With the release of Nintendo’s new console, the Wii U, rapidly approaching (November 18th, for those not in the know), fans interested in picking it up will no doubt want to look into what titles to purchase to complement it. While Nintendo’s launch window is absurdly long (spanning from November to March of 2013), there are over 20 great-looking titles hitting store shelves on day one. One such title, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, is an enhanced port of Ninja Gaiden 3, released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 earlier this year. Ninja Gaiden 3 suffered from grievous design flaws, including bland enemies and levels, simplified combat mechanics and weapon options, unresponsive controls and a forced and melodramatic storyline. For an action game of Ninja Gaiden‘s caliber, the direction Team Ninja went with Ninja Gaiden 3 was utterly baffling and insulting for long-time fans, who had come to cherish the technical combat and brutal difficulty of previous titles. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is Team Ninja’s attempt at correcting the issues that ruined the original release, and I’m pleased to report that they’ve made huge strides on that front. While there are still a few niggling technical issues with Razor’s Edge, I’d argue that it is a truer sequel to Ninja Gaiden 2 than 3.
Team Ninja surprised me during E3 earlier this year with its Wii U version of Ninja Gaiden 3. While it had a few rough edges, Razor’s Edge felt radically different from the PS3 and Xbox 360 version. It was smoother, harder, more responsive, and chock full of new and interesting content. While I won’t reiterate too much, (you can read my E3 impressions here), the latest build reveals just how far along the title has come since its surprisingly positive showing back during E3. I played this new build during the Wii U event in New York a few weeks back, and again during the New York Comic Con this past weekend.
If you’ve read my initial E3 impressions, you’d know that Razor’s Edge reintroduces dismemberment as a core gameplay element. Ryu’s attacks have the chance of dismembering his opponent, crippling them and leaving them vulnerable to flashy instant-kills called Obliteration Techniques. Crippled enemies go kamikaze and will try and destroy themselves and Ryu with them, making obliterations a handy way of removing them as a threat. Much like in Ninja Gaiden 2, obliterations are initiated with the heavy attack button near a crippled enemy. Light attacks no longer initiate obliterations, which was a frustrating control issue in the original Ninja Gaiden 3 release.
Steel-on-Bone, the instant-kill chaining ability new to Ninja Gaiden 3, is still in. However, it has been re-implemented specifically as a grab-counter in Razor’s Edge. When enemies attempt to grab Ryu or Ayane, they will be surrounded by a red aura. Much like the Obliteration Technique, striking an enemy with a heavy attack when they’re glowing red will result in the steel-on-bone finisher. Nailing an enemy head-on with a heavy attack while they attempt a grab is incredibly risky, but the counter window is long enough that you can generally dodge their attack and still initiate the steel-on-bone finish. Steel-on-bone attacks can still be chained from enemy to enemy, so long as they’re in range of the attack.
But that’s enough for the refresher. Let’s move on to the content that the latest build of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge presents, which I’ve compiled into a handy dandy list.
- Perhaps the most significant change of all is the fact that Ryu is actually responsive in Razor’s Edge. Ryu’s recovery has been shortened greatly, so players can easily cancel into a dodge or block as the situation demands.
- Enemies have been improved. They are more aggressive, and some have access to new moves. The basic terrorist grunts and alchemists are the most obvious examples.
- Combat has been redesigned to have a more technical feel. Enemies have more stagger animations (including wall damage/stuns). Both playable characters now have a universal grab (the Guillotine throw).
- Charge attacks are extremely fast. Ninja Gaiden 3 introduced a charge mechanic, whereby holding down the heavy attack resulted in a powerful combo extension. The length of time needed to charge this attack has been reduced dramatically.
- There are six weapons available to Ryu in Razor’s Edge right from the get-go. Ryu now has access to the claws, scythe, dual katanas, staff, and an as-of-yet unrevealed weapon, on top of the standard katana.
- Karma has been redesigned to function as both the point/ranking system, as well as currency.
