Seven things you need to know about Ninja Gaiden III
- Tecmo KOEI
- Team Ninja
- Ninja Gaiden III
- Ninja Gaiden
Ninjas are awesome. We just want that off our chest before we start this feature, otherwise we’re going to end up blurting it out every other line or so – that’s just how awesome we think ninjas are. In terms of videogame über-coolness, they top zombies, dragon slayers and special agents without breaking a sweat. Of course, dressing in black, wearing one of those ridiculously mysterious face masks and being able to run up walls helps dial up the coolness a few notches.
But of all the ninjas to have graced our screens and had our thumbs all a-frenzy, Ryu Hayabusa is hands-down the coolest. Not only does he regularly avoid boob-based distraction to kick ass in the Dead or Alive tournament, but he also moonlights as a bastard-hard government-sponsored demon-perforator.
Anyone who remembers 2008’s Ninja Gaiden II will likely have nightmarish memories of a pre-Dark Souls slog-fest that brutally punished the weak and stupid with its unflinching difficulty and utter disrespect for pansies. Although not universally praised, Ninja Gaiden II retained or created enough fans to warrant a continuation of Ryu’s story.
With the threequel due at the end of March, here’re the seven things you really need to know about Ninja Gaiden III…
A changed man?
There’s a bigger emphasis on human drama
The end of Ninja Gaiden II saw Ryu destroy the Archfiend and put paid to a mostly nonsensical story involving demon lords, the end of the world and no shortage of leather-clad bosoms. In this instalment, Ryu is sent to London by the Japanese Ministry of External Affairs to help prevent an attack on the Prime Minister by new villain, the Regent of the Mask. After things go tits-up in a way only possible in a Ninja Gaiden game, Ryu ends up absorbing his magical blade, the Dragon Sword, into his right arm. The effect this has on our hero is palpable, and Team Ninja are keen to show Ryu’s human side in Ninja Gaiden III.
In an interview with Spong.com, Localisation Project Manager Peter Garza explained the new direction: “There are a lot of Western shooters where you’re killing enemies from far away. But with Hayabusa’s sword, they’re only a metre away from you. Trying to portray that side – that sense of visceral brutality – was the core concept for Ninja Gaiden 3. In order to do that, you need to be able to empathise with the character and make him less of a mindless killing machine and more of a human. That’s the way that games are going in general: there’s a more immersive storytelling experience rather than just the mechanics over some visuals. We want to show Ryu Hayabusa as a character and let people go along with him on his journey as we delve more into the ‘dark hero’ side of things.”
It will certainly be nice to have some real context and human emotion to back up all the amputations, and we’re all for games telling us stories as well as just giving us a series of quick thrills – but in a series renowned for its style-over-substance approach, will this be a boon or a bane?
Teach an old dog
Ryu’s picked up some additional party tricks
Along with this more emotive nature, Ryu is also returning with a handful of new skills – including, finally, the ability to use his ninja-like stealth (y’know, one of the main things that make ninjas so cool in the first place). He’ll now be able to sneak up on enemies from behind and deliver instant death in the form of silent-yet-characteristically-stylish stealth kills.
As Garza told Spong.com: “The stealth sections are in there to add a little spice. It’s not going to be the core element of the gameplay. They’re just in there to change up the pace and the tempo. If you keep that high tension combat up all the time, you’ll get used to it or lose the impact of the action sequences.”
It makes perfect sense, of course, and actually made us stop and scratch our heads over the fact that the series hasn’t had any kind of emphasis on stealth before. It seems like such a natural element to include in a ninja game that its absence should always have been conspicuous – but its addition shows that team Ninja are willing to take risks with their franchise rather than just paying constant fan service. And we like that. We like that a lot.
Team Ninja have dialled back the clichés
In keeping with the attempts to do away with some of the more game-y aspects of the previous instalments, Ninja Gaiden III will be streamlining and overhauling a lot of its predecessor’s mechanics in attempt to create a more immersive, more natural-feeling experience.
Says Garza: “One thing that we really changed in order to keep players engaged in the story is how we deal with more ‘video game’ elements. So for example, in the past you had essence popping out of dead bodies which you absorbed and brought to conveniently-placed dragon statues that would magically transport you to a shop. All of those ‘gamey’ elements take you out of the world and impede immersion.”
This ethic plays into many of Ryu’s new skills, such as the ability to climb walls and get the drop on his enemies, or the new Ninpo system that utilises a refillable bar rather than a slot system. The Ninpo attacks themselves will be just as stylish and exciting as ever, but the way you power them up is more organic. Also, the lack of a magical shop means collectible loot – Ryu will now find items on the corpses of his enemies or in chests dotted around the gameworld. Few feelings in gaming come close to the little pang of excitement you feel when you spot a chest in the distance – especially when they require the deft employment of ninja-like grace to reach.
