Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a definite improvement over the game’s original release, but its fundamental flaws are hard to mask.
Ninja Gaiden 3 was originally released over a year ago, in March 2012. While I’ve never personally played the original, it was universally panned, featuring radical gameplay changes, uneven combat, and a nonsensical plot. Team Ninja have tried to right their wrongs by releasing a new, enhanced version on the Wii U last year- Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. The game has been tweaked from top to bottom, and now it’s available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Can this new version live up to the legacy of the first two games in the series?
I can’t speak for how bad the original release was, but judging from what I’ve read online, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a very different game. Team Ninja appears to have listened to their fans, removing odd design choices. Ryu no longer mercilessly cuts down soldiers begging for their life, and a wide range of weapons and ninpo are now made available to the player, as opposed to just the Dragon Sword and one magic attack. There’s some additional missions featuring Ayane, and an expanded online component. But even all the myriad changes for the better can’t mask that this is a fundamentally flawed game.
Honestly, I was having quite a bit of fun with Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge up until the first laboratory discovery. Up until this point, Ryu fights exclusively human opponents (with a fiend here or there), and the combat, while not flawless, was fun. Once you reach the first research facility of the game’s antagonists, the Lords of Alchemy, the whole game in general takes a nosedive. The story becomes a huge jumbled mess, beginning to resemble a bad Resident Evil title more than Ninja Gaiden. The player is introduced to a bunch of incredibly annoying experiments, from a giant gorilla-like brute to a weird human/ snake hybrid. From this point on the game throws a ton of these monsters at you, and artificially ups the difficulty by swarming you with wave after wave of them. The worst part is, the game’s story seems to be building up to an epic showdown between Ryu and his evil clone, but this match-up takes place mid-game and is as dull and lifeless as the rest of the boss encounters. Honestly, my favorite part of the game was Ryu’s quiet, reflective period at his home in Hayabusa village. At least it felt like I was playing a ninja game and not a Resident Evil mod.
This also works to pad the game’s length substantially, as many times throughout the campaign it would feel as if Ryu would walk five feet, have to fight a hundred enemies, and rinse and repeat. There’s also new sections where Ryu’s “grip of Murder” curse takes over, and he’ll be taken to an alternate dimension where he needs to slay as many enemies as possible to stay alive. It’s kind of fun the first few times, as the gameplay is fast and frenetic at 60 frames per second, and the dismemberment and kill animations are satisfying. But like everything else in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, it becomes a chore by the end. As a random aside, I had to change the audio to the Japanese soundtrack because literally every other enemy was screaming, “F*** you!” at me in the same voice. That got old, fast.
It may sound like I’m fully condemning this game, but really I’m not. It’s just that I’m used to Ninja Gaiden titles holding a higher standard. While Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is far from terrible, it never reaches the heights of its predecessors, which was quite a letdown. The environments and enemies are drab and uninspired, and the game has none of the previous entries’ charm. Yes, the well-executed gameplay engine is largely unchanged – and it’s still great – but it’s surrounded by mediocrity. The story is awful, and while that’s not something I’d normally dock an action game’s score for, the enemy types and levels were affected by it in a very negative way. This version of the game seems to recognize its shortcomings – bringing back enemies, weapons and even a few locales from Ninja Gaiden II – but all it does really is make you realize what a better experience its predecessors were.
Even the bosses, normally a highlight of the series, are irritating and boring. And once again, the artificial padding of the difficulty results in a huge health bar for every boss, making these unfortunate encounters all the more unbearable. You fight a cyborg T-Rex in this game that is probably one of the worst boss encounters ever. Oh yeah, there’s also ton of projectiles being thrown at you in this game. During almost every fight, rockets and arrows will bombard you from every corner until you shoot them with your bow, stopping the flow of combat and leaving you wide open to attack from close-range enemies. The Ayane sections were fun at first, as you are pitted against the Black Spider Clan from previous NG titles, but before long the lab monsters made their way into – and ruined – these sections as well.
I was looking forward to playing as Kasumi and Momiji, but it turns out they’re only playable in Chapter Challenges after completing the game with Ryu. In this mode, you’ll upgrade the girls’ weapons and ninpo, and try to beat your times and Karma scores. A leaderboard keeps track of other player’s completion data as well. Shadows of the World features online gameplay. Here you’ll find Ninja Trials that can be completed with a buddy in co-op or alone – and they are quite difficult. Clan Battles can feature up to eight players, but I never got that many in any of my matches. While it sounds like a good idea on paper, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge multiplayer fights end up consisting of five seconds of hectic button mashing, followed by a death sequence and running all over the map trying to find each other again. I think maybe giving all players a larger health bar could have helped. As with any multiplayer game, a lot of players try to spam and be cheap, so you’ll probably have a lot more fun if a few of your friends have the game as well and you can join up with them. You’ll need to level up your online avatar’s move set and gear as well if you want to stand a chance, which means a lot of grinding. You can also unlock new colors and costume pieces for your ninja.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is probably a lot better than the original release was, but it’s still hard to recommend it, when it’s worse in almost every regard than the first two entries in the series. Hardcore fans will get some enjoyment out of it, and the online components and Chapter Challenges definitely give you more game for your money. The core gameplay engine is still fast and fluid, and better than a lot of other action titles. That said, a weak story, awful enemy designs, and extremely repetitive gameplay limit this game’s potential.