- Collectible items have been reintroduced. The Golden Scarabs from the original Ninja Gaiden, and Crystal Skulls from Ninja Gaiden 2 are strewn about each stage, and can be collected for an instant Karma bonus.
- Players can use this Karma currency to purchase upgrades for weapons and magic (Ninpo) as well as unique combat abilities and even in-game costumes.
- The new “Cicada Surge” teleportation ability has been polished greatly since its reveal back during E3. It is an incredibly handy way to get out of overwhelming situations.
- A new ability, called “Four Rings” has been introduced. It is a 360º shuriken attack that stuns enemies surrounding Ryu, and can be tacked on to combos on-the-fly, much like ordinary shuriken attacks.
- Ultimate Techniques can be used even when Ryu/Ayane’s weapons aren’t glowing red, simply by holding down and charging a heavy attack (much like in Ninja Gaiden 2). Ultimate Techniques have two charge levels once again.
- Ninpo is still earned through combat. However, you can keep your Ninpo charge between encounters now, allowing you to cast magic or save it as you see fit.
- Bosses have life gauges now. You can see their health on the bottom of the screen.
You can see many of these improvements and changes in the following off-screen footage.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge – New Abilities and Improvements
Now I’ll touch on a few more changes in greater depth.
The Karma system has been redesigned to better reward players. The original Ninja Gaiden 3 release had a scoring system that awarded players with Karma points based on the number of hits in their combo and the type of kill performed (Instant, Ninpo, Obliteration, Steel-on-Bone) etc. Razor’s Edge expands on this and incorporates a new multiplier into the system. After killing a certain number of enemies, Ryu/Ayane’s weapon will glow red, signifying that an Ultimate Technique can be used. The game will note this as a “Bloody Rage.” As far as I can tell, any enemy killed during the rage will add 0.1 to the Karma multiplier. The rage will end when the UT is used, thus ending the killing spree and resetting the Karma multiplier back to 1. Killing an enemy with a steel-on-bone finisher also seems to initiate the Bloody Rage killing spree, but only instant-kills increase the multiplier in that particular case. Regardless, the karma system has been redesigned to encourage players to utilize the combat system and the new steel-on-bone mechanic rather than relying on UTs for kills.
As you may already know, Team Ninja has announced that the violet-haired kunoichi Ayane, of Dead or Alive fame, will be playable in Razor’s Edge. She has her own missions, weapons, ability upgrades and costumes. The Razor’s Edge build I played had Ayane as a playable character, so I spent some time playing through her chapter and studying the new content.
The first thing you will notice about Ayane’s chapter is the fact that the environment you play in is all new. Her demo mission takes place in Paris, France, and has her running errands for Mizuki McCloud and the Japanese Special Defense Forces. Ayane plays much like her Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 incarnation – she wields a pair of kodaichi (short katana), and slashes and hacks in a spinning, dismembering frenzy. Her attacks feel familiar, though it is obvious that the combos and animations have been tweaked to utilize Ninja Gaiden 3‘s heavy-charge function. She also utilizes her explosive kunai from Sigma 2, which launch and dismember enemies with ease. Some of her Obliteration Techniques have made their return as well (my favorite being the one where she climbs onto the target and scissor-slashes their head off), though she does get some new steel-on-bone attack animations.
Ayane’s attacks are extremely quick, but have very short range. She has a harder time chaining steel-on-bone attacks as a result. It seems to me that Ayane could cancel into a projectile (the kunai) much more quickly and easily than she could in Sigma 2, so breaking off a combo with a quick projectile felt smooth and responsive. Ayane possesses her “Raging Mountain God” Ninpo as well, where she gathers purple energy around her and releases it in a massive shockwave. This spell has three levels, with each one increasing its damage and range.
