If you know me, or have been following the site for any period of time, you know that I have a fond spot in my heart for Ninja Gaiden. Not the arcade original, or the NES games, none of those were even on my radar to be honest (more of a Shinobi boy back then). No the Gaiden love first blossomed with Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox. I didn't have an Xbox at the time (who did?!), so when Ninja Gaiden came out Abortion Fist and myself would get off work at around midnight and drive 45 minutes to our friends house just to play the thing every night. And you know what? It was 100% worth it. Well this week the third numbered game in the series (but definitely not the 3rd game) has released to what one could only say is a lukewarm reception at best. The fact that I haven't already purchased and beaten the game by now is testament to just how far this series has fallen. Let's take a look.
Ninja May Cry
You could say I've been a loyal fan of the series. I eventually bought an XBox solely to play Ninja Gaiden Black (The best NG game btw). I then bought Sigma for the PS3 day one. Likewise, I day one purchased NG2 for 360 (I only bought a 360 because NG2 was at the time an exclusive). Then I bought NG2 Sigma for PS3 day one. Basically, I managed to buy 2 games four times. I'm really smart.
Yet as I bought each new iteration of the Ninja Gaiden franchise, I couldn't help but notice they were losing part of the original magic. I'm not talking about me getting jaded either, or over fatigued on a franchise. I mean they were flat out eliminating the good stuff, and adding in new terrible things. I haven't even played NG3, as I was VERY wary of the game from it's announcement, but from what I've heard from reviews and such it sounds like a huge leap in a terrible direction.
One of the key elements that made NG Black's combat so unique was the verticality of it. Wall running, double jumping, and so on were essential in many instances and was one of the few advantages Ryu had over his less mobile foes. Think of the first level of the game, ninja fortress, and try to imagine how much less frantic those tight, enclosed battles would have been if you were restricted to just staying on the ground. Utilizing the environment was CRUCIAL in many situations in the first NG, as a wall jump and heavy attack would grant much needed invincibility frames and stun attacks. Now compare that to NG2 which often times had you fighting in huge open,flat plains. Nothing to jump off of, or evade to. Just stand and slash. From what I've seen of NG3 this continues even further, so much so that Ryu has some new slide dash to try to make it feel like you aren't just aimlessly running at people to cut them down.
Watch this and listen to the terribleness....It's all downhill from here folks.
While it was quite a linear game NGB allowed you to find hidden weapons and secret areas. Also it allowed you to spend your essence as you pleased. You didn't auto upgrade weapons, and weren't automatically given them either. You could pick and chose what, and when to upgrade. With NG2 a new system of limited upgrades was implemented, meaning you could only have certain levels of certain weapons at the games predetermined times. Gone were the rewards for dangerous essence farming battles that you could gamble on in NGB. Now, no matter what you did, you would be only as powerful as the game tells you you can be. Horseshit. NG3 on the other hand seems to have flat out disappeared all forms of essence and weapon leveling. In fact I think there are only like 3 weapons in the game (2 of them DLC). Honestly Team Ninja? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!
They aren't even NEW WEAPONS!!!
You know how there are people who are memorable because of what they say? Like take Han Solo, great character with cynical quips and a smugglers charm. Then there are characters personified by their actions, like say Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4. Take a guess as to which one of these Ryu Hayabusa is. Here's a hint: If you can murder over 1000 enemies in 10 hours, you probably don't have too much time for talk. Ryu is a character who does NOT need to be fleshed out with emotional turmoil, a love interest, or sappy "struggle with arm cancer" type narrative thrown at him. Just know this: you are a badass Ninja, the last of your clan, and deadlier than AIDS. Now get out there and take some heads. I honestly don't see how or WHY Team Ninja decided to try and humanize a focused killing machine. To even try to PRETEND like Ryu feels bad about killing those who attack him is a huge insult and a overly emo way to destroy everything that has been established about him.
His only real soft side is his blood, and that is more wet than soft.
