Back in March, Tecmo Koei and Team Ninja released their latest installment in their infamous ninja series, Ninja Gaiden 3. Under the direction of Yosuke Hayashi and practically a whole new team over at Team Ninja, they aimed to westernize the franchise a bit while still trying to retain elements that made it “feel” like Ninja Gaiden. Unfortunately, many fans and critics were incredibly displeased with the changes made to the franchise, with complaints made toward the game’s dumbed-down AI, lack of gore, “simplified” combat, QTEs (Quick-Time Events), lack of weapons, lack of multiple Ninpo and lack of upgrades. When I reviewed NG3 back in March, there was no denying that I enjoyed the game despite all the changes made to the gameplay. However, after testing out NG3: Razor’s Edge back in June, then during NYCC 2012, and now with my own copy of it, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge completely decimates the previous version that released in March.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge’s story has remained largely the same as the version that was released in March, although the game’s prologue has been completely removed. Ryu Hayabusa is visited by Ishigami and Mizuki McCloud from the Japanese Self-Defense Force, in which they, and the Ministry of External Affairs, are looking for his help. However, Hayabusa is being demanded for by an unknown terrorist organization which is why Ishigami and Mizuki have reached out to Ryu. Shortly into the game, it turns out that the alchemist known as the “Regent of the Mask” is the one demanding to confront Hayabusa for his own needs. After battling the alchemist, he casts a curse on Hayabusa known as the “Grip of Murder,” in which the Dragon Sword gets absorbed into Ryu’s arm and effects him due to the amount of people he has killed with that blade. Over time, the Grip of Murder will take over his whole body and kill him but as the story progresses, you’ll find out what exactly the whole purpose this curse holds. From here, Hayabusa will do whatever is necessary to stop the Regent of the Mask, no matter his condition.
To add a bit more to the story, Team Ninja has added two new chapters to the game in which you’ll see what the kunoichi, Ayane, is doing parallel to Hayabusa’s story. While it doesn’t add an enormous amount to the game’s story, what’s here is a nice bonus that ties in to little extra details and NES Ninja Gaiden fans will nod to the person Ayane is working for. Unlike Itagaki’s poor attempts at piecing together a story for Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge’s storyline actually makes sense and gives you a reason to continue the game for its narrative, much like the NES titles.
Played Ninja Gaiden 3 on the PS3/360? Yes? No? Whatever your answer, throw anything you recall of it out the window. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge brings back an astonishing amount of features and content that were evidently missing in NG3. Upgrades? Check. Dramatically decreased QTEs? Check. Multiple weapons and Ninpo? Check. Wanting to smash your controller repeatedly against a wall due to absolutely vicious difficulty? Checkity check check! Razor’s Edge is the quintessential Ninja Gaiden 3 edition that fans were truly hoping for. Team Ninja took the feedback from fans and critics to heart and rather than just simply port NG3 to the Wii U as was originally planned, they decided to rebuild the experience with all the complaints rectified.
Ninja Gaiden has always been known for having one of the most fluid, visceral and downright stunning combat systems in any action game. While NG3 may have been stripped down a bit from NG1 and NG2, Razor’s Edge brings the combat back in full swing by adding three additional weapons to the three that Hayabusa had in NG3. Aside from wielding a specific sword, Eclipse Scythe and Falcon’s Talons, Hayabusa will also gain access to utilize the Lunar Staff, Kusari-Gama, and Dual Katanas. Every weapon feels unique from one another and also provides more strategy to the combat due to certain enemies being weaker to specific weapons. The original three weapons from the NG3 have also been revamped and have even deeper combo sets than ever before. You’ll be provided new weapons when reaching a certain save point in a chapter or by collecting a set amount of Golden Scarabs. Fans, you heard right. Golden Scarabs are back for collecting and there are 50 scattered throughout the game that are waiting to be found. Much like Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 (although in NG2 you collected Crystal Skulls, which is in no way associated to the awful Indiana Jones film), for every five Scarabs found, you’ll unlock a new upgrade or new weapon. Speaking of upgrades, Hayabusa can now obtain new and helpful abilities that can be purchased with Karma Points. While playing through the game, you’ll obtain Karma Points based on how creative your combat is (in which you’re graded on after an enemy wave), your combo string, Golden Scarabs, etc. It’s a very rewarding system and one that helps keep the combat fresh as you try to string for a crazy hit combo (very gratifying when you achieve a 200+ hit combo).
