Ninja Gaiden is a well-known long run series that has been revitalized for modern devices.
Developer: KOEI TECMO
Publisher: KOEI TECMO
Release date: 9 June, 2021
The press materials for this game stated the games are expected to receive Day One patches to enable content that was not available in the review copies that were provided. This means unfortunately that my experience may not truly reflect the final launch copies of the game. What I can tell you is that while the gore and dismemberment was supposedly absent in the preview version, there was still sufficient evidence of blood and mutilation available to give a decent impression of what to expect. I will try to keep this as spoiler free as possible and speak to all three games in the collection.
Before we begin, we should do a brief history lesson. Ninja Gaiden has been around since the time of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Back then it was on the NES and in the Arcades. Over the years new entries have been released including a massive revitalization of the series in 2004 for the XBox. The 2004 edition was remastered as the Sigma edition for the Playstation 3 in 2007. Ninja Gaiden 2 was released and then shortly thereafter followed suit getting the Sigma treatment. Ninja Gaiden 3 did not however get the “Sigma treatment” but it did get polished and re-released as the Razor’s Edge. Now in 2021, the two remastered Sigma editions have been remastered once again along with Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge to be released in the NINJA GAIDEN Master Collection.
The Way of the Ninja
Ninja Gaiden, at its core, is a hack and slash action-adventure game. As you explore the area hordes of enemies will rush out at you. Through blocking and button combos you slowly progress through the battles and gain a little ground to explore as you go. When you are not engaged in combat, you are running on walls, swinging on poles, acrobatically climbing walls, and various other parkour moves that would be exceptionally fun to do in reality. I know I would be the first to try them if it wasn’t for the fact I would likely break every bone in my body attempting to perform even the most basic moves Ryu pulls off effortlessly.
You could technically just spam the basic attack button and get away with it on the lowest difficulty setting and against a few basic enemies; however, you will find yourself getting quickly dispatched if you try to pull that stunt on any of the higher difficulties. Careful blocking and combo use is the only real way to achieve victory against even the earliest of bosses. The combos are not overly difficult and are plentiful enough (once you unlock them) that even if you do not pull off the combo you intended you likely will still pull off a combo. Depending on which title you are playing will impact which weapons you will have access to. It goes without saying you will have a sword available to you, Ryu would not be much of Ninja without his trusty katana. I have to say my favourite weapon is the Lunar Staff from Ninja Gaiden 2, it could simply be because I was lousy with the claws in Ninja Gaiden 3, but there was something about whacking people with the staff I enjoyed. It could be because when I was a kid my favourite Ninja Turtle was Donatello, so getting to use a staff similar to him might have done something for me. The bow in Ninja Gaiden 3 was also an interesting weapon although since it took two button presses to do, I often found myself getting smacked around before I could aim and take out the ranged people shooting at me from their perches.
Before moving on, let’s talk about combat a little more. As mentioned, you can technically button spam your way to victory but that is not advisable. With how many enemies that are thrown at you, I can honestly say I found myself relying on the easier to pull off combos to deal with them. While the hordes of enemies attacking at once make sense, it does feel kind of grindy after a while. When you encounter mini-boss and boss enemies it is even more noticeable. Basically, any time you see a health bar pop up for the enemy you know you are in for a bit of a slog. This isn’t exactly a bad thing, but at the same time it can get a bit irritating when you fail a few times. Normal swarming enemies take probably the same amount of hits to clear an entire wave as one of these damage sponge enemies. You will also encounter enemies that seem to do nothing but spam block on you which means you may find yourself in a prolonged battled with them unless you change your tactics. The bosses are almost punishingly difficult, and odds are pretty high you will be replaying each one of them possibly several times over in order to succeed.
Getting hurt in Ninja Gaiden is something to avoid. That is probably true for almost any hack’n’slash game, but it is particularly important here. As you get injured your maximum health bar is reduced. This means that the natural healing you get will not be able to heal all of your damage. Sloppy play leads to a rather short effective range for your health bar. This damage can be restored with items or visiting a save point, but otherwise you will have to live with the punishment for your, shall we say less than skillful play for a while.
The first game, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is quite primitive in terms of what is available in comparison to the two sequels that followed it although one could argue that it is the most pure experience. It focuses more on the adventure and while it is combat heavy it seems to flow better. The second one is definitely a refined copy of the first game and does contain enhancements which in my opinion does make it a bit better. The third adds more features and is far better than the original non-Razor’s edge edition I had played previously. The boss fights in all three titles are not easy victories. Even some of the cutscenes in the third game are not easy victories… you read that right, cutscenes. Sometimes the game will have a scene play out for you and then prompt you to press a button, assuming you press the button in time, something will happen, if you do not… well then you fail and you can try again. Sometimes the game seamlessly moves between a cutscene and gameplay to the point you are sitting there waiting for the game to do something before realizing you are back in control again. Other times there are action scenes where you have to outrun something and you have barely a moments notice to do some action to avoid having to restart the area. It can be quite challenging when you are just that smidgen too slow in your slide or the game does not recognize that you are attempting to do the multiple button presses required to initiate the slide and you end up failing. It is not really that bad of thing, but it can get frustrating. I could chalk that up to my gamepad starting to get a bit old, but it is not like everyone can afford brand new controllers for every game they play. Assuming the action sequence worked smoothly though, it does make for quite a nice change of pace from the standard walking, parkour and combat.