First and foremost NGB is about gameplay. Nothing has come close. I play the Bayonettas, Devil May Crys, God of Wars, etc, but believe me NOTHING has surpassed NGB's responsiveness and sense of presence. If I fuck up in NGB, I know about a second before it happens that I am going to die. Carelessly toss out a flying swallow? Bring down the jumping heavy stab attack instead of Izuna drop? Mistime a jump while using the flails on the ghost fish? All that shit is as precise and exacting as a fighting game. Anyone who says they mashed through NGB on the harder difficulties is a liar and a coward. Then came NG2 with the ridiculous "obliteration techniques". While visually pretty cool they made a huge mistep: took control away from the player. Simply hit heavy attack by a de-limbed enemy and Ryu would launch into a slap-chop impression on the doomed foe. Unfortunately, this meant you were completely out of control of Ryu, the camera, the flow of battle, and the pace. It granted invincibility, which was a godsend, but it also was contextual, meaning mistakes could be made, because when you let the game chose whether of not you want to ACTUALLY do a heavy attack, or do an OT there is room for error. Again, less player control in a game that had previously thrived off of player control. Then you get to NG3. With it's awful back and forwards quick-time in the middle of combat bullshit (although I think you can turn it off). Again I haven't played it, but Jesus Christ, it looks like a nightmare. The point of having a movelist is that you can utilize different moves and strategies to best the enemies, not just wear them down and quick-time them to death. I cannot imagine that NG3 flows even as well as NG2, which was clunkier than NGB. Reverse progress guys, and I won't even mention the lack of UT chains or Ninpo variety.
Ok, so this one is ALL over the fucking place. We won't talk about the gameplay elements that help create the identity of the NG games, let's JUST look at the themes we can only assume the developers are trying portray in their games. So usually a reboot, or the first of a series sort of gets a more of a pass on theme, as it is setting up the character, gameplay, the world's fiction and lore etc. Even still, NGB did a decent job of being a revenge game, despite later spiraling into the super unnatural (let's kill the devil). So NG2 comes along, and they want to mix in two new elements: turn the violence to 11, and create a serious and cool nemesis for RYU. Well to their credit they DID up the violence ante. And then some. However, Ryu's "rival" was an older, roided out, spider clan ninja leader, who couldn't match Ryu's finesse or ninja moves. Instead, he was just a tank-like powerhouse that could take a ton of damage and deal it...oh and then you end up fighting this fucking thing. Soo... we'll call that a failure. Then we take NG3, which looks to be the most insistent that we stop and "reevaluate" how we look at our young death dealing protagonist. So explain to me how you paint Ryu as someone who is emotionally torn apart inside with every kill, when he is literally killing thousands of enemies. It's not like the player can peacefully stealth around, but if he chooses to kill a ton of people is later forced to see their ghosts walking down a river of sorrow...Damn need to buy MGS: HD remake....NO, none of this fits Ryu's M.O. If he had to hesitate to think about this shit, he'd be dead 10000000000 times over. Ridiculous! Also, if they wanted to give the player the feel for cutting through people with steel (as they have said they did) why in the name of all that's holy would they NOT use NG2's dismemberment system! Also, taking off your mask nonstop doesn't make you more humanized, it makes you a Spiderman from Spiderman 2. NO ONE wants to be Spiderman from Spiderman 2
I'm just an everyday guy like all of you. Except I'm a deadly ninja/giant dork.
I could go on and on. But it's getting late, and I try not to go to bed angry. I hate to talk down a game I haven't yet played, but I also don't want to play the game that Ninja Gaiden 3 is said to be. Dilemma. Maybe one day I'll Red Box it. If me going from buying a console to play a single game, to maybe renting a game, in a span of only 3 games isn't bad enough news for the future of Ninja Gaiden, then let's just ask IGN what they think:
Ninja Gaiden Black -9.4
Ninja Gaiden 2 -8.7
Ninja Gaiden 3 -3.0