I am not left-handed either
Ninja Gaiden III features a revamped combat system
Ryu’s dragon sword curse is a major gameplay element, from the first mission in London and throughout the whole narrative. By slaughtering enemies and absorbing their essence, you can “charge” Ryu’s arm to deliver lethal attacks such as the Grip of Murder, a move that replaces the Ultimate Technique from previous instalments.
It’s yet more emotional turmoil for Ryu, in that although he’s finally developing a conscience about all the people he’s called upon to dice into pieces, the cursed arm – which is now his most powerful weapon – must gorge itself on bloody death to reach its potential. Killing in order to power a special attack is nothing new in a videogame, of course, but if Team Ninja can succeed in making us feel even slightly guilty for all the eviscerations, then they’ll be a step closer to breaching the barrier between balls-out bombast and believable human drama.
Although, we should stress, this is not to suggest that the violence has been in anyway dumbed down or softened up. The brutal dismemberment that proved so popular in the last game has been dialled back, likely to make the atmosphere of the game a little more humane (it’s hard to empathize with a character who bemoans his violent calling one minute and coldly hacks people into lumps of chum the next), but that doesn’t mean you won’t be indulging in a lot of visceral action. For example, the new “Steel and Bone” feature slows down the brutality to show the more stylish kills in higher detail. So, Ryu might be a little more emo, but he certainly hasn’t become a pacifist just yet.
Be gentle with me
There’s a (whisper it) “casual mode”
One of the biggest issues with Ninja Gaiden II (as well as conversely being one of the main attractors for series fans) was the difficulty. Although checkpoints helped to avoid the soul-draining challenge of a title like Dark Souls, the combat was so well-balanced and unforgiving that if you couldn’t master the game and get good, you’d soon get dead instead.
Ninja Gaiden III has two campaign modes that Team Ninja refer to as “Play Styles”. By choosing the Ninja Play Style, you’ll be opting for the classically hard Ninja Gaiden gameplay with challenging enemies that will require patience, perseverance and a mastery of the combat controls to best; Hero Play Style, on the other hand, will activate an auto-evade and auto-block feature, allowing casual or less experienced gamers to enjoy the story without wanting to smash their console into tiny pieces.
It’s another example of a developer attempting to satiate that horribly awkward and hard-to-please beast known as the Mass Market and, arguably, giving you the option to play a Ninja Gaiden game on an easy setting is like offering you the chance to play Modern Warfare 3 without using guns – it’s nice to have the choice, but at the end of the day it’s not why you’re coming to the franchise. Still, we certainly can’t knock a developer for trying to entice more players.
There’s a new multiplayer mode
One thing that no one expected to see in a Ninja Gaiden title (but which didn’t really surprise us, given the current market) was the inclusion of a multiplayer mode – but NGIII will ship with a selection of co-op and competitive modes, some supporting up to 8 players.
The multiplayer element features an XP levelling system and customisation options, as you take your rookie ninja up through the ranks by engaging in deathmatches and team battles, all tricked out with a unique Team Ninja spin. Cooperative missions are playable with either a second player or an computer-controlled companion – though it really remains to be seen how the developers will handle partner AI.
These days it’s no surprise to see multiplayer in literally everything (having recently seen online modes added to The Darkness II and Mass Effect 3), but it always begs the question of whether or not it’s really required. unarguably, Ninja Gaiden is a franchise that has always sold on the strength of its combat and campaign, and Ryu owes much of his popularity to his legendary lone-wolf persona, but online modes that mix Ninja Gaiden’s incredibly visceral combat and dark visuals with Team Ninja’s brawler experience (they’re the guys who brought us Dead or Alive, remember) sound very exciting to us.
Knowing Wii, knowing U
Ninja Gaiden 3 is a launch title for Nintendo’s new dream machine
With the Wii-U launching later this year and Team Ninja having some experience with touch screens (see Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword on the DS), it seems perfectly natural for a version of the game to reach Nintendo’s new console.
Given the subtitle “Razor’s Edge” for the Wii-U release, this alternate version will follow the same story but feature certain unique elements. Although currently the technology behind the Wii-U is in a constant state of flux given its mid-development status, it’s fairly safe to assume that Dragon Sword will at the very least be a jumping off point in terms of the mechanics. Having more direct control over Ryu’s attacks (for example being able to target specific areas on an enemy) would be extremely cool.
The PS3 version will also be Move compatible, allowing for “a more visceral edge when slicing through an enemy’s flesh and bone”. Lovely. Quite how the combat will translate when using a Move wand as opposed to a controller is yet to be seen, but it’s unlikely to offer much advantage, if any, given that the full game has to be 100% playable on a controller. There’s no news on a Kinect version, thankfully, so there won’t be a bunch of people with bandanas wrapped round their heads attempting to replicate ninja-like grace in their living room. Actually, that might be a shame.
So there you are – the seven things you really need to know about Ninja Gaiden III. If you have any comments or opinions, please let us know in the box below.
Developed by Team Ninja and published by Tecmo Koei, Ninja Gaiden III is due for release in the US on March 20th and the UK on March 23rd.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
- Related Games
- Ninja Gaiden 3