In NG3, when an enemy was on the ground, they would simply plead for their life (except for the Black Spider Ninjas) and you’d just finish them off to basically shut them up. In Razor’s Edge, when an enemy is on the ground or is missing a limb, they’re going to come at you with a last stand to take Hayabusa’s life with theirs. However, you can quickly end their life by pressing the strong attack button and watching Hayabusa obliterate his enemy in an incredibly visceral style. One of the complaints with NG3‘s combat was the “Steel on Bone” QTE action that initiated when finishing off an enemy. Well, that’s no longer the case but “Steel on Bone” hasn’t been removed either. Instead, to pull off a “Steel on Bone”, you’ll have to dodge an enemy who’s trying to grapple you (you’ll know from the red aura glowing around them), and then quickly press the strong attack button to instantly kill them, while then linking it to another enemy. The more your weapon is upgraded, the more of a kill chain you can pull off. As you keep cutting through your enemies, Hayabusa’s arm will glow red allowing you to initiate an immediate Ultimate Technique (which are now MUCH more jaw-dropping to see in action, especially the Dual Katana’s when it’s upgraded to Level 3). While UTs were in the original version of NG3, that was the only way you could pull them off. Instead now, you can still pull off an Ultimate Technique by standing still and holding down (charging) the strong attack button, just like NG1 and NG2. Another complaint about NG3’s combat was the restriction of only one Ninpo. Now, Hayabusa has the three Ninpos he had in NG2: The Art of the Inferno, The Art of the Wind Blades, and The Art of the Piercing Void. Each Ninpo has it’s own meter to fill up during combat and can also be upgraded in the Ninja Skills menu. Like NG3, Ninpo attacks will recover some of your health depending on how many enemies it successfully hits. Since you can’t carry any health items, building up your Ki meter is essential if you want to stand a chance in some of the tougher fights. Thankfully, when your Ki meter is full during a battle, it’ll stay that way unlike the original version where you either had to use it in that specific wave of enemies or you lost it. That tense feel of combat is back in Razor’s Edge and every battle actually feels like one that you have to fully concentrate on to ensure survival. Playing through on the Normal difficulty setting, it’s essentially playing NG3’s “Hard” mode from PS3/360…except without the monotonous waves of enemies. Team Ninja has definitely paced the game significantly smoother and feels less repetitive than the previous edition. The only problem that still lies within the combat is the camera. There are still a good amount of times where the camera gets a bit caught up during the intense combat. While Ninja Gaiden has always has some camera issues during combat, it’s still an occasional issue here.
NG3 introduced the new “Kunai Climb” ability in which Hayabusa would have to scale up a wall by alternating the trigger buttons. In the previous edition, you had to go at a certain speed with pressing the buttons when climbing and if you let go of both triggers, Ryu would fall. Razor’s Edge fixes this and makes it much more fluid by allowing you to climb faster based on how fast you alternate the buttons. Also, you don’t have to hold down both buttons to ensure Hayabusa stays on the wall, making the climbing sequences significantly simpler and more streamlined. Team Ninja also looked back at some of the levels and tweaked them. Kunai Climbing, while simpler this time around, has been reduced a bit and any sequences that required you alternate the triggers while traversing with a rope are completely gone. Some levels may have lesser waves of enemies, a bit more platforming and a few extra areas that contain Crystal Skulls. Each chapter contains a hidden Crystal Skull, which when found initiates a Test of Valor challenge. These challenges will bring Hayabusa and/or Ayane to a specific locale from Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2, in which you’ll face three waves of enemies, followed by a boss from the first two Ninja Gaiden games. These challenges are a true testament that Ninja Gaiden fans will eat up while newcomers will cower away from. To make it even more intense, should you die during the challenge, whether you’re on the third/final wave or up to the boss, it’s back to the first wave of enemies. It’s a real test of skill and endurance but completing them will net you a ton of Karma Points to use for upgrading.
