further broadcast is shown from the terrorists, themselves naming and requesting Ryu to come to London. Obviously walking into a trap, Ryu accepts the invite and before you know it he is guts deep in terrorist entrails, slashing his way to the leader of this new threat, the LOA (Lords of Alchemy). Taking on the Regent of the Mask in direct sword play, in a last ditch attempt the leader manages to set a curse on Ryu, with his Dragon Sword disappearing before his eyes and infusing itself within Ryu. Struck down by this occurrence and left for dead by the terrorists, Ryu survives and then gets straight on the task of trying to stop the LOA in their quest to create the perfect being and get to the bottom of this bloody curse set on him.
Though a lot was previously made about the cursed arm of Ryu, dripping with blood and bulging with veins, it makes literally no difference to the gameplay itself, with the whole curse thing really just being played out in the storyline, which even then is a little strained. It just sets up plenty of opportunities to hop around the world, fighting a huge variety of baddies along with the occasional boss battle. For those unfamiliar with the Ninja Gaiden games they are essentially hack and slash titles but playing with that in mind you will get you killed very quickly, in Ninja Gaiden the block button is your friend, bridging the gap between getting your arse kicked and surviving. Progressing through the levels will pit you against a ferocious variety of baddies from soldiers, zombie clones, chimera and alchemists through to the more familiar Black Spider Clan and Fiends from the previous games. Each have their own fighting technique and are not afraid to get stuck in, thankfully Ryu has a large assortment of moves and weapons available. Starting with the Dragon Sword, more become available through progression or collecting items along the way, with claws, dual swords and my personal favourite the Lunar Staff all requiring different approaches to maximise their many combinations of offensive and defensive moves. Taking a slightly different approach from the previous games, both Ryu and his weaponry can be improved via a shop area, accessed at any point with the select button. By spending Karma points earned as you hack your way through the game you can unlock more moves for Ryu, costumes, higher grades of Ninpo magic and also further level up the weapons themselves, opening up even more devastating moves. Rather neatly the weapon upgrades also take on visual improvements, looking even more mean with every level you unlock like the Lunar Staff maximum level adding two chain maces at either end of the pole.
Though he majority of the game is fighting there are a few extra gameplay segments to split up the action in an attempt to keep it fresh with a Kunai Climb allowing Ryu to scale certain areas, dodging whatever the enemies throw down at him and a fair amount of QTE's (Quick Time Events), prompting you to jump or attack at certain points of the game. From the background information of the original Nina Gaiden 3, an awful lot of these have been changed, no longer a drawn out button mashing affair but a more suitable quick button push to move the story along and keep the action fresh.
Though the game has been tweaked in terms of the QTE's and general feel of the action there are still plenty of issues that will dog you as you play through. The story is still a bit of a mess, with the bloody arm curse not really offering anything new other than occasionally being transported to a strange 'hell'where the story stops and serves no real reason other than carving up a few more baddies for a few minutes and lengthening the game, feeling more like Dynasty Warriors than the Ninja Gaiden games of the past, just mashing buttons madly hoping for your sword to connect against the huge incoming horde of enemies. The camera yet again feels like an unseen enemy, constantly challenging you to keep it in control, for the majority of the game it appears to work fine then certain areas of the game it really struggles, taking more effort to move it as you get stabbed up by numerous off camera enemies. The enemy balance also is very much in the games favour, not really an issue with a game with such a hardcore difficulty pedigree but it feels more like the game is just spamming you, with five or so sword wielding enemies surrounding you, a further two with machine guns peppering you and making it hard to set up combos or even use your bow and arrow set for the further two rocket launcher toting baddies out of reach on a high platform, firing a near constant salvo of rockets your way. Even on the middle settings I found myself dying an awful lot due to these imbalances, making me resort far too often for the easiest setting which like the previous Plus versions of the Ninja Gaiden games offers a Hero Mode that will kick in when you are low of energy, with the game then taking over the guard duties and also freezing your health, making it impossible to die and though I am ashamed to fall back far too often to this mode, it does steadily show just how important block is.
Where previous Ninja Gaiden games also offered a variety of Ninja Challenges for single and online modes, Razors Edge feels more up to date, with rather than just playing as Ryu or the supporting cast through a series of level replays and challenges you also get to participate in the Shadows of the World mode, letting you play as an Unknown Ninja as you gradually level up and upgrade your character into the ultimate Ninja. With Ninja Trails for solo or duos online and an eight player versus Clan Battle mode you get to spend points on new skills like extra Ninpo, more moves, plus there is also an element of customisation, allowing you to purchase headgear, armour and a Kanji to personalise your looks. Just like the story mode, more weapons can be purchased and upgraded but they can also be further levelled up depending on how much you use them, with each level unlocking even more skills to allocate specifically to them. This is a great idea for keeping the game alive well past the story mode, however it will only be successful if fans of the game are willing to forgive the previous game and start playing online more.
Though I can't really comment on the original Ninja Gaiden 3, Razors Edge feels a lot more like the proceeding titles, built more for skilled fighting rather than lots of QTE's. As I mentioned at the start, set aside what you have previously heard about Ninja Gaiden 3, this version is what should have been released originally.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
(Version Tested: PS3)
Vast improvements over the first version of Ninja Gaiden 3
Dismemberments are back
Still feels unbalanced on even the normal settings.
Backgrounds have strange strobing effects on some occasions