Ryu Hayabusa and the Ninja Gaiden series has laid dormant since 2008 and everyone can agree we badly needed to slice some heads off with a katana. Ninja Gaiden 3 makes a lot of significant changes to the normal formula of the past two titles and fans of the series may be thrown aback by this more welcoming entry. This also marks the first main entry in the franchise not to be helmed by Tomonobu Itagaki since its revival into the modern console era. Can the franchise continue to be ‘AAA’ quality and have a top notch experience without the famed designer or should this ninja lay down his sword?
Ryu Hayabusa is called upon to help an agency on a rescue mission but quickly turns out to be a ploy by a cult-like group of alchemists who need Ryu’s blood to create a new world order. The story heavily deviates from the past two titles focus on fiends and archfiends until later in the game and instead looks to examine Ryu’s decent for all of the killing over his lifetime. This is portrayed early on by his right arm being taken over and turning into a demon arm. As the player kills enemies the arm fills with a blood aura type of energy and when it starts to tingle and glow the player can then hold the triangle/Y button to unleash the power to cut enemies down around him in a few slices of his blade. This is primarily a function that happens automatically and will help you out in a pinch so it is smart to save this power if you think it is going to be a long battle with waves of enemies. Ninpo is now on a gauge that fills as you defeat enemies and can be unleashed with the usual O and triangle/B and Y press which plays out as an in game cutscene that unleashes the ancient power and destroys enemies in the area.
Players will no longer collect karma or use items in general. All projectile weapons such as the bow, which will upgrade with his sword as the game progresses automatically through story progression and shuriken have unlimited ammo. After a certain point in the story, the bow even comes with explosive tips that make a nice boom when you fire them. Graphically the title is slightly better than the second with improvements in detail on characters and enemies but cutscenes seem to remain the same. Enemy diversity encapsulates the majority of enemies from the past two titles as well as a few new ones for a well-rounded mix. The difficulty however is mashed due to the streamlined approach and lack of features that made the first two progressively difficult, like leveling up weapons and limited healing items. The hard difficulty does offer good challenge but pales in comparison to what fans are used to. However at the time of this review, planned free DLC will include a new difficulty, Ultimate Ninja Mode which will hopefully satiate fans.
To say that Ninja Gaiden 3 has been streamlined into a user friendly title is almost an understatement. In between taking out the main features like weapon upgrading, items, and a simplified HUD that now only appears when Ryu is in battle they even have it now so that when Ryu is finished battling his health automatically replenishes, however loses his nimpo gauge as well. Saving and full health replenishing (which adds another one quarter to his overall health) is now done by a scripted falcon that flies in and once the player initiates contact, flies onto Ryu’s arm saving the game. The combat has also taken a much more button mashing approach where players will find themselves not needing to mix up their attacks on the medium and easy difficulties. As the Ryu lands attacks on enemies they of course become weaker and more likely to fall for the new ‘Steel & Bone’ move which after a few attacks the game goes into a slow-motion mode and the player is given a button prompt to sever parts of the enemy. Players can sever parts also by doing normal attacks and special moves but the steel & bone moves become sort of a requirement as failing them means Ryu takes damage from the counter attack. The boss battles gradually get better and one of my personal favorites is the one during the Hayabusa Village level. Some enemies weakpoints will be pointed out and others will be more of a trial and error battle. Another feature is the ninja sense which can be used by pressing the left stick in to allow Ryu’s senses to show him where to go next. The title features a few new ways to traverse the environment like kunai climbing which players go hand over hand with the L1/LB and R1/RB buttons to climb steep areas and walls. This is also used for rope climbing going hand over hand to cross and attacking with O/B and swaying side to side. Sliding will not only be Ryu’s main tactic during battle to quickly evade but also to slide under obstacles and incoming debris in levels by pressing L1/LB in conjunction with a direction with the left stick.
The online portion this time around has been reworked a little allowing for karma now to act as XP that you can gain offline or online. Offline can be fun as the ten different trials in the ‘Ninja Trials’ mode have an increasing difficulty as you progress through them as well as gain experience for leveling. Leveling up online or off will increase your customization options in the mode. Online allows you to bring another player into the trials for co-op trials or compete in a clan battle with up to eight players of two teams looking to kill one another. As you progress in rank you will gain new abilities like walking so slow you move with a ghost like ninja capability as well as more capacity for your projectile weapons. DLC is constantly being added in the form of new costumes and selections for customization for the oline whereas free DLC has already been added for new weapons and even added stages for trials.
Ninja Gaiden 3 has deviated from the planned path that the original team may have had in mind all those years ago. Many Ninja Gaiden purists may not be happy with the linear gameplay and simple subtraction of many key features that made the title challenging and different. However, at the end of the day, Ninja Gaiden 3 is a solid six to eight hour slicing slash of a menacing action fest that will keep many gamers on their toes. The story picks up towards the end and the comfort of future DLC weapons may soothe any blade-hate you may or may not hold towards the title. The online itself is solid and fun to play with a lot of customization options and even a periodic level cap increase. If you are a fan of Ninja Gaiden, you owe it to yourself to pick this title up, and if you are an absolute purist at least rent it.
Final Score: 3.5/5