By Patrick Aguda / June 10th, 2021
|Title||NINJA GAIDEN: Master Collection|
|Publisher||KOEI TECMO America|
|Release Date||June 10th, 2021|
|Genre(s)||Action, Adventure, Hack-and-slash|
|Platform(s)||Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Mature 17+|
NINJA GAIDEN: Master Collection brings the adventures of super ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, to a newer generation of consoles. It bundles three games: NINJA GAIDEN Sigma, NINJA GAIDEN Sigma 2, and NINJA GAIDEN 3: Razor’s Edge. These games were well known for their high degree of difficulty and high-speed action gameplay. Personally, I have never had the chance to play any of these three games. As a fan of hack-and-slash games like Devil May Cry, I knew I had to experience the NINJA GAIDEN series at least once in my life. So, when the chance arose to review this collection, I knew it was my chance to finally step into the shoes of the world’s strongest ninja.
The story in these games is pretty simple, especially for NINJA GAIDEN Sigma and Sigma 2. In Sigma, Ryu travels to the Vigoorian Empire to retrieve the Dark Dragon Blade and seeks revenge after a dark samurai, Doku, attacks the Hayabusa Village, steals the weapon from the clan, and murders the Dragon Shrine Maiden, Kureha. In Sigma 2, the Black Spider Ninja Clan, led by Genshin, attacks the Hayabusa Village and steals the Demon Statue from the clan. Ryu must chase down Genshin and a mysterious woman, Elizébet, and stop the pair from reviving the Archfiend using the stolen artifact. Why do groups insist on attacking the village of the baddest ninja around? They clearly have a death wish. NINJA GAIDEN 3: Razor’s Edge actually shakes up the story in that the Hayabusa Village does not get attacked, color me shocked. Ryu gets cursed while trying to stop a terrorist attack in London. The Grip of Murder causes Ryu’s right arm to absorb his trusted Dragon Sword, and all the lives taken with the weapon slowly start to eat away and kill the super ninja. Ryu must find this mysterious group and stop them before they enact their plan to “change the world” in seven days.
NINJA GAIDEN Sigma tells its story with both in-game graphics scenes and those that are pre-rendered. These pre-rendered cutscenes made the transition pretty well to Nintendo Switch, not very pixelated, but you can tell these scenes were made for an older game. Unlike the first game, NINJA GAIDEN Sigma 2 and 3: Razor’s Edge tell all of their story scenes using in-game graphics. The story is pretty bare bones in both Sigma and Sigma 2. While the main story isn’t much to talk about in either game, it is supplemented by documents you can find throughout the games. These books help flesh out the world and events that occur in the games prior to Ryu’s arrival on the scene. I found these documents helped add more life to an otherwise straightforward story. NINJA GAIDEN 3: Razor’s Edge on the other hand did not have any documents to supplement the main story. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the main story was definitely more interesting in this game than the previous two. This may be because the story in Razor’s Edge showed a more human side of Ryu as opposed to the badass, unflappable ninja seen in the first two games. This is thanks to his relationship with Mizuki McCloud and her daughter, Canna. It was really refreshing to see Ryu interact with Canna and see her slowly warm up to the super ninja. The story all-in-all isn’t that strong, but that’s not the reason why you want to play these games. The real meat comes in the gameplay.
Gameplay in all three NINJA GAIDEN games can be split into two main portions: exploration and combat. First off, let’s talk about exploration. NINJA GAIDEN Sigma mainly takes place in the city of Tairon while Sigma 2 and 3: Razor’s Edge feature different locales in each chapter. It should be noted that exploration is much more linear in Sigma 2 and 3: Razor’s Edge compared to Sigma. This is most likely due to Sigma having one big location as opposed to the multiple areas featured in Sigma 2 and 3: Razor’s Edge. In both Sigma 2 and Razor’s Edge, you can hold down the R button or right stick and the game will point you in the direction you have to go. In Sigma, the only hints you’ll get on where to go come from kunai thrown by Ayane (yes, the same one from Dead or Alive). Other than that, Sigma just throws you out there and wishes you luck. I appreciated the varying locales in Sigma 2 and 3: Razor’s Edge, but because the game practically held your hand in regards as to where to go, it took some of the fun out of exploring, and it never was quite the same as it was in Sigma. As a ninja, Ryu can wall jump and wall run to get to unreachable places – unreachable for normal people that is. NINJA GAIDEN 3: Razor’s Edge also gives Ryu, and other playable characters, the abilities to Falcon Dive and Kunai Wall Climb, giving you even more abilities to traverse the stage with. You can use Ryu’s uncanny ninja abilities to traverse through stages and also help you find hidden goodies such as Golden Scarabs (Sigma and 3: Razor’s Edge), Crystal Skulls (Sigma 2 and 3: Razor’s Edge), and even new weapons. As you explore, you will find Dragon Statues (in Sigma and Sigma 2) or a falcon in 3: Razor’s Edge. These act as checkpoints in the level and heal you completely in Sigma 2 and 3: Razor’s Edge. I found exploring quite intriguing and fun in these games, especially in the portions where you needed to use these special abilities. It really felt like I was living out that ninja fantasy I’ve had since I was a child.
