Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge
Ninja Gaiden 3 was an example of a game trying to sever its ties as a hardcore franchise and garner mainstream success by streamlining its mechanics, but in taking away everything that made the games enjoyable, the result was a title neither party enjoyed and it left a bitter taste in many a mouth. Backlash was swift and the critical response was unsurprisingly negative, and in direct response to that Team Ninja has taken another shot in order to atone for its mistakes with an enhanced version that had previously been a Wii U exclusive.
The story remains intact with Ryu Hyabusa being recruited by the government once a group calling themselves the Lords of Alchemy begin causing a ruckus and attempting to form a new world order. Ryu is cursed with a spell that binds the slain souls of the dragon sword to his arm which will eventually take his life. Not that the previous games were ever big on story, but attempts have been made to humanize Ryu Hyabusa with a few changes from the original Ninja Gaiden 3 to smooth out those rough edges. Gone is the scene where Ryu eviscerates a surrendering enemy and the rest of them no longer beg for mercy.
Action has always been Team Ninja’s real calling card, and in that area Razor’s Edge delivers where the original failed. The over-simplified controls have been junked in favor of the extended move-list veterans of the series have come to expect and unlockable abilities that can be purchased at any time once enough karma has been accumulated. All the alternate weapons that were originally DLC have now been included, but only some can be unlocked once enough golden scarabs have been discovered. There aren’t any new weapons, unfortunately, but Ryu’s arsenal is diverse enough to handle just about every situation.
The overpowering, game-breaking Ninpo magic has also been removed, in its place are the old standbys that can also be upgraded. In keeping with the idea of adding back the things Ninja Gaiden 3 took away from the series, the trademark difficulty has returned with revamped enemies designed to be aggressive and cause serious damage whenever possible, including when maimed and making a final kamikaze run at Ryu. Even the demonic fiends from the last two games make a bizarre, but still welcome, appearance in Razor’s Edge to add to the punishing difficulty curve.
All of these elements make Razor’s Edge a more pleasurable experience than Ninja Gaiden 3, but the added features make this re-release the game it should’ve been versus an improvement to an already solid title (like Ninja Gaiden Black). The additions also highlight the fact that they can’t overcome the inherent weakness in the original design. With the inclusion of so many powerful enemies, Ninja Gaiden 3‘s approach to health-regeneration just doesn’t work. Not being able to carry health elixirs and magic potions made sense when things were easy, but now their exclusion only adds to the difficulty level.
Stealth sections are still wastes of time even if they are mercifully infrequent, and the toothless quick-time events are a painful reminder of how Team Ninja tried and failed to emulate the success of God of War. Another feature from the original that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor was the needless suite of online modes—chief among them Clan Wars, a team deathmatch mode that proves some series should know when their mechanics are unsuitable for competitive play.
Additional content goes a ways to making up for these shortcomings, however. Lithe ninja Ayane and shrine maiden Momiji are playable as is Kasumi, another alumni from the Dead or Alive series. All three are capable as Ryu is of slicing up hundreds of enemies with equally extensive move-lists. They’re fun to play as even if they don’t have access to Ryu’s vast arsenal, but overall don’t strengthen the experience.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a sincere effort on the part of Team Ninja to make up for the original’s half-baked concepts and offers an experience closer to previous titles from the series’ glory days. It’s the game players were promised in 2012, but its fundamental flaws still remain under the hood even though it does remove most of the unpalatable elements from the campaign. Razor’s Edge doesn’t reach the same heights of fast, brutal action that its predecessors did, but it’s a huge step forward and warrants Team Ninja’s flawed sequel one more chance.