Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a strange beast.
Bursting forth from the minds of Team Ninja, Spark Unlimited and Comcept, what we have here is one part graphic novel, one part zombie apocalypse and one part Ninja Gaiden. The concoction is something to wonder about, considering these three elements in and of themselves were, or are, fantastic things and together could appeal to many people. In addition, there seems to be a very potent influence by God of War, a very popular action-adventure title originating on the PlayStation 2 that featured a unique multi-tiered combat system and an extremely troubled hero. The good news is that system and its influence translates decently enough to Yaiba, your main cyborg ninja character in Ninja Gaiden Z.
Keiji Inafune, co-creator of the beloved Mega Man and former bigwig at Capcom, exercised his creative muscles by strongly influencing the design of Yaiba. Unfortunately, the “pro”tagonist is a rather mixed bag, because he feels about as shallow as a puddle, draws influences from all over the place, and the mish mash of all this badassery leads to a character that is really quite hard to enjoy due to lack of an original concept or presence. He fights with the power of Kratos (God of War), the speed and deftness of Ryu Hayabusa (Ninja Gaiden), and the empowering technological ideals behind Mega Man. It’s such an oddball combination and so blatantly overpowered that it’s…dare I say, hilarious. Outrageous, even. Some of the things Yaiba can do would make Kratos blush. Hell, he’d probably want Yaiba’s autograph and a picture with him.
I’ll give you a glimpse into the story, which is presented in a very graphic novel-like fashion. Sadly, a glimpse into it is all you’d need to really have a handle on the whole thing (no spoilers here, don’t worry). So what you’ll get is a micro-glimpse. Long story short (it is actually very short, by the way), Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a revenge plot. You used to be the best at what you do (so much so that you are bored and murderous); someone better came along and kicked your ass. You don’t like that. You’re gonna slaughter everything and everyone in your way to get back at this guy. Why? You’re not allowed to ask that of Yaiba.
Oh, and zombies.
Yeah, there’s zombies. Regular zombies, big zombies, clown zombies, oh my. Even though the Z in the game’s name probably should stand for Zombies, it actually stands for Zee Awesome Side Scrolling Old School Mode You Get When You Beat The Game, called “Z mode”, or ZASSOSMYGWYBTG if you were to ask me. You know, like how Ninja Gaiden was waaaaaaay back when. This part of this modern offering of Ninja Gaiden is the real treat. And it’s HARD. Good luck and God speed, my friends. A second, spare controller might be useful if (when) you break your first one.
Alright, so what we’ve got so far is an overkill-type character built from the imagination of the man who created a robo-guy that shoots junk out of his arm. This bored, pissed off megacyborgninjaman is plopped straight into a zombie apocalypse after getting his butt whooped. So we go ahead and assume control and…
Hmm. What’s discovered is a combat system that is all too familiar. I really think Keiji Inafune kinda-sorta-maybe stole it from Kratos, but that’s ok. Take from the best, right? Fortunately, the combat system is multi-layered and combo hungry as well as entirely upgradeable throughout the game. So, I come to terms with the fact that the game heavily borrows from the greatness known as God of War, and I let myself slip into the story, ever so gently. This is when I notice…
The crassness. Oh, my word. The writers in Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z decided to appeal to such an incredibly low common denominator that, at times, it’s offensive due to how little respect the Ninja Gaiden name is given. There’s loads and gobs and mountains of trashy one-liners, innuendos and poor writing that just make the story borderline painful to play through. After hearing the dialogue, part of me started asking the question “why?”. Who in the gaming world thought this type of brain-dead, asinine slop was something that was wanted by the collective community of gamers and Ninja Gaiden fans?
Did Inafune think that we fans needed our own version of God of War, with zombies thrown in as fodder, because it’s cool and what the kids play these days? The sheer uselessness and asininity of the writing and game concept cannot be stated enough. I can guarantee this character, Yaiba, was purely an experiment to try and grab the attention of a core audience not touched before by the previously more niche-focused and hardcore Gaiden games. Hopefully Yaiba won’t last beyond his first adventure. There’s easily-identifiable modern gaming trends that were slapped together, blended and injected right up the ass of the Ninja Gaiden franchise, and I didn’t enjoy how that felt.
Technically the game is decent to handle, as well as listen and look at, and performs well about 90% of the time, with the occasional slowdown and stutter. The animation is very smooth, and visuals are colorful and pop nicely, like a graphic novel should. Yaiba flows and strikes beautifully. The talents of the team behind this game shine very well in this department. No real complaints here. Regrettably, sadly, unfortunately, good technical aspects cannot be this game’s saving grace. There are some redeeming elements to Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, but the wanton stupidity unleashed on us through the writing and game concept sorta mar it all. Mucks it all up into a zombified, goopy, irreverent pointless ninja-starred mess.
My advice for you is to beat the game simply to unlock Z mode. It’s a worthy pursuit. After that, shun the campaign like you shunned your obnoxious best friend who pointed out to your girlfriend that you frequently fart yourself awake when asleep.