As I sit here and reflect on the time that I have spent with Ninja Gaiden 3, one word immediately comes to mind, disappointment. When Itagaki and the rest of Team Ninja rebooted the franchise for the original Xbox, I was blown away by the addictive combat and tight controls. Now I’m here, eight years later, left wishing they had stopped while they were ahead. Could Itagaki’s departure from Team Ninja be part of the reason Ninja Gaiden 3 has failed to live up to expectations? Possibly, but in the end it doesn’t change the fact that NG3 is an utter disappointment, delivering an incredibly unsatisfying experience that feels far too shallow and redundant.
Before I delve into why you’re better off passing on this game, let me talk about what the game does right, namely combat, which in an of itself is a tricky matter because there are some major issues here as well. The game’s fast paced and smooth action have become a hallmark of the series and it’s back just like you remember it, but with a twist. In an effort to “spice up” the combat – and borrow from games like God of War – Team Ninja has incorporated quick time events in a major way. While the inclusion certainly makes the game feel more cinematic at times, it is way overused and ends up watering down the gameplay mechanics. To the game’s credit, it’s quite fun at first, but the excitement dies quickly after you’ve mashed the buttons on your controller to oblivion within the first hour of play. In the end, I found the inclusion of the QTEs to be nothing more than a lazy attempt by Team Ninja to add a new wrinkle to the gameplay, hiding the fact that the franchise hasn’t really evolved over the past several years.
I find this particularly frustrating when considering the fact that the camera is still a major problem. We’re on game three now and the team has yet to rectify the infuriating camera that has plagued the franchise since it was rebooted in 2004. It is absolutely unacceptable and once again a testament to the issues that currently lie within Japanese game development. Instead of tacking on quick time events like a band-aid to a gaping wound, Team Ninja should have pulled out the sewing kit and stitched up the camera issues that get in the way of the game’s enjoyable action.
The Ninja Gaiden franchise has been known for its punishing difficulty, but this time around the studio has kept the casual fan in mind by including “Hero” mode, which basically serves as an easy mode for inexperienced players who don’t want to die over and over again. After spending some time with this option, I found it to be a great addition that they should have included in the franchise years ago. Though I’m not sure why they didn’t just call this mode “Easy” and avoid confusion, as the word “Hero” connotes a more difficult option in my opinion. Regardless, it was a smart move by Team Ninja and should help the franchise reach a much larger audience. On the other hand, the game’s online offering leaves much to be desired. While an eight player fight to the death might sound like a fun way to kill time with your friends, trust me it’s not. In the end, each match becomes a button mashing slash fest that gets old incredibly fast.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for the single player, as Ninja Gaiden 3 is linear beyond belief. Each level steers you down a single path, leading you from one fighting arena to the next, where you must face several waves of oncoming enemies. Unfortunately the game’s inclusion of a bow doesn’t really help to mix things up all that much, as it’s deliberately included to take down particular enemies from a far, making its use feel compartmentalized. Additionally, the player can summon a massive fire-breathing dragon once the yellow bar in the top left corner of the screen fills up. Watching it for the first time was pretty cool, but after you’ve summoned the thing 20+ times, the same longwinded cutscene starts feeling pretty stale. In the end, there is little variety within the game’s combat to keep you entertained for very long, and the overly linear structure of the game makes the whole experience feel like one massive fight.
From a visual standpoint, the game is about what you might expect from a Ninja Gaiden title, as the art style hasn’t really changed all that much since 2004. Characters look a bit crisper and everything feels smooth and fluid with a solid frame-rate and virtually non-existent load times that never keep you waiting for long. It’s clear that the game’s linearity and overly simplistic level design aided in making this experience as smooth as it is, but NG3’s incredibly repetitive nature tears through its deceptively polished exterior. Throughout the game you’ll visit a number of different locales, all of which look vastly different than the ones before, but more or less play the same. There are a total of eight different levels, each of which will take you about an hour or so to complete.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, I’ve saved Ninja Gaiden 3’s most glaring flaw for last. The game’s story is atrocious. In past games, the shallow and outlandish story has been easy to overlook because it usually isn’t given all that much emphasis. In Ninja Gaiden 3, the team really made an effort to give the story a bigger role in the context of the game. I won’t spoil any of the major plot points, or rather, subject you to the ridiculous insanity that is NG3’s story, but I will share a few tidbits so that you can get a gist of what I mean. Right at the outset of the game, you fight a giant mechanical-looking woman-baby that ties into the plot in a way that is downright laughable. A little further into the game, the protagonist and famed ninja Ryu Hayabusa becomes “infected” by a curse that slowly eats away at his right arm, which blatantly ends up serving as a plot device to shed light on the darkness within Ryu as he comes to terms with all the lives that he has taken as a ninja. Unfortunately, this moral dilemma doesn’t really go anywhere as the player will go on to kill well over a thousand foes before the credits roll.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is the epitome of disappointment. Just a few years ago, the series was heralded as one of gaming’s best action franchises, but the latest installment has me wishing that they had stopped when Itagaki parted ways with the studio. If you absolutely love the series and have been dying to jump back in the shoes of Ryu Hayabusa, you’re better off popping in one of the prior entries, as NG3 is nothing more than a major step backwards for the franchise. With a poor camera, tacked on QTEs and a laughable story that takes itself far too seriously, Ninja Gaiden 3 is far and away the worst game I’ve played this year. Believe me, it’s not worth your money or time.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
– Overly linear level design and redundant gameplay make slogging through this game a chore
– The game’s ridiculous story takes itself far too seriously