Ninja Gaiden… a name that strikes at my gamer soul and sends a shiver down my spine as I recall just how much this series put me in my place when I was younger.
I have vivid memories of playing the first Ninja Gaiden game on the original Xbox, reaching a boss around five or six chapters in and being repeatedly destroyed. For me, Ninja Gaiden was the Dark Souls before Dark Souls.
Now here we are. It’s 2021 and Team Ninja has just released the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC — plus the Xbox and Playstation versions are both backwards compatible on the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S platforms, too.
I have had the joy of being able to play these games once more, and I am here today to let everyone know my thoughts and feelings after playing. As a true gamer (it’s true, he got gud and everything – Ed.), I of course finished all the games in the collection. So now I can talk about each game, and give my full opinions on all of them with an appropriate amount of experience under my belt!
What is Ninja Gaiden?
So for those of you who may not know about Ninja Gaiden, it is a series of games that center around Ryu Hayabusa, a character you have probably seen more recently in the Dead or Alive series.
Ryu is the epitome of a ninja in the modern day; his signature “Black Falcon” ninja outfit combines the sleek design of a modern-day special ops agent with a more traditional mask, scarf, headband, guards and boots. The result is an outfit that screams “this is what a badass ninja looks like!”
Ryu Hayabusa is a member of the Dragon Lineage Legacy, which means that from childhood he has trained in the ways of the ninja. The Dragon Lineage was a line of ninjas tasked with defending the world from the many evils that found their way to the human world after the Dark Dragon wreaked havoc. This meant that Ryu’s childhood was one of pain and sorrow, and one which would lead him into a life of danger — but he accepted it as his duty.
To summarise the premise of each game in the collection:
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 sees Ryu working with the CIA in order to stop Elizebet, the queen of the fiends, from using the stolen demon statue to resurrect the Archfiend.
And in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, after allying himself with the Japanese Self Defense Force, Ryu attempts to stop a terrorist group. But he ends up cursed by their leader, the Regent of the Mask. With his Dragon Sword now part of his body and slowly killing him, Ryu must find and stop this elusive foe.
While the story, characters and outfits (looking at you, Rachel) can certainly feel completely insane and over-the-top, to me that’s what Ninja Gaiden has always been about. You’re playing a descendant of the Dragon clan, a fiend hunter, a nimble kunoichi, and a fierce shrine maiden taught in the ways of the ninja — you’re meant to feel strong and that’s exactly the feeling these games create!
At its core, Ninja Gaiden is a fast-paced hack-and-slash game that makes the player feel like a powerful ninja. Ryu is known for using his signature Dragon Sword, but this isn’t the only weapon in the master ninja’s arsenal; staves, nunchaku, tonfa, reaper scythes, and even claws. You name it, Ryu can most likely use it.
If these weapons weren’t enough, there are also a ton of different ranged secondary weapons that the player can make use of. Ryu naturally comes equipped with a ninja’s trusty shuriken, but he also has access to bows, windmill shurikens, incendiary kunai, and much more. Another mechanic at the player’s disposal is “ninpo”, which is essentially Jutsu or magical ninja techniques to summon fireballs, lightning, or even wind-blades.
Lastly is Ryu’s Ultimate Technique. As you fight through hordes of enemies, each one you kill will drop Essence. In Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1 and 2, these essences come in multiple forms and each serves a different purpose. Yellow essence acts as a form of currency, Blue Essence is health, and red essence is ninpo. When you’re fighting you have the option to collect these essences, or you can use them to charge up your ultimate technique, which will subsequently become more powerful as a result.
Although Ninja Gaiden’s combat certainly rewards the player for being aggressive and making use of all your ninja tools, it also requires you to block, parry, and most importantly — move! Most boss battles in particular have you in situations where blocking isn’t going to cut it, so you’ll need to make use of that ninja speed and react to the enemies by actively dodging and being evasive.
Originally added in Ninja Gaiden 3, the Hero Mode difficulty setting has been added to both Sigma and Sigma 2. Ninja Gaiden can be a punishing game, and as such, Hero mode makes the game much easier by adding numerous different features such as auto-blocking and evading at low health, plus unlimited ninpo.
Multiple playable characters is another feature that has been added to and expanded upon in this new collection, with characters such as Rachel in Sigma having more playable chapters than in the original versions of the games. Ayane and Best Girl Momiji are characters featured in Sigma 2, and each have their own playable chapters as well as boss fights. Finally, Dead or Alive’s Kasumi was added to Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge — and all of these characters can be played through “Chapter Challenge” and the “Ninja Trials” mode.
Both Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Sigma 2 are very similar with regard to how the games play; Essence remains the same, ninja tools, items, and various different ninpo also remain the same. However, Sigma 2 does make some nice quality of life changes, alongside the addition of the limb-severing and Obliteration techniques that not only make you feel more badass but also simply provide a great addition to the game’s combat loop.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge
I want to quickly talk about Razor’s Edge specifically, as this game feels quite different from the previous two games in the series in numerous ways — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the big changes include the fact that ninpo now uses a resource bar instead of the previous charges, there aren’t as many weapons, and essence has been removed in place of karma.
With regards to combat, the game still has that signature Ninja Gaiden feel, though. Limb-severing and Obliteration techniques see their return as well as the “Bloody Rage” mechanic: by racking up kills in a short period of time, Ryu will gain access to an extremely devastating form of his ultimate technique.
Razor’s Edge also takes a much more cinematic approach to the game’s action and story, along with the addition of quick-time events. There are numerous segments in which Ryu will glide through the air at break-neck speeds dodging missiles and bullets, then landing on an enemy and performing an execution. In addition to Ryu’s classic wall run and wall jumps, he can now climb by digging his kunai into a wall, which the player will then control in order to make Ryu climb.
Throughout the course of Sigma and Sigma 2, we’ve come to know Ryu as this almighty ninja, an unstoppable killing machine who acts methodically and with as little emotion as possible. Considering Ryu’s upbringing and bloodline, it makes sense that he has become this way. However, in Razor’s Edge, we start to see something resembling a human in Ryu — a person who wants to protect people, rescue people, and keep a promise he made to a little girl. This change in storytelling can definitely feel a little bit cheesy or over-the-top sometimes, but it’s a genuinely refreshing feeling after playing the first 2 games.
Returning to the world of Ninja Gaiden has been a pleasure, and while it certainly wasn’t the unbeatable behemoth that I remember it being — mostly because my gamer power-level has increased — it still presents a wonderful balance of fun, difficulty, and a sense of reward.
And one more thing: playing through these games back-to-back has left me with a single, simple request for Team Ninja — please give us more of Ninja Gaiden! I still want to go on more adventures with Ryu Hayabusa and his harem.
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