Ninja Gaiden 3 User Review
The story here makes a clear attempt to humanize Ryu. No longer the ominous and rarely spoken lead, Ryu is softer, countenance revealed, yet challenged with the burden of having taken the lives of so many. While there's no doubt something intriguing may have been formed on such a premise, any glimpses at tugging at the heart strings are often a missed opportunity. The reoccurring feeling that I signed up for an action-game, thick on action, light on story, but here I am playing something feeling like the Metal Gear Solid of this genre with a lot less effort, just isn't easy to accept without argument.
Staring at the list of changes made to the game play are many. This list has lines crossed through much of the Ryu we once knew, gaining little additions along the way as a result. Gone are the treasure chests. Gone are the Murasami shops and all of the upgrades and recovery consumables that were offered to players from games past. To the dismay of many, gone is Ryu's arsenal of weaponry, reduced now to a katana sword, shurikens, a lone ninpo art, and a bow. A bow that can dilate time for a couple seconds to shoot off an arrow uninterrupted. The very definition of level linearity is redefined here. There is absolutely no need to explore or search to do anything other than to press on straightway to the exit, dispatching opposition along the way.
Changes to Ryu's platforming abilities are difficult to accept with any more than a modicum of appreciation at best. We now have Ryu slowly scaling building sides, stopping to throw a kunai knife, one at a time, as distant enemies present themselves to be killed. The delicately synchronized left, right, left, right input timing required to scale a wall side or traverse across a rope feels deliberately obnoxious, presenting a jarring change in game play tempo. Popularized QTE's are now inserted throughout play. These QTE moments are usually presented with haste and offer a appreciable level of stylistic panache.
The combat is the body of the experience and given your effort and mode of difficulty can become quite satisfying. Graduates familiar with Ninja Gaiden's play really have no business approaching this one on it's normal difficulty, where a player feels nigh-invulnerable and accomplishes far too much by mashing on the quick attack button, effectively insulting the intelligence of the series' former fans. Thankfully, having finished this on hard mode, I received a tall order of intense Gaiden action, sometimes flawed but usually competent. Ryu brings some new acrobatic sword play techniques with him, making this his most accomplished act while wielding the blade. His combos are numerous and plenty, lending themselves to intelligent implementation and the pressing need to keep your whits about you and maintain control over the situation. Those looking to find a balance of fast paced action with methodical implementation can find it here. This is where NG3 succeeds best.
The enemies are varied and are in plenty, generally meeting the status quo from prior NG entries. The enemy AI employs every tactic written in the NG book of adversaries. Though, a few of the foes come off feeling half baked—mutant gorillas just aren't doing it for me. After the first six stages don't expect to meet any new enemies, aside from the bosses. These bosses are varied and plentiful to the norm, fighting fewer demons and fiends, and in their place more machinery, mutated forms, a bionic T-Rex (!), including the often publicized, crimson colored foe dawning an opera mask. The loss of fighting boss fiends is dully apparent. These feinds carried with them a personality that usually made itself well known before having done battle against them, encounters carried a certain feel of significance. As for NG3, until very late in the game, many of the bosses, while adept enough to provide a solid fight, often shore up little to no feelings, leaving battles forgettable, save it be for the thrill of the fight.
With controller in hand Ryu will feel and perform just as expected. He's fast, responsive, and empowered to clear an area of opposition with input finesse. This is the Ryu we remember in play. The series' up close and personal feel is attractive. The intimate contact between player and adversary has made an identity for itself amongst it's genre peers. While NG has always presented players with some degree of troubled camera tracking, particularly in tight areas, NG3 exacerbates these matters with numerous field of view caveats. Fighting to maintain that perfect view thus become far too problematic. Now with an even greater assortment of onscreen enemies, often spawned and encountered from nigh every direction, maintaining a good handle over it all can become overly burdensome, not to mention the slowdown that gets in the way occasionally.
A mixed bag lacking in quality is about as accurate as I could describe the graphics. Generally, some of the player models look great, sometimes looking more detailed than Ryu's prior outings. But the environments found in several stages can become downright drab and devoid of much needed detail. The first level is the very best this game ever looks. Mid-game, some stages are so flat and so uninterested, the impression that I'm playing something unfinished becomes unavoidably evident. But the list of visual downers doesn't end here. Effects like fire can appear overly muddy with dull shades of orange and red, lacking the opacity and particle detail expected from explosive effects of this generation. NG3 may hold up well compared against PS2 HD-remastered collections, but it's far behind the standards of newer games released within the last several years. Add in a final boss battle that struggles to keep it's performance consistent and we're left with a game leaving gamers feeling hungry from lack of visual nourishment.
The sound quality is preformed adequately. The voice work satisfies as far as usual localized translations are concerned. I liked Ryu's English voice, and so too the voices from some of his comrades, like Mizuki, showing a mild improvement over past titles. The native Japanese voice work does the job within tolerance as well, probably my language mode of preference. The majority of the sound tracks are solid, some even sounding great. However, too many come off overly synthesized, as if generated on an electric keyboard. An up tempo heavy metal track is heard too often during some stages, and it's not a good one at that. Dull palm-muted riffs chopped on low E just doesn't belong here. The sound effects are strong with satisfying sounds of blood sprays, steel on bone sword-sawing, and the swooshes and whirls that have been intrinsic to NG are common place. Annoyingly, enemies like to blurt out comical one liners during combat, some of which are repeated far too often, all but inviting me to turn the audio effects volume down.
The modes of play here makes this the broadest NG game yet. With the a plentiful amount of Ninja Trials making their return, including the online co-op play as seen in NGS2, there's now a more robust 8 player mode, allowing up to 4 vs 4 teams battling to the death. Squaring off with other would-be ninja as a test of might does have it's moments, and given the focus proves amusing. As players earn experience they gain access to mildly significant upgrades to ability and appearance. It's a welcome addition, albeit sparingly implemented in production and overall depth.
Why Team Ninja saw fit to streamline this sequel and make the sweeping changes they have is beyond me. Granted, it brings back the blood and violence from entries past; it's visceral steel-on-bone gory. So while the immensely dedicated action-gamers will probably find a combat system here enjoyable on it's higher difficulties (I know I have), gamers looking to feel and experience the next evolution in action games had better keep looking. The digressed changes seen and felt here are too far and too deep for a franchise that once prided itself as something more hardcore and better produced. Seeing past Ninja Gaiden 3's many disappointments is perhaps the ugliest jagged pill for gamers to swallow. As an action game, stand alone, without references to prior NG entries, it makes for a fair experience. But this isn't the game we know and love from a series that has offered us a lot better.
“I'm mystified and disappointed by this turn of events.” I couldn't articulate this travesty better than former President Clinton could for himself =)
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.