Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge Review

The director’s cut of Ninja Gaiden 3 attempts to rectify some of the criticism levied at the original release. Does it succeed? In some ways yes, in others not so much.

PROS: Fluid animation. Takes strides in connecting the series to the NES Trilogy.

CONS: Streamlined gameplay means some will find it repetitive after a while.

WHY: Do the villains send out so many German Shepherds to be slain?

Ninja Gaiden 3 saw a mixed reception upon its release. The director of the first two games left Tecmo after a heated dispute, and the person with the porting duties was given the reigns for part 3. The resulting game had the flashy, animation, and gory fights of the first 2. But it was more linear, and easier. So what is different about Razor’s Edge?

For starters, Razor’s Edge started out as a launch window title for the Wii U. So it features some touch screen functionality like changing weapons on the fly, casting Ninpo arts, or seeing your current unlocked combination attacks. It also tries to rectify the difficulty situation. One of the reasons the game is easier than Ninja Gaiden, or Ninja Gaiden 2 is due to its karma system.

Ninja Gaiden 3’s karma system grants players points for killing enemies. Long chain combos, or flashy executions grant more of these points than base moves. There are also a fair number of weapons one can use throughout the game, and some of these will display even more gruesome deaths. Limbs are torn off, heads are decapitated. Curse words are shouted as the score rolls up. When one gets to a section that isn’t wrought with enemies they can enter an in menu shop to spend the points on upgrades. Some of these extend the life bar, while others give you advanced moves, weapons, or arts (some of which are only in Razor’s Edge) to use in battle.

The problem is that the game doles out points like water, so hoarding points early on makes getting the more powerful moves easier than it should be. This in turn makes many of the lower level enemies a breeze to blow through. Block, dodge, and button mash them to death. The game attempts to remedy this by adding a higher difficulty level that artificially makes the campaign harder. On its highest difficulty setting enemy health, and attack power is doubled or tripled. The number of enemies at any given time is also doubled or tripled. Karma points are also reduced. So instead of being more challenging, it’s simply being a lot less fair.

Razor’s Edge is essentially NG3 as far as the base game goes. The campaign is an 8 stage run with in engine cinema sections. The main storyline is actually a pretty good one as far as Ninja Gaiden games go, and even makes more attempts to bridge the current series with the original trilogy from the NES. Ryu Hayabusa is contacted by the Japanese government to investigate a terrorist event in London. Led by a mysterious man known as The Regent Of The Mask, the Lords Of Alchemy threaten the end of the world to the world’s leaders if they fail to comply in giving them Ryu. When Ryu meets the Regent, a battle ensues, and at the end he is left cursed with a disease that feeds on blood lust. Ryu must then find a way to stop the terrorists, and find a cure before he is killed by the curse that plagues him.

Along the way the plot throws out swerves, double crosses, and surprises in the same vein as the NES games. The reason for this is due to it being written by Masato Kato, the man who wrote the original series’ story. This game also brings along some cameos from Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword Of Chaos, as well as ties to that game’s story.

For some players, the story will be the reason to play through the campaign. Because Ninja Gaiden, or Ninja Gaiden 2 on the Xbox, and Playstation consoles over the last two generations were different experiences. The first two games had a little bit more variety in gameplay. There was a little bit more exploration, or sections you could tackle  a little bit differently. Ninja Gaiden 3 instead opted to go for a purely linear spectacle brawler. Much like Devil May Cry, or God Of War. Ryu will enter a section, kill everything the game throws at him, then go into an area with no enemies or pitfalls. Sometimes the game may throw a platforming area where a wall run or wall jump has to be done. But even those are on a path from A to B.

This is indicative of many single player action games in many genres over the past few years. But here it feels like a departure after having played the first two games. For what it is, and on its own merits it isn’t a bad game. Combat is very smooth, and fast. Animations are brisk, and fluid. Some of the carnage is really fun, yet gristly to see, and the length is about right for a game of its type. Enemy variety for the most part is very good, with several kinds of enemy soldiers, monsters, robots, and even terrorist cult members. Character designs are detailed, with a lot of nice touches. Many of them look flat-out cool.

One odd decision many will notice however (or at least I did) is the abnormally high number of guard dogs that have to be dispatched. This game throws a ton of them at you. Pretty much every game in this, and the original series has had them. But this one really loves to use them. It is definitely a very small thing to obsess over, and it is in the grand scheme of things a game set in a fictional world. But one example of what I’m talking about happens in a lab themed stage. There is a long hallway filled with glass case displays with dogs in each. (Spoiler Alert: all of the dogs are real dogs, and will try to maul you to death.) The ratio of dogs to other enemies seems a little off.

Bosses are most certainly designed with an old school focus, involving patterns that have to be memorized, and then solved like a puzzle. These are also accompanied by Quick Time Events. Again like many, many games over the past seven years, QTEs feel thrown in for the sake of being a modern mechanic. While they do add to some of the visual presentation here, they don’t do much for depth in a game that needs a little more variety. However there are sections where the QTEs are welcome like scaling certain walls, or reversing certain enemy attacks.

The game does try to break things up by adding a rail shooter segment,  and Razor’s Edge even adds a couple of sections where you get to use Ayane from Dead Or Alive. She controls different enough from Ryu where this does work somewhat, but the gameplay follows the same structure. As far as her involvement in the campaign story it’s hinted that she is working for Irene Lew. Completing the entire campaign unlocks  other playable characters, as well as another difficulty setting. This one makes the game down right cruel.

Razor’s Edge also tries to give players an incentive to play on higher difficulty settings through its secret areas. Many stages have small rooms off of the beaten path where one can find skulls that open up battle arenas. Touching one of these on the easiest setting will bring up a message telling players they need to play on a higher difficulty setting to see the arena.

Razor’s Edge also adds in online modes. The primary mode allows players to play a co-operative game where two people work together to clear a level of enemies. It essentially works like the horde mode of many other games. There is also a clan battle mode for several players to face off against each other. This mode works like a variant of team death match. The other options don’t really do anything other than compare your stats against other players. So it’s only going to appeal to a small number of people hopelessly devoted to it.

Team Ninja’s engine for the series also seems to show its age here. While characters look rich, vibrant, with really great assets, backgrounds don’t always hold up. Some of the textures on floors or walls are muddy or grainy. There also doesn’t appear to be much in the way of AA or other filtering as jagged lines can be noticed. Not every stage has this level of contrast between the detailed models, and less detailed environments. But when it happens it can be jarring.

Audio is actually one of the high points in this game. Explosions, clashing swords, and other sounds of combat sound really nice. Voice acting is also superb. The cast features many notable voice actors who give some wonderful performances here. The soundtrack compliments the action rather well. It helps give the game have the interactive action movie feel it shoots for.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is better than the original release of Ninja Gaiden 3. It has since been ported from the Wii U to the PS3, and Xbox 360 extending the number of potential audience members. The added content is welcome, and the co-operative mode does make for a fun time with a second person. On its own though once you finish it there isn’t much to make one want to go back to it. That is unless, you are a die-hard fan of spectacle fighters. In that case the bonus characters, and unlockable weapons may really cater to you. It also has an enjoyable storyline for long time Ninja Gaiden fans. It’s certainly a fun game, and an improvement over the initial version. But it’s still a little too streamlined for its own good.

Final Score: 6 out of 10 (Good but not great)

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