With the release of Ninja Gaiden 3 just around the corner, I took some time to reflect back on my experiences with the first two games in the series. After giving it a lot of thought, I don’t mean to be a pessimist, but I really don’t think the third installment of this well-established action IP will be the same game we know and love.
In fact, just for making that statement, here are five well-rounded reasons that I think Ninja Gaiden 3 will fall short:
1. The departure of Tomonobu Itagaki as the lead of Team Ninja.
Itagaki has been at the head of the Tecmo Koei subsidiary for the creation of all the previous Ninja Gaiden games, and his departure from Team Ninja after the release of Ninja Gaiden 2 was a dark day for fans of the series.
It would be unfair to Ninja Gaiden 3’s development team to assume that Itagaki’s absence will completely tarnish the series, but it is also somewhat reasonable to worry, considering how much of a direct impact the man had on the franchise. This can happen to any franchise – just look at all the skeptics of 343 Studios and Halo 4; moving from Bungie to this new team shook the fan base to the very core, regardless of the effort going into the game itself.
2. The decreased level of difficulty.
After playing through Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black on the original Xbox, Ninja Gaiden 2 on the Xbox 360, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, and Sigma 2 on the Playstation 3, and most recently Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus on the Playstation Vita, it is safe to say that I have had my fair share of hair-pulling frustration. Honestly, that is one thing that I have always loved about the series – the brutally punishing difficulty. Unlike 2011’s incredibly difficult (but very rewarding) Dark Souls, the last two Ninja Gaiden titles basically required you to be very skilled at the game. With Dark Souls, you at least had the option of help from other people.
In Ninja Gaiden 3, the bow that Ryu uses automatically aims itself, and the ninpo bar for magic attacks recharges automatically after each battle. In previous games, you had to rely on health orbs dropped by defeated enemies or use potions purchased from the in-game shop. This forced you to be tactical and make decisions. “Should I use this health item, or load my last save and try again?” After all, if you chose the latter and had more success, you’d have an extra potion for the boss battle at the end of the stage. That was sometimes the difference between completing the level or facing an almost-impossible challenge against the boss, with little hope of survival.
3. The shifting of developers.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is being developed by Team Ninja, but is being overseen by Ninja Gaiden Sigma designer Yosuke Hayashi. Normally, switching up the design team makes the differences in each game very obvious to the player. Unfortunately, the obvious difference here is the difficulty of Ninja Gaiden 3. While Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Sigma 2 were technically ports of the original games, they were released to appeal to a broader audience than just hardcore fans of the series. The Sigma series is significantly easier than their Xbox counterparts, and this is one thing I am weary about with the developer switch. Moving from making ports to making a direct sequel is something I am unsure about, and will have to make a final decision when I get my hands on the game.
4. The exclusion of ultraviolence.
Some of the most rewarding gameplay experiences I have had with Ninja Gaiden games in the past entailed slicing through body parts, watching heads or limbs flying through the air as blood spouts from severed arteries. Watching the heads roll as you fight through a group of enemies, defeating groups of twenty or thirty at a time…these are some of my fondest memories of the series. The removal of all this from Ninja Gaiden 3 simply makes no sense to me.
The development team has stated that their intentions were to make it feel like the player was cutting through flesh and bone. Apparently, the team was referring to specific quick-time events when dealing finishing moves to your foes. …What? When being sliced by a veteran ninja with a katana (or any weapons at Ryu’s disposal), I am quite certain that limbs would be severed.
Obviously Ninja Gaiden 3 will feature plenty of over-the-top blood and violence, just not in quite the same way as the previous games. What made Ninja Gaiden games so good in the past were how smooth the combat was. Blocking and rolling into one of Ryu’s techniques could be done at the tilt of a joystick and the press of a button. Now, quick-time events will break up the action – this feels like a step backward for the Ninja Gaiden series.
For the most part, most games have some sort of multiplayer component, whether it is leaderboards, cooperative missions, or competitive. Most developers try to include at least something. In Ninja Gaiden 3, players can get online for a competitive multiplayer component that…well, I am not sure needs to be there at all.
Multiplayer can certainly extend the replay value of a game, and some gamers even spend more time playing with others than alone. On the other hand, not all games really need multiplayer. For instance, some games are great to play through multiple times – I played Ninja Gaiden 2 for nearly a month, beating over and over again. As soon as the credits finished rolling, I would immediately begin the next game. What happened to those days – where developers would not even bother with the multiplayer aspect, just to focus their full attention on perfecting the single-player campaign (or coming as close as possible). I am not saying that I will completely skip the mulitplayer – it could be a total surprise, like Mass Effect 3’s online component – but the Ninja Gaiden series really doesn’t need multiplayer to begin with.
With all of that being said…
By no means should you think I am not excited about Ninja Gaiden 3’s release – quite the contrary, I can’t wait to see where Ryu’s next quest will take him. I have enjoyed every single Ninja Gaiden game to date – that is what makes these new changes to the format seem very drastic, in a series that didn’t need to change much in the first place.
We will find out soon enough – Ninja Gaiden 3 is coming to Xbox 360 and PlayStatation 3 on March 20th. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think about the game – and check back with Game Freaks 365 shortly after launch for our full review.