Here we are at the main drawing point of NINJA GAIDEN, the combat! Players can use a combination of weapon attacks and Ninpo (which are like magic attacks) to decimate their foes. By pressing the Y and X buttons in a specific sequence, Ryu can perform special attacks to hack away at enemies. My favorite of these attacks was the Izuna Drop. The sound the enemy makes when they hit the floor was so satisfying. Plus, this move was pretty much instant death for enemies on Normal difficulty. You can learn more combos by upgrading a weapon at Muramasa’s shop (or his statue) in Sigma and Sigma 2, or by accessing the Upgrade menu via the (-) button in 3: Razor’s Edge. The better you do and more enemies you kill in combat, the more Essence/Karma you have to spend on upgrades in Sigma and 3: Razor’s Edge. You don’t have to worry about cost in Sigma 2 as weapon upgrades are free. I appreciated how each weapon had unique move sets, and each one was useful in different situations. Aside from normal attacks, there also attacks known as Ultimate Techniques. These can be executed by holding down the X button. Ultimate Techniques are powerful attacks that can decimate a single enemy or even multiple foes. Each weapon has their own unique Ultimate Techniques, so try them all out and see which ones you like. Ninpo are powerful magic attacks with limited uses. These can cause significant damage to both regular foes and boss enemies in all three games. In addition to attacking foes, you can also evade or defend against enemy attacks. This mechanic is extremely important in all three NINJA GAIDEN games. If you aren’t patient and just recklessly attack, you will most likely die.
Combat is pretty similar between all three NINJA GAIDEN games, though Sigma 2 and 3: Razor’s Edge add extra mechanics on top of the foundation laid by the first game. In Sigma 2, the Obliteration Technique is added, ammunition limit is removed for ranged weapons, more weapons were added, and an auto heal function was added. The Obliteration Technique is used by pressing the X button near an enemy who has a limb severed. This triggers a special animation that shows Ryu destroying the enemy, instantly killing them in the process. The auto heal function was not present in Sigma. With this mechanic, your health bar is automatically healed after each battle, making Sigma 2 significantly easier compared to Sigma. In 3: Razor’s Edge, healing items were completely removed from the game, and Steel on Bone attacks and the Bloody Rage mechanic were added. You can perform a Steel on Bone attack on enemies by evading a certain attack (you’ll know if they glow red) and pressing the X button while near them. This performs an instant kill attack on them, similar to the Obliteration Technique, but you can chain Steel on Bone attacks together depending on if there are any other enemies nearby. Bloody Rage multiplies the amount of Karma you gain from enemies, and if Ryu’s right arm is glowing red, you can perform an Ultimate Technique without much charge time at all. All-in-all, I really enjoyed the combat in all three games. It was fun testing out the different weapons combos and finding that perfect one to decimate foes with. And I definitely appreciated how you couldn’t get away with just mindlessly hacking away at enemies. You really had to mix in defense and evasion in these games, or else you wouldn’t get very far. If you’re too powerful, the game can become very mindless and boring, and the NINJA GAIDEN games certainly don’t do this. Well, with the exception being Sigma 2 on Normal difficulty.
I played through all three NINJA GAIDEN games on their respective Normal difficulties, and Sigma and 3: Razor’s Edge certainly gave me a challenge. I’ve died multiple times against normal enemy encounters and boss encounters in both games. So, there was a great deal of satisfaction in both games whenever I was able to overcome a tough boss fight. Sigma 2 was a completely different story. I felt that game was a bit too easy, even on its Normal difficulty. While I had to be patient with boss fights in Sigma and 3: Razor’s Edge, I was able to just brute force my way through most encounters in Sigma 2. Throughout my whole Sigma 2 playthrough, I died once. In comparison to the numerous deaths I experienced in Sigma and 3: Razor’s Edge, that’s absolutely insane. If you want a challenging experience after completing the first game, you might want to up the difficulty in Sigma 2 when you first start.
Of the three games, I enjoyed 3: Razor’s Edge the most, though all three games had very fun combat. It had that degree of difficulty I expected from the first game plus those new mechanics to spice things up. My biggest issue with it was the linearity of the game. Sigma comes in a close second. The first reason it loses out is because of its atrocious camera. This game uses a fixed camera angle, so there are times when the camera goes crazy when trying to platform or fight enemies. The camera could suddenly change during combat, throwing me off and ultimately causing my demise. These sudden changes in camera angle can also cause needless frustration when trying to wall run or wall jump. I remember spending a good amount of time in one area trying to wall jump only because the camera was throwing me off so much. Another complaint in Sigma, was that there wasn’t a button, or a shortcut menu, to access the weapons you own. This means you had to pause the game, choose the weapon you wanted to equip, and then return to gameplay. This issue was resolved in Sigma 2 and 3: Razor’s Edge as you could press up on the directional pad to access your items, weapons, and Ninpo. You already know my complaint with Sigma 2. It was just too easy compared to the other two games on Normal. I also wasn’t a fan of removing the ammo limit in both the second and third games. You could just spam long ranged attacks. These games can be challenging to newer players, however, if you don’t really want a crazy challenge, there is a difficulty setting in all three games called Hero Mode which should make the game much easier to deal with. I felt this was a good move as it helps open up the series to a wider audience.
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