There were moments in NG3 where Hayabusa’s curse would become severe and the camera would zoom-in over his shoulder. All you had to do was one-hit kill each enemy in a wounded state and then walk to a specific point for these segments to end. In Razor’s Edge, they’ve completely changed this concept into a more artistic direction. Instead, Hayabusa will be in a different dimension dishing out damage on enemies that flood his environment. The catch here is that your health is continuously depleting and can only increase slightly with each kill. Once you defeat all of Hayabusa’s “inner demons” in a sense, you’ll then return to his proper state. It’s actually a solid change that is definitely welcome.
No Ninja Gaiden game would be complete without boss fights and this installment provides for some truly intense and memorable battles. Each boss battle has been completely reworked as well. They now provide stiffer challenges than they already were back in the previous version but they also provide health bars at the bottom of the screen. Whether you’re facing the Regent of the Mask, a Helicopter on top of a skyscraper or a Gigantosaurus (yeah, there’s a dinosaur boss and it’s intense), these will all provide jaw-dropping moments and heart-stopping intensity. However, be prepared for some frustration to really kick in here. While some bosses will take a few tries before you figure out a strategy, others will be just downright difficult and merciless. If you’re the type of player that gets frustrated easily and tends to throw your controller, you may want to invest in the Wii U Pro Controller. This way should you throw and break a controller (which I won’t recommend you do anyway), you’re “only” breaking a 50 dollar controller that’s replaceable as opposed to a Gamepad that costs about 150+ dollars. Regardless, when tackling boss battles, keep your cool and examine their attacks. It’s an old-school challenge that is immensely rewarding upon completion.
Additional to Hayabusa’s tweaked campaign, Team Ninja added two new chapters in which you’ll control Ayane. Her move set will be familiar to those who played Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, while also introducing new moves and abilities. Ayane’s combat is essentially the same as Hayabusa’s, only faster due to her light but lethal Fuma Kodachi weapons. Ayane also has her own Ninja Skills upgrade tree so any Karma Points you earn with her are strictly for her only. It’s great to see Team Ninja added these two chapters as it helps change the game’s pace a bit.
The single-player replay value has also been significantly amped up this time around. Team Ninja has brought back the Chapter Challenge mode which allows you to revisit any chapter you want. More impressively, you’re allowed to replay any chapter with either Hayabusa or Ayane, regardless of who the default character was for that level. This is a nice addition and one that will add replay value for those who prefer one character over the other when aiming for the leaderboards. Additionally, there’s a New Game Plus so that you can replay the game with all the upgrades you’ve obtained and continue to finish upgrading the characters. Even after you’ve finished upgrading Hayabusa and Ayane’s abilities, you can use your Karma Points to unlock their alternate costumes (including Hayabusa’s original NES blue costume).
When accessing Shadows of the World (multiplayer), you will have the option of playing Ninja Trials or Clan Battle. Ninja Trials are essentially the co-op setup that players experienced in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, with a number of missions to complete varying by difficulty. This time around, you can play as both Hayabusa and Ayane in Ninja Trials. Also, it’s worth noting that if you’re playing Ninja Trials solo, you can now pause the game, which you oddly couldn’t do in the previous version. Unfortunately though, if you plan on playing with a friend, you can’t send them an invite. Their work around for that is to host a session where the parameter is set to “Friends” and your friend will have to search within the same parameter. Probably not the most streamlined approach but its good to see they at least have the parameter to keep sessions amongst friends. Clan Battle is your competitive mode, a first for the Ninja Gaiden series. To be honest, I really wasn’t too thrilled about it when it was announced. Thankfully, I can say that it’s not as tacky as I expected it to be. You’ll be able to customize your own ninja with specific weapons, different colors, headbands, gear and Kanji symbols to distinguish your character. You unlock more customization items the more you level up. When commencing a 4-on-4 Clan Battle, you’ll be pitted in certain levels from the campaign and have to just hunt the other players and cut them down. However, while it’s basically everyone running into the middle of the map to kill each other, there are more strategic approaches. Utilizing rooftops to snipe with your bow and walking to have your ninja cloak within the environment and prep an instant stealth kill are just a few examples. The multiplayer may be nothing groundbreaking, but it’s surprisingly addictive and a great change of pace from the typical other multiplayer offerings out on the market. Unfortunately, the online player base is barely even touching this and trying to get a session going will take some time. This could change in the near future as more people get the Wii U and try the online mode for this game.
