We meet again, Ninja Gaiden 3. After the release of the heavily flawed Ninja Gaiden 3 over a year ago, Team Ninja attempted to redeem itself and the series with an updated rerelease of the game, titled Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. Razor’s Edge was released as a launch title for Nintendo’s Wii U in November of last year, and attempted to rectify many of the core issues that plagued Ninja Gaiden 3. It recently became available to PS3 and Xbox 360 owners as well, and added a few additional tweaks to entice fans to re-purchase the game. With that said, Razor’s Edge is a massive improvement compared to the original Ninja Gaiden 3 release, but is still a subpar effort when compared to Ninja Gaiden Black and even Ninja Gaiden 2.
One of the biggest flaws in the original Ninja Gaiden 3 was the choppy controls. They were unresponsive at times, which made for very awkward combat when one considers how demanding and precise combat is meant to be. Protagonist Ryu would, quite simply, not perform the actions input by players. Sadly, this still happens to some degree in Razor’s Edge. Likewise, Ryu’s attacks and evasion recovery time was a major issue in NG3, and this problem persists in Razor’s Edge, though to a lesser degree. Ryu still has lengthy recovery after attacks that cannot be canceled with evasion, and evasion has a noticeable recovery as well. Ryu still feels heavy and tank-like.
But even if the controls were as tight and responsive as they were in Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden 2, Razor’s Edge suffers from poorly designed enemy A.I. and obnoxious combat mechanics, which bog the game down considerably. Before we look at the bad, though, let’s take a look at the good Team Ninja has done with Razor’s Edge.
- In response to complaints about the endless waves of mindless fodder enemies thrown at players in Ninja Gaiden 3, Team Ninja redesigned how all enemies fight in Razor’s Edge and added a few new enemies to the mix as well. Enemies have more attacks and will hound Ryu relentlessly, keeping combat fast-paced and engaging.
- The frame rate is much more consistent this time around. The frame rate in Ninja Gaiden 3 would slow to a crawl regularly, and this was especially so on higher difficulties. The frame rate in the Wii U version of Razor’s Edge could also dip at times, though it was a considerable improvement over the original NG3. The PS3/Xbox 360 versions of Razor’s Edge run at a high frame rate most of the time, with the occasional dip here or there. The result is smoother and faster-feeling combat.
- Team Ninja reworked how the “Steel-On-Bone” and “Obliteration” techniques work. Steel-on-Bone serves as a context-sensitive counterattack that players can use when enemies attempt a special attack (telegraphed by a red glow). This technique will instantly kill that enemy and allow players to chain-kill other enemies near Ryu. Obliterations have been redesigned to work in the same way that they did in Ninja Gaiden 2 — the technique will instantly kill a crippled, suicidal enemy.
- They’ve reintroduced a proper point system (called Karma) to reward players for the actions they take during combat. A kill-streak bonus (called a “Bloody Rage”) will reward players with bonus points if they chain kills and use their special attacks. Karma also serves as the game’s currency as well as a measure of the player’s performance — Karma can be used to purchase new abilities, weapons, upgrades and costumes.
- Three new weapons have been added: the Kusarigama chain/sickle, the Lunar bo staff, and the Dual Katanas. This, alongside Ryu’s Dragon Sword, Eclipse Scythe and Falcon’s Talons, give players six weapons with unique combos and special attacks to fight with in Razor’s Edge.
- Team Ninja introduced three new protagonists to fight alongside Ryu: the purple-haired ninja Ayane, her half-sister and central protagonist of Dead or Alive, Kasumi, and the shrine maiden Momiji. Ayane and Momiji were playable in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and utilize modified combos and projectile attacks in addition to new abilities in Razor’s Edge. Kasumi is an all-new character to the Ninja Gaiden series, and uses a unique reverse-grip sword fighting style and unique projectiles and throws.
And now, for the bad.
Enemies in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razors Edge are hyper aggressive, which is a great step forward considering how lifeless and weak they were in Ninja Gaiden 3. Unfortunately, Team Ninja tweaked the A.I. in such a way that fighting them can feel unfair at times. The most glaring of these issues stems from the obnoxiously precise auto-correcting targeting enemies have. It’s so overprecise that enemies can literally swerve in the air to hit you as they lunge to attack. This is true of all enemies in Razor’s Edge, including the enemies reintroduced from Ninja Gaiden 2. Enemies will rarely miss their attacks on their own. This, coupled with the high aggression and the fact that enemies swarm you constantly, make it feel like the game is cheating against you. It’s one thing to stack the odds against a player while giving him effective tools to tackle the challenge. It’s quite another when a game actively tries to sabotage you by making those tools ineffective.
In Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden 2, if an enemy launched an attack and the player got out of the way of said attack, that was it — the enemy missed its chance to hit you, and would need to follow up with another attack. In Razor’s Edge, if an enemy misses, the A.I. will swerve them in your direction to such a degree that there is a very good chance that you’ll get hit by the very attack you dodged. The sad coincidence here is that the auto-targetting for Ryu and the female ninjas can be quite bad. Don’t be surprised to find your protagonist attacking empty air rather than hacking into an enemy.
Another major issue with the initial release that was corrected somewhat is the lack of any real effect you had on enemies with combos. Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden 2 had rich combo systems for a reason: combos had special properties associated with every particular blow in said combo. From guard breaks to crumple-stuns, wall-stuns, grounding attacks and launchers, each combo branch had a purpose that players could learn to utilize to better control enemies. Ninja Gaiden 3 dumbed this down to the point where only a few stun states existed (launchers, grounding, and knock back), and utilizing them effectively was not at all important.
Razor’s Edge re-implements these various stun states with the modified combo system and new weapons, but Team Ninja also adjusted enemy A.I. in such a way that these stun states don’t matter. Hitting an enemy with a dashing attack will put it in a crumple stun, for example, so they fall to the floor in a crumpled heap. The stun itself lasts for a few moments, allowing players to follow with another attack or combo… except that the enemy will recover instantly the moment Ryu tries to land an attack. On top of having ridiculously good auto-targeting and hyper aggressive A.I., they have incredible recovery as well. As a result, the hit stuns Team Ninja implemented in Razor’s Edge are completely useless, as enemies recover from many of them before players can take advantage of them. The game is rigged, folks.
This only gets worse as stronger enemies are introduced. The Alchemist enemies, for example, have enormous amounts of health on top of excellent recovery, high stun-resistance and high aggression. A fight with Alchemists can easily turn into a chore, since they can recover and counterattack so easily and constantly. As a result, players will not want to actually utilize combos, but rather chip at tougher enemies with a few strikes before breaking off the assault to dodge or block.
In truth, the Alchemist are the poster boys for my gripes with the Razor’s Edge. Every flaw in the combat engine is brought to the forefront whenever Alchemists are involved. If an Alchemist is charging an attack, and the player attempts to connect with a launcher, the Alchemist will not be launched. They will be knocked away instead, which is obnoxious considering you hit them while they were completely vulnerable, yet the game refused to award you with the effect that you legitimately earned. What this all boils down to is this: Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge was designed to be tedious and irritating rather than genuinely challenging. I enjoyed the combat for what it offered: I enjoyed the new weapons, I appreciate that Team Ninja went in and tweaked the combat mechanics and A.I., and I enjoy playing with the new characters. But the fact that the enemies are so tedious and irritating to fight negates all the work Team Ninja put into this re-release.
The weak level layout also contributes negatively to the quality of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. Levels in NG3 were extremely linear maps with a clear point A and B. Exploration in the initial release was virtually nonexistent. There was only ever one way to go, and paths never branched from the linear series of hallways and rooms that composed the levels in the game. Even if the combat in the original Ninja Gaiden 3 release was stellar (which it wasn’t) the level design would have hindered the game down considerably. You essentially fought wave after wave of enemies across a series of themed rooms until you reach a boss. Razor’s Edge corrects this a bit by toning down the number of waves players fight, and by throwing a few optional items to look for during play. Golden Scarabs make their return, for example. These jeweled beetles grant players an instant Karma bonus of 5,000 points, and will unlock new weapons and abilities when a certain number of them have been collected. While the level layout hasn’t been changed since NG3, new platforms and wall-running sections have been added to existing levels to add a bit of variety and exploration.
“Tests of Valor” have returned as well, in the form of Crystal Skulls. Collecting these skulls will pit players in a battle against waves of enemies, ending with a fight against a boss from past Ninja Gaiden titles. These make for fun optional diversions, and give players a nice Karma reward upon completion.
But the bottom line is that there are still flaws found in the underlying system that make Razor’s Edge far more annoying than it should have been. Faster and more responsive recovery and evasion for protagonists would have alleviated an enormous amount of problems, alone. Enemy A.I. that doesn’t home in on you with laser-guided precision would have made combat more enjoyable as well. But combos with hit-properties that actually work should be a fundamental pillar of Ninja Gaiden, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge just doesn’t cut it (please forgive the pun). As I mentioned, it’s a huge improvement over the original. The combat is fun when the A.I. isn’t being a cheating powerhouse, the female characters all have unique perks and special attacks that make them radically different to fight with when compared to Ryu, and the new weapons are all very fun to experiment and fight with. A hundred optional combat trials, chapter replays with all characters, and a variety of co-op and versus multiplayer modes round out what Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge has to offer. It’s just a pity that the game isn’t as precise as earlier games in the series.
You can buy Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge at Amazon.com for $39.99.