There are RPG elements to the game as well, particularly in Razor’s Edge. You also have the ability to change your outfit to suit your tastes although you have to be a bit careful there. I chose the really cool looking nightmare suit and realized that it didn’t play well with the cutscenes. For example, there is a scene where Ryu pulls down his face covering to talk to a frightened child, but wearing the nightmare outfit it more or less looked like he scratched an itch on his face, then scratched it again later (when in reality he was lifting his mask back up). Karma is the points tracking system in the Ninja Gaiden titles. In Sigma it was more or less just a way to show how well you did but it evolved in Razor’s Edge and was used to unlock better abilities and costumes. Playing on lower difficulties and relying on autoblock actually hurt your Karma gained which could make it difficult to progress. However, if you are resorting to playing on the lower difficulties you don’t really need those perks anyway. In Razor’s Edge you are pretty much an unkillable killing machine when playing on Hero difficulty (the lowest of the low). You also are also punished by not being allowed to do Crystal Skull bonuses on Hero difficulty. Depending on the difficulty setting you choose, the game may ask if you want to try again at a lower difficulty. It is kind of humiliating the first time that happens although you can alter the difficulty level as needed (unless playing on the higher difficulty settings).
A few other things to note before we wrap up. As you progress through the various titles new features get unlocked too. These include missions and other activities that can be undertaken from the main menu. It’s a good idea to check them when you unlock them as they can prove to be quite interesting (and can actually help you out a bit). You also have the ability to play as someone other than Ryu in some circumstances. Ayane for example has a few missions of her own in Razor’s Edge and you have Rachel in Sigma. I have to say that Ayane has a much more elegant fighting style than Ryu and I kind of wish you had the ability to swap between them freely.
The graphics for all three games are PlayStation 3 era. They look good, and there is very little to complain about when compared to more modern titles. Considering how old the first game the Sigma edition was a remaster of, it has held its looks quite well to be this graphically pleasing 17 years later. The third being a more modern title already did not really need much of a facelift to make it look current again. With the diverse areas you visit as you play through in all three games it is unlikely that you will get bored of any-one setting. Sure, some of them look quite similar, but overall, there are enough differences to keep it interesting. I will admit, they do look a bit samey and drab after a while, but I feel that is because I attempted to play all three games in a very short period of time! Some of the bosses are even quite interesting to look at too, such as a giant spider tank reminiscent of X-ATM092 from Final Fantasy VIII and I mean how many games do you get to be chased by and fight some kind of mutant robot dinosaur as a ninja?
The music and spoken dialogue are very well done. Thankfully, the language track is English as I think taking your eyes off the action to read the subtitles would definitely make you miss things. The voice acting is well done and most of them sound great. The music is quite atmospheric and really helps to ramp up the action and even provides a sense of urgency at times. The general sound effects are mostly characters grunting and their weapons clanging against other weapons but it works quite effectively.
Controls and User Interface
The controls work decently well. Using a gamepad, I did not have much difficulty pulling off whatever combo I was trying to pull off. I did find sliding a blocking a bit difficult, but that was probably just my controller to blame. Changing weapons, outfits or items is done quite simply through the menu. I did find the menu in Razor’s Edge mildly confusing to navigate, but it was nothing of major concern. One odd thing is that every time I load the game it starts in a window and I was unable to locate the settings to change that. Clicking on the exposed frame did make it go full screen though so it was a minor inconvenience at best.
So, should you pick up the NINJA GAIDEN Master Collection? That’s a toughy! If you enjoy the Ninja Gaiden series, odds are you have already played these three games in some form or another. If you have not played the Sigma and Razor’s Edge versions respectively, you likely should consider playing them. Razor’s Edge is a significant improvement over Ninja Gaiden 3 and the Sigma version of Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 are definitely worth playing if you only played the originals as there are fairly significant tweaks and changes. If you are looking for a hack’n’slash game where you can run around with a katana and cut through waves of enemies, then this is a series for you. If you are looking for an interesting ninja story, then this might be it for you (although I have to admit I did have a bit of trouble following the story of Razor’s Edge a bit.) If you have played this edition already, it comes down to do you want it for modern consoles and PC? I personally favour the PC over consoles and have even repurchased console games for PC once they have been released (assuming I enjoyed the game enough, and especially if they remastered it and added to it). The game does get quite grindy especially with the massive waves of enemies that come at you almost every step forward you take, but that is common for the genre, and I will not hold it against it. The game is also very unforgiving for mistakes and the combos are not exactly the easiest to pull off with the tight timings, but as I mentioned earlier, messing up a combo usually just means you will perform a different move, and that is probably good enough. I do kind of wish they had went with more of a finesse based combat system where you tackle opponents in reasonable numbers. Having swarms of enemies coming at you and a large sweeping attack that clears them away kind of defeats the purpose of having them swarm you in the first place. The damage sponge enemies kind of spoiled the experience a bit as well. I got the general idea of the fight, then it was more or less an attrition battle to see who dies first, the boss or the batteries in my controller. Once you figured out the pattern needed to defeat the enemy, you then need to successfully perform it ad nauseum until they fall. If you lose before that happens, you have to do it all over again. I say if you lose, but this is Ninja Gaiden we are talking about. On anything other than the lowest possible difficulty setting odds are you will lose repeatedly as you progress through the game. You fight, you lose, you try again and again and again until you win. There is a fine line though between when your eventual victory leads to a strong feeling of satisfaction or of relief. One keeps you going, the other only keeps you going until you hit a save point. I see the save point ahead in this review and now I’m going to Save for Later.