The following off-screen video showcases the entirety of Ayane’s demo, minus cutscenes. This footage, alongside the Ryu footage above, should give you a good idea of what to expect from Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge – Ayane’s Demo Chapter
One major sticking point in the original Ninja Gaiden 3 release that I did not discuss in my original analysis was the “Grip of Murder” events. In the original release, these sequences occurred during specific story-related points, and forced Ryu into a heavily weakened state. His vision would blur and he would move at a snail’s pace. Players would lose access to their combos and could only swing their swords about like drunken fools at the nearest enemy. Enemies, on the other hand, would walk around stupidly, grabbing Ryu when he got close but doing little else. While these sequences looked interesting, they simply weren’t fun to play through.
In Razor’s Edge, Ryu is transported to an ethereal mental arena when the “Grip” get ahold. In this arena, Ryu’s health will deplete rapidly, and the game will throw waves of enemies at you. Every enemy killed restores some of Ryu’s health, so the object of these sequences this time around is to kill all enemies as quickly as possible, before Ryu loses his health and dies. The sequence in the demo was quite challenging, as it pits you against several waves of aggressive Black Spider ninja. I died during my first attempt, and only barely made it through during my second attempt. Sure, it’s not as scripted and cinematic as the sequences in the original game, but it is fun, tense and challenging, and in the context of Ninja Gaiden, the new “Grip of Murder” sequences make sense — after all, you’re playing an action game, not watching a movie.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, there are a few issues that Razor’s Edge still shares with the original release of the game that haven’t been properly addressed or corrected in the demo build. The most jarring of these is the slowdown. When Razor’s Edge is running at 60 frames per second, it looks gorgeous. The smooth and flashy action looks glorious thanks to the Wii U’s outstanding high definition. But Razor’s Edge suffers from slowdown, much like the original release of the game; the frame-rate will drop at times, slowing the action down noticeably. It doesn’t happen often, nor is it as extreme as the slowdown in the original NG3, but it is very disappointing when slowdown strikes, regardless. The same can be said for loading times. In the demo, at least, loading has not been improved at all when compared to the original release of Ninja Gaiden 3. It is my sincere hope that the loading and slowdown are a technical fault with the demo (or the demo Wii U hardware), and is not indicative of the final game. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Kunai climbing is still in Razor’s Edge, and it’s still just as tedious and irritating as it was in the original release. At this point, I don’t see Team Ninja pulling the mechanic from the game, so interested players will have to grit their teeth and bare it.
On a final note, I want to point out a curious fact about Ninja Gaiden 3 that has bothered me since the Wii U’s announcement back during E3 2011. Now, I’m not one for conspiracy theories and the like… but did anyone else notice that the Wii U version of Ninja Gaiden 3 seemed like a unique title from the outset? The Wii U version has always been called Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, whereas the PS3 and Xbox 360 version never shared that subtitle. This is especially curious since Team Ninja announced Ninja Gaiden 3 around the same time that Nintendo revealed the Wii U. Why differentiate the game for the Wii U, unless it was meant to stand apart? After all, Darksiders II doesn’t have a fancy Wii U-exclusive subtitle. Nor does Black Ops 2. I can’t help but wonder why the Wii U version contrasted from the other versions, and whether this had any effect on the lower quality of the initial release of Ninja Gaiden 3. Maybe Team Ninja withheld content? Maybe they rushed the initial release to work on the Wii U version? I don’t know. What I do know is that the subtitle stood out right from the beginning. Curious….
If variety is a spice, as the cliche goes, then Ninja Gaiden 2 is the spiciest and liveliest of the Ninja Gaiden titles. From what has been revealed thus far, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is offering some of that much needed spice, especially when compared to the utterly bland and uninspired dish that was the original Ninja Gaiden 3. Razor’s Edge introduces new content and streamlines the gameplay archetypes established in Ninja Gaiden 2. I can’t vouch for how good the final release of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge will be, but I can say that I walked away from the demo feeling satisfied, eager to practice with the new weapons, earn more Karma and unlock more upgrades and abilities. Any dish that leaves you hungry for a bit more is a good one, right?