When the original version of Ninja Gaiden 3 was released back in 2012, it was criticised for its questionable design decisions, turning a fluid action game into a mediocre quick-time event fest, little to no violence, and a lack of any real challenge in the name of accessibility. To hardcore fans of the series this was unacceptable, given how large of a following the first two Ninja Gaiden games had, partly due to their brutal difficulty and steep learning curve.
Safe to say, it’s a disaster that hurt the brand’s reputation and image. Fans began to question whether Team Ninja had any spark left to produce another classic action title with the name ‘Ninja Gaiden‘ printed on its cover. With Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, they attempt to do what Team Ninja previously did with Ninja Gaiden Black and the numerous Sigma revisions, but even more. They wanted to go back and fix the major problems and numerous complaints that fans and critics alike had with the original game. So does Razor’s Edge truly sharpen the experience with its additional content and patching? Or is just another bust?
Set after the second Ninja Gaiden, you are once again in the role of Ryu Hyubusa, master ninja extraordinaire, called upon to end another crisis. Ryu goes to save the hostages taken by a group calling themselves the Lords of Alchemy. After cutting down their forces and avoiding their feeble attempts to ambush him, he confronts the leader, Regent of the Mask, only for him to see him kill what was remaining of the hostages. After getting the upper hand in their duel, Ryu seems to have this one in the bag – until the masked figure places a curse on our hero known as the Grip of Murder. His weapon, the legendary Dragon Sword, absorbed into his arm, slowly killing him. After the botched mission in Paris from which Ryu barely escaped with his life, the masked figure broadcasts a message that he will destroy the world in seven days. Despite his predicament, and with the help of the JASDF crew, Ryu goes out to try and stop the Lords of Alchemy.
To be honest, the story is quite convoluted and just goes to the extreme in terms of absurdity. Now I know the original Ninja Gaiden games had no story to write home about, but they could be somewhat enjoyed for their attempts at being serious. The motivation for the antagonists is nonsensical and they don’t seem to know what they truly want. They want to create a god and purge humans or evolve them… and then there’s genetically mutated chimeras and dinosaurs being thrown into the mix; they’re just weird. The oh-so predictable plot twists further encapsulates how bad the writing is.
The supposed rival of Ryu in this game is flippant and, as he states himself, is a clown. I can never take him seriously; he just seems so out of place with his design and his awkward dialogue, and his accent doesn’t help matters; Doku and Genshin he is not. They also added two missions where you play as Ayane on the side who, at the request of Irene, is to help Ryu in dealing with the Lords of Alchemy. Nice of them to add something to further the length of an already short game from another character’s perspective, but in the end, it’s just pointless fluff that doesn’t add anything of importance to the ultimate conclusion of the plot. We do have the occasional cameo appearances and you even run into the now-masterless Black Spider Clan from the previous game which is nice and dandy, even if their presence is a bit contrived.
The gameplay is where you will see the much-needed updates and obvious changes. The karma system is back, and now you having to buy your combat skills and earn your weapon’s move sets. The earning of said weapons and certain skills involves finding the numerous gold scarabs scattered about in each level, rather than just giving everything to you from the start. Enemies no longer just wuss out and beg for their lives; quite the opposite in fact. They’re much more aggressive, dodge and block more frequently, a lot more of them swarm in dozens, and they pack quite a wallop when it comes to damage output. The balancing at the start suffers for it since the enemies act like you have all the upgrades, only you don’t, so as it begins it seems a bit unfair. This will begin to balance out by the second level as you gain access to more moves.
They will also attempt to grab you more often, which allows you to use the steel-on-bone skill, instantly killing your enemies like a counter in quite a bloody mess. When doing so successfully, you are able to use a more powered-up version of the Ultimate Technique, indicated by the red glow, and by charging it up fully will be able to practically one-shot a few enemies in your path. While you are graded, to me, Ninja Gaiden was more about proficiency rather than being stylistic, though stringing combos is still satisfying, and if you hit down on the d-pad, it brings up a helpful training guide that allows you to practice which is quite nice. The nippon skills have also been nerfed, so they’re no longer the “I win” button and more about leveling the playing field, giving you a nice health bonus for any kills you achieve with them.
You also get a bow that helps dispatch enemies from afar or ones too far out of reach for your blade, though the camera is still a bit problematic in that it likes to snap in place, especially near walls. Since there’s no hard lock-on it can be a chore trying to kill those particular enemies and leaves you wide open to attack. Another welcome sight, is that changing the difficulty does change what enemies you face in some areas. Instead of normal SWAT members, you face fiends in their place. When it comes to scaling, they only add more of them along with more health and not any new attacks, which is disappointing. While having a wide arsenal of weapons is always good and all six have enough moves and stylish animations to differentiate themselves, I feel that having the ability to switch weapons on the fly would have been a lot better and made the combat a much deeper experience this time around.
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