Perhaps “suck” is too strong a word, but Ninja Gaiden 3 was certainly disappointing. Hidden among the many kiosks at Nintendo and Tecmo Koei’s E32012 booths was a playable demo of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. No doubt due to Ninja Gaiden 3‘s bad reception, many attendees passed the game up, not realizing the massive changes that were made in Razor’s Edge. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge feels surprisingly good: it’s fast, challenging, and engaging. Razor’s Edge feels like a the true sequel to Ninja Gaiden 2.
What is immediately noticeable and different about Razor’s Edge when compared to the original NG3 is the inclusion of dismemberment. Much like in Ninja Gaiden 2, Ryu’s attacks have a chance of dismembering enemies, leaving them vulnerable to a finisher called an “Obliteration Technique.” Crippled enemies will execute suicide attacks when they get near Ryu, much like enemies in NG2, making obliteration techniques much more relevant than they were in the original release of Ninja Gaiden 3. The obliteration technique can only be initiated with a heavy attack in Razor’s Edge (X on the Wii U Gamepad), unlike the confusing system in NG3, where light and heavy attacks could initiate the finisher. This alleviates the issue the original game had where Ryu would not initiate the OT sometimes (his light attack would not prioritize the OT, while his heavy attacks would).
The “Steel on Bone” mechanic has been completely overhauled. In the original NG3 release, specific attacks in Ryu’s arsenal would initiate a Steel on Bone finisher, which allowed players to kill-off weakened (heavily bloodied) enemies. Once triggered, Ryu would lodge his blade into the enemy’s body, and a second button press would have Ryu slice clean-through the enemy. Steel on Bone finishers could also be chained consecutively, from a weakened to non-weakened enemies, by hammering the light attack button. This allowed Ryu to mow-down entire waves of enemies with relative ease.
In Razor’s Edge, steel on bone finishers function as a counter. Enemies in the original NG3 (and Razor’s Edge) telegraph their grab/throw special attacks with an obvious red glow. By pressing the heavy attack button (again, X on the Wii U gamepad), Ryu will initiate a SoB finisher, effectively countering an enemy’s special attack with an attack of his own. The timing window in which Ryu can trigger the SoB finisher varies by enemy. The demo, which takes place in the Rub’ Al Khali desert, pits Ryu against basic terrorist grunts and beret fighters. The basic grunts will stand around with their blade drawn for a moment before attempting their grab, giving Ryu ample time to counter with the SoB. Beret fighters have a faster lunging grab, and the SoB window is much tighter as a result. Attempting the SoB is riskier against these foes as well, since mistiming the counter will result in Ryu taking heavy damage from the grab. I managed to SoB grunts with ease, but only managed to SoB the beret fighters twice during my demo play-through.
…the Steel on Bone mechanic feels fantastic in Razor’s Edge with the inclusion of dismemberment. Countering an obnoxious enemy grab with an SoB attack and literally cleaving the enemy in two feels utterly thrilling and rewarding…
With that said, the Steel on Bone mechanic feels fantastic in Razor’s Edge with the inclusion of dismemberment. Countering an obnoxious enemy grab with an SoB attack and literally cleaving the enemy in two feels utterly thrilling and rewarding, to the point where I don’t quite mind how overpowered the technique is. Also, enemies didn’t cluster together as much during the demo as they did in NG3, so I the highest SoB chain I managed to pull off took down only four enemies.
Ninpo works exactly as it did in the original game. Ryu earns Ki during combat by successfully landing attacks. When the Ki gauge is full, Ryu can cast a magic attack by pressing X + A, which deals massive damage within the limited range of the spell. The two Ninpo available during the demo were the Inferno and Wind Blade spells, which function exactly as they did in Ninja Gaiden 2. Inferno targets individual enemies, whereas Wind Blades deals heavy damage in a radius around Ryu. Ninpo also restores some of Ryu’s health, though the amount it restores has been toned down radically from the original. Ninpo cannot be saved after an encounter (like in the original release). After a fight, any unused Ki goes towards restoring Ryu’s health. This makes saving Ki/abstaining from Ninpo cheesing a much more relevant aspect of the game, since unused Ki restores more health than Ninpo castings do. I am a bit disappointed that Ninpo is being recycled from NG2 rather than Razor’s Edge getting all-new spells, but considering how tedious the dragon Ninpo was in the original NG3 release (which is no where to be seen in the demo), these spells are a breath of fresh air.
