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Ninja Gaiden 3

Ninja Gaiden

Ryu Hyabusa used to be a nice guy. Maybe not a great conversationalist or a well-written character, but from his actions in the various Ninja Gaiden games, it was clear he was an honorable man that would defend the innocent and vanquish evil. However, the opening moments of Ninja Gaiden 3 shows Ryu coming right at the player and viciously dissecting them in a crimson cloud of blood while glaring hatefully before he strips off his mask. It seems the once-honorable ninja has turned into a big jerk.

The aggressive opening of Ninja Gaiden 3 aptly illustrates how Team Ninja has attempted to flesh-out Ryu as a person rather than a merciless engine of razor-sharp death. With series director Tomonobu Itagaki having left a while back, it was inevitable Team Ninja would try something different. Change can be good, but in this case it feels more like Ninja Gaiden 3 decided to sell out in the name of trying to reach a wider audience.

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Ninja Gaiden 3 centers around the British government bringing in the legendary Ryu Hyabusa to take care of a terrorist group called the Alchemists. The group has a particular bone to pick with Ryu and curses his arm with all the victims he has ever slain. At its heart, the story is merely a device so the main antagonist can constantly question Ryu’s actions and morality. Ninja Gaiden 3 aims to cast a particularly harsh light on Ryu’s past actions.

The scrutiny over Ryu’s conduct is justified as early on he slowly stalks towards an unarmed enemy that has already surrendered and is begging for his life. His back against the wall, he pleads for his family and child, but Ryu remains silent as he calmly slices the man in half. It’s clear from that sequence, containing a quick-time button press, that Ryu is doing his best Kratos impression.

Gone is the trademark difficulty curve of prior Ninja Gaiden titles. The combat has been simplified by having most of the moves in Ryu’s repertoire removed along with the rest of his arsenal, leaving only the Dragon Sword. There are no power-ups to collect, nor any additional moves to be unlocked. While this was done in the name of streamlining the experience, it makes combat feel truncated and severely lacking variety.

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Enemies are far too easy and with so much of the complexity removed from combat, there’s little point in doing anything besides mashing on the attack buttons until everything in the room is dead. Randomly hitting buttons awards players with slick kill sequences and quick-time events urging them to saw through their opponents. It’s a gimmick that quickly grows tiresome, and it’s difficult to overlook the massive gap between what’s being input into the controller versus what’s happening onscreen.

The majority of Ninja Gaiden 3 plays out like this—Ryu navigates a little bit of the level before running into yet another room packed with enemies before moving on to another room full of bad guys. In the first hour of playing Ninja Gaiden 3, the experience never evolves beyond this point. Occasionally, there are shoehorned stealth sequences and a quick-time event where Ryu must climb up a wall using his kunai, but they do little to add variety and serve as just another annoying distraction from what the game really should be about: challenging, varied, and satisfying action.

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Difficulty shrinks even further when Ryu unleashes his only magic attack that kills everything on screen and restores all health. It constantly regenerates and can easily be used whenever health becomes low. Towering bosses are nothing but massive pushovers that can be taken down with a few button presses from a quick-time event. In short, it’s far too easy even on the most difficult setting.

Ninja Gaiden 3 tries to emulate God of War and creates an unsatisfying action title guaranteed to put off fans of both franchises. It lacks the scale and variety of God of War and forgoes its roots as a hardcore action title centered around a lengthy move-list and split-second timing to take down an army of tough opponents. It’s not a bad action game by definition, but it lacks everything that made the series endearing, making it an overall unmemorable outing for fans that fell in love with the white-knuckle action and hair-pulling difficulty found in previous Ninja Gaiden titles.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

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