STAFF REVIEW of Ninja Gaiden 3 (Xbox 360)

Saturday, March 24, 2012.
by Brent Roberts

Ninja Gaiden 3 Box art Gather around my fellow sons and daughters of the night for there is knowledge of great importance that I must bestow upon all of you. You have served your family honorably and have brought respect and prosperity to our clan, but now that fortitude will be tested in Tecmo's latest release, Ninja Gaiden 3. Make no mistake my children, the challenges that lie ahead of you are ones not to be taken lightly. Every ounce of your training has led you to this moment and I have taught you all that you need to know to battle the darkness and honor your family. Take up your blades honorable warriors of the night for now is the time that we unlock the secrets behind Ninja Gaiden 3.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is the latest installment in the series from the sharp minds of Team Ninja at Temco. This was a rocky road to fruition and one must take into account that this Ninja Gaiden title has no involvement with Itagaki. While his departure from Tecmo and disappearance to the world originally sparked controversy, it also brought a sense of mourning as the future of Ninja Gaiden was undecided. Tecmo though choose wisely and formed a new Team Ninja to begin work on Ninja Gaiden 3 minus the world famous game designer. Let's examine the hard work of the new Team Ninja and see what ninpo secrets we can learn.

One of the foundations of the Ninja Gaiden games has always been the insanely hard gameplay. Many times you will find yourself cursing the game and Tecmo, and blame them for breaking multiple controllers of yours. Ninja Gaiden 3 does allow a marginally easier gameplay experience but don't expect that to mean it's going to be a walk in the park. This is not only due to the environment and level design but also due to the overwhelmingly powerful enemies that stand in your way. Many of times I would get caught off guard by an attacker who would do some sort of power move and drain at least 90% of my full health bar, then five seconds later I would watch as the remaining 10% disappeared amidst a bloody red haze. What adds to the challenge is the ever troublesome camera. Camera control has always been an issue with Ninja Gaiden games and unfortunately it remains just as big an issue in Ninja Gaiden 3. During intense battles you often will find yourself trying to adjust the camera so you can keep an eye on the rest of the oncoming attackers. The solution that I have found as a semi fix is to press in the right control stick which will focus your camera on not only the right path to take but also enemies as well so you can consider it almost like an instant 180 degree turn.

That?s not to say that all the gameplay is a cumbersome. Some new innovations include wall climbing and rope traversing each offering new options for combat as well as gameplay. Now with the use of the left and right trigger you can scale certain walls with ease and even perform a stealth kill with the push of one button. This is a perfect way to transition into the next big gameplay innovation for Ninja Gaiden 3 and that would be QuickTime events. If you love them, then it's time to celebrate, if you hate them, then this might be one to avoid because they are everywhere. From traversing the levels to combat against foes, you will find QuickTime events littered throughout the entire game. While this allows for a more cinematic approach it also takes away from the feel of Ninja Gaiden 3.

Ninjas have been known to adapt to their surrounding environments and work together to achieve victory in their mission. This fundamental truth is the foundation of the new multiplayer experience in Ninja Gaiden 3. Now you can customize your own personal ninja and you can unlock various cosmetic upgrades and special moves to truly make the ninja you want. The first offering of the multiplayer experience are the Ninja Trials where you have the option to tackle multiple combat scenarios either alone or with a friend. There are also multiple difficulty types with a massive 100GS achievement for completing the three Ultimate Ninja Trials. By completing these trials you unlock experience to raise your ninja's overall level and based on your efficiency with your weapons, you also will unlock other armor and increase your sword mastery and ultimately unlock Ryu's Dragon Sword. While the trials are a great way to hone your skills, the 4x4 Clan Battle provides the real action for multiplayer.

Throughout the Clan Battle's very limited levels your team will go blade for blade in a race to rack up as many kills as possible within the allotted time limit. These offers up some new ways to kill such as the ghost kill where your ninja will cloak and be invisible to others, but to do this you must walk very slowly and that will be hard to do when you have swords being swung, arrows being shot, and shuriken being thrown all around you. If you remain calm and manage to get within striking range of a target, one button press and you lunge out, running your blade straight through your opponent in a ghost kill. Originally we talked about Ninjas being able to adapt well in the Clan Battle mode, one of the contracts that will randomly pop up can literally swing the entire game in one move. Randomly the rules of Clan Battle will change and sometime you may get a contract of betrayal. This is more than just a basic team kill, now if you are successful you will actually switch teams and all the kills you had acquired for your old team will transfer over to your new team whose contract it will be to keep you alive as now everyone on your old team will be sent to kill you. Beware who you decide to stab in the back.

While the gameplay may have received some new innovations that alter the feel of what we know of a Ninja Gaiden game, the same can be said for the graphics. Always known for providing beautiful backdrops and stunning character models, Ninja Gaiden 3 offers a gorgeous graphical experience that never gets old. From iconic moments such as Ryu removing his mask, to running your blade through an enemies' torso, every second of Ninja Gaiden 3 is done in spectacular bloody perfection. Since ninja's are supposed to be silent, that poses a challenge to create a good soundtrack for Ninja Gaiden 3, and unfortunately only some of it is good. The character voice acting is done adequately well, however, the overall music does very little to bring the game to life. This bodes well for the limited and not very appealing story, but unfortunately not for the levels themselves.

Without question this is a new age for Ryu Hayabusa and the Dragon Ninja, however, you get the feeling that something is lost and they are trying to overcompensate for the game's natural shortcomings. While playing the game you often find yourself thinking, "Would Itagaki approve of this", and ultimately I feel the answer would be no. Even though Ninja Gaiden 3 is still a relatively good game, with all the setbacks such as the high amount of QuickTime events, marginal design layout, and more, nothing pains me more than to say that Ninja Gaiden 3 is not the best game in the series. It's a shame too because like many of us, we have come to expect amazing work from the people of Tecmo and Team Ninja, but we can hope that this new team learns from this and grows the series back into greatness.

Overall: 7.9 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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