Players can upgrade their weapons and abilities in Razor’s Edge thanks to a new upgrade menu. By pressing the select button when not in combat, players can access this menu and use “karma” to purchase these upgrades. Karma, for those who don’t know, is the point/scoring system Ninja Gaiden games utilize during combat. Instant-kills, chain-kills, obliteration techniques, ultimate techniques, and high combos all earn players karma points. In past games, these points had no practical use beyond scoring and bragging rights. Since Ninja Gaiden 3 removed the past currency system (essence), Razor’s Edge makes karma points its currency this time around.
Among the upgrades available in the demo’s menu was the “Guillotine Throw,” which fans will instantly recognize. This ability serves as Ryu’s most reliable grab technique, allowing him to grab an enemy by the head and hurl him across the room. It grants him temporary invincibility and helps to break-up enemy clusters, making it a useful part of Ryu’s arsenal. It was also noticeably absent in the original release, so its inclusion is more than welcome in Razor’s Edge. The “Flying Swallow” dash-attack is restored to its former glory as a result – in the original release, flying swallow pulled double-duty as Ryu’s long-ranged melee attack and his grab.
Another ability available for purchase is the “Cicada Surge,” a unique and all-new counter ability. It functions as a teleport, and can only be initiated when Ryu successfully blocks an attack. Ryu’s normal counters utilize his light and heavy attack when he is in a blocking stance. Cicada surge uses Ryu’s jump (B), and teleports him behind and above the enemy, allowing him to follow-up with an attack from relative safety. The ability is tricky to use, however, as it seems Ryu cannot trigger the surge in the middle of a blocked combo – only the first strike seems to initiate the ability. Still, the ability was surprisingly fun to use, and left me wondering what, aside from melee attacks, could initiate the surge. If Ryu can surge out of projectile attacks, the ability can open up some awesome defensive options. I wish I’d have spent more time experimenting.
As mentioned above, Ryu can also upgrade his weapons in the ability menu. The katana Jinran-Maru, Falcon’s Talons, Eclipse Scythe and Dual Katana (Jinran-Maru and Blade of the Archfiend) could all be upgraded to level 3, with new combos opening up with each level. The Jinran-Maru allowed me to string a heavy attack after a slide once the weapon was leveled, for example. I could also hold the heavy attack to launch an enemy while keeping Ryu grounded, opening up some free-form fighting options that NG3 did not allow. Ninpo also has three upgrade levels, with each level increasing the spell’s power and targeting abilities.
Combat and combos are the heart and soul of Ninja Gaiden, so let’s take a closer look at how combat plays out in Razor’s Edge.
Ryu no longer stands around like a twit after finishing a combo or missing an attack – he can cancel the recovery of most attacks more fluidly in Razor’s Edge.
The recovery for many of Ryu’s moves is improved as well. Ryu no longer stands around like a twit after finishing a combo or missing an attack – he can cancel the recovery of most attacks more fluidly in Razor’s Edge. There are notable exceptions, like the Guillotine Throw and Flying Swallow, but for the most part, Ryu controls much more accurately this time around.
Ultimate Techniques are reworked into actual combos in Razor’s Edge, rather than the boring, recycled Steel on Bone animations used in NG3. In previous titles, the UT was the equivalent of a “super” combo in fighting games. The mechanic still works as it did in the original release – killing a certain number of enemies will make Ryu’s arm glow red, allowing him to use a UT by charging his heavy attack. In the case of the katana, Jinran-Maru, Ryu will teleport to the nearest enemy and execute a series of powerful dismembering slashes, crippling or outright killing the targeted enemy and any enemies near it. Each level adds an additional teleport/combo to the UT, so a level 3 Jinran-Maru has Ryu perform 3 different super-combos.
