Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review
Ninja Gaiden is a legendary name in the realm of video games. To present the world with an antihero whose goal it is to destroy the famed Ninja Gaiden protagonist, Ryu Hayabusa, is a unique, intriguing approach to this series. Implement a totally over-the-top visual presentation that, due to its ultra-violent cel-shaded style, reminds one of Splatterhouse, and you’ve got the potential for a hugely visceral, highly entertaining hack ‘n slash experience. Unfortunately, the developers sadly opted for teeth-grinding stupidity and mechanical frustration.
The graphics might be the best part of this in-your-face extravaganza, simply because the designers obviously put a ton of effort into the animations and effects. Some of the enemy drawings are just plain wacky, and I loved the gut-wrenching plethora of blood and guts that constantly assaulted the screen. It’s not really my thing, but I’ve come to accept (and better understand) the difference between Japanese and Western cultures. In other words, if you’re an anime fan, you’ll likely appreciate Yaiba’s extremely colorful and brutal depiction of ceaseless action.
The audio suffers from amateur-ish acting, punctuated by a somewhat repetitive and even annoying soundtrack. I won’t say the score doesn’t fit the action – because for the most part, it does – but many of the selected pieces don’t necessarily enhance…rather, they start to grate. As for the acting, I have to acknowledge that the actors had little with which to work, as the writing is absolutely atrocious. Basically, someone just tried to use as much disgusting language as humanly possible and when that happens, the actors are tossed to the wolves. There’s just nothing you can do to not sound immature and idiotic. Great, splashy effects, though.
Puerile, adolescent, and unbelievably grotesque imagery are the cornerstones of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. At no point is it necessary – or even helpful – to include terms like “blood-boner” and “knob-head.” Half of it doesn’t make any sense and the other half is just utterly incomprehensible. There’s a story in there somewhere and there are a few interesting concepts, but it’s buried beneath an onslaught of stupidity. I’m all for creating a viable atmosphere, one that enhances the immersion and keeps you riveted. However, it’s clear they just went way too far and the result is a bloody mishmash of only mildly amusing viscera.
Yaiba obviously isn’t supposed to be likable, and that’s fine. As an antihero, we’re not really supposed to like him. But it really does seem as if Japanese storytelling is lagging far behind Western scribes in the world of video games. These characters – especially the one-track-minded Miss Monday with massive breasts and zero actual charm – are mired in ridiculous stereotypes and the worst part is, this isn’t tongue-in-cheek. They’re trying to be serious. The dialogue is dumb and we don’t care about the characters because every last one is frustratingly one-dimensional.
This is the way video game characters used to be; it’s not necessarily the way they are now. However, perhaps it’s unfair of me to focus so much on the story and atmosphere, as this game is really all about the action. Things do get a little better when you start ripping through scores of enemies with a variety of deadly weapons. From the handy flail to the explosive rocket launcher, there will always be a wide assortment of melee weapons and firearms. The combat is fast and furious and it can be wildly entertaining, provided you’re willing to accept a lot of technical missteps.
The fixed camera is often a serious problem, for instance, because you’re often attacked by enemies that are completely off the screen. Again, we come across an outdated issue that I thought we left behind last generation…or rather, two generations ago. Furthermore, while this franchise has always prided itself on its difficulty and rewarding the diligent and skilled, Ninja Gaiden Z just tries to fill the screen with as many foes as possible. And given the speed with which everything happens, blocking and countering usually isn’t advisable. Just mash away and hope for the best; you really don’t need much in the way of dexterous talent.
Then there’s the inclusion of the “chemistry set,” which is a great idea in principle but falters when it comes to execution. It’s cool to set the entire battlefield ablaze but in reality, it just makes everything that much more dangerous. This is another irritating element that could’ve, had it been approached with a more tactful mind, been an excellent addition to the constant flailing about. Then you’ve got the inclusion of some platforming, parkour-style mechanics that could’ve further enhanced the experience, but due to that poor camera and iffy contextual commands, it becomes another failed attempt at diversity.
I did like the executions, though, just because they’re so absurd, you can’t help but laugh at the extreme ridiculousness of the maneuver. The only reason this game doesn’t score below a 3 is because it’s not completely broken, and there are times when you’re gleefully smashing through freaky foes that are just begging to be destroyed. Besides, I always say I enjoy playing as powerful characters, and Yaiba is indeed quite powerful. And I suppose Miss Monday’s gargantuan chest size will be appealing to those of a certain age; specifically, teen males. Gotta hit your target audience, right?
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is marginally entertaining but due to critical technical flaws and a style that is almost too stupid to be tolerable, it’s not worth your time. I understand that fans of Japanese presentations (ala anime and the like) might be less turned off than me, but stupid is stupid. It’s not dependent upon cultural preference or style; it just is what it is: Brainless. It’d even be okay if it was brainless, if the gameplay was tighter and more rewarding, and the humor and story weren’t so insultingly insipid and shallow. You can get your kicks with some bloody battle but other than that, I’d definitely recommend saving your money.
The Good: Highly visceral presentation with great effects. Combat is fast and accessible. A few decent gameplay concepts.
The Bad: Audio, especially the acting, is a big disappointment. Control is hampered by a terrible camera. Several mechanics are seriously flawed. Outrageously awful humor and a poorly constructed story. Over-the-top brutality and mature content just comes across as puerile.
The Ugly: “If the Japanese want to catch up to Western developers, they need to stop producing crap like this.”
4/2/2014 Ben Dutka