Ninja Gaiden 3′s original version was a different take on the franchise. One which was an admirable effort in trying to take a risk, but as stated, didn’t reside well amongst fans and critics. However, Team Ninja has really worked tremendously within the past 8 months to completely fix all the issues with the game and provide fans with an experience that is completely relatable to them. What they’ve accomplished here is quite impressive and ultimately feels like a true sequel to Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. Where as NG3 felt repetitive, Razor’s Edge was incredibly hard for me to put down, just like Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 were. Despite still having some camera issues that the series has always had, it doesn’t really disrupt the game from being an absolute blast.
Team Ninja has always boasted some impressive visuals in their titles and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is no different. Hayabusa’s character model is incredibly detailed, being able to see every cloth line on his scarf, every glimmering shine on his sword and top-notch, fluid animations. As Hayabusa cuts down his enemies, their blood stains on his body and the more you kill, the more bloodied up Ryu gets. It’s definitely a great little detail that further adds to the immersion. Ayane has been very well designed also, with the same level of detail and attention as Hayabusa. Enemies all have a distinguished look to them and have a good amount of detail as well. Seeing enemies decapitate again is also a very welcome return that further adds to the gory visuals. The environment detail can occasionally be a mixed bag however. Certain areas look pretty nice with some great detail. At other times, it just looks more on the bland side. The game still runs at 60 fps, which is a necessity for an action game like this. Unfortunately, the game’s framerate does dip at times depending on how much action is happening on-screen at once. It’s nothing too major but still noticeable. Impressively enough, the Wii U Gamepad can be used to play the entire game on there, while also retaining the 60 fps and visual detail.
Ninja Gaiden 3′s overall sound design is incredibly well done. The sound effects of cutting through enemies is very powerful and gruesome to hear, perfectly accompanying the visceral combat. The excellent soundtrack also conveys the action in a way that truly engages you into the gameplay and will stick with you well after playing the game. Hayabusa’s voice actor, Troy Baker, does a solid job of delivering dialogue lines during cutscenes. However, it’s his incredibly badass battle cry while in combat that provides adrenaline during battle. Voice acting for all the other characters are pretty good, but nothing stellar that we’ve come to witness throughout this generation. “I don’t wanna die…I don’t wanna die!” is no longer a line that enemies will say during combat and their banter is not as repetitive as it was in NG3. Ayane’s voice is a bit on the “bratty” side though and comes off a bit childish at times. Regardless, the sound effects and adrenaline-fueled soundtrack really bring out the best in the audio department.
Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is proof that the new Team Ninja has what it takes to develop further installments in the franchise. I can’t stress enough that this is the quintessential version of Ninja Gaiden 3 that should not be missed by any NG fan. With one of the best combat systems, a coherent story, devilish difficulty, tons of extra content, replay value and an exceptional soundtrack, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a must-own for any NG fan and Wii U owner. The game’s tagline may be “Violence Reborn”, but I say it’s “Ninja Gaiden Reborn”.
+ Feels like a completely different experience; More in-line with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2
+ Visceral combat system is amongst the best ever designed
+ Outstanding soundtrack and audio design
+ NES Ninja Gaiden references
+ Great replay value; Multiple costumes and “Chapter Challenge” returns
+ Ninja Trials now feature Hayabusa and Ayane
- Voice acting can be a mixed bag
- Some bland environments
- Camera can still be an issue during combat
- Framerate dips occasionally