Anyone’ who’s played with the dual katanas in Ninja Gaiden 2 will feel right at home fighting with them in Razor’s Edge. Combos now use NG3′s charge system, but the change is easy to acclimate oneself to. The dual katana UT has Ryu whirl upwards in a cyclone of blades, followed by three long-range energy slashes. Ryu auto-aims these slashes, but players can manipulate the direction manually with the left thumbstick. All of these attacks dismember excessively.
I played primarily with the Jinran-Maru and the dual katanas during my playthrough, and didn’t experiment at all with the Falcon’s Talons or Scythe, regrettably. I suspect that the scythe has the same UT from NG2 and NG3′s DLC, but it is very likely that the Claw UT is tweaked considering how different the katana UT is in Razor’s Edge (the katana and claws essentially shared the same UT in the original NG3).
I also noted that enemies in the demo are a bit more aggressive than the enemies in the original NG3 release, making the overall difficulty of the demo a bit higher than normal mode in the original. Basic grunts are more melee-centric; they move faster and even have more attack options than they did in NG3. I got kicked in the face with a kick-flip I’m positive they could not do in the original game. Sliding no longer launches weakened enemies as it did in the original game either, though it still has a light stun effect when it connects with enemies (which I happened to love in the original).
Razor’s Edge still uses NG3′s weakened/bloody system in a few aspects of gameplay. In essence, enemies are more resistant to the effect of Ryu attacks when at full health, and more prone to them when at low health (signified by visible blood-stains on their model). In NG3, weakening an enemy was crucial to properly utilizing the SoB mechanic, as well as launching or controlling stronger enemy types. In Razor’s Edge, enemies tend are more evasive when at full health then when at low health. The guillotine throw will never connect with an alchemist enemy at full health, for example. It is extremely difficult to launch this enemy type when they are at full health as well.
Surprisingly, the Wii U Gamepad feels much more comfortable and suited for playing Razor’s Edge than the Wii U Pro Controller.
On a more interesting note, I picked up a Golden Scarab during my romp through the desert. The item was added to my inventory, and I was rewarded karma upon finding the item. Whether this means that these hidden items can be used to unlock new equipment (like the original Ninja Gaiden), or are there just for the sake of having a collectible item (like NG2), I can’t say. Hopefully it’s the former, but the karma boost is a very nice bonus, regardless.
While I am very excited to see that Razor’s Edge is addressing many of the issues that made the original game as flawed as it was, there were a lot of issues with Ninja Gaiden 3 that I could not touch upon in the demo, given its limited scope. The original game had a very disappointing repertoire of enemies to fight, and had some terribly drab and boring environments to fight them in. Stages in Ninja Gaiden 3 boiled down to “themed rooms” with waves of enemies pouring out incessantly. There were very few interesting environments, and areas that were genuinely interesting were marred with terribly tedious platforming sections (I’m sure everyone loves the Antarctic kunai-climbing section). Kunai climbing is still in Razor’s Edge, by the way.
But the fact is, Ninja Gaiden 3 lacked variety. In a single level of Ninja Gaiden 2, you could fight ghost-fish, serpent/mermaid demons, scorpion skeletons, werewolves, and kamikaze ninja. You would fight at the bottom of a flooded temple, make your way through a series of caverns, and end up fighting your way through a gothic castle in Venice – all in one level. At no point in Ninja Gaiden 3 would you have anywhere near as much variety, except for one or two select chapters. Even with the changes to the combat system, Razor’s Edge needs new enemies and new environments to keep me interested.
I would like to take a moment to discuss the Gamepad/Pro Controller when playing Razor’s Edge. Surprisingly, the Wii U Gamepad feels much more comfortable and suited for playing Razor’s Edge than the Wii U Pro Controller. I found that the right thumbstick interfered with button pressing on the Pro Controller, which was not at all the case with the Gamepad. The Gamepad’s built-in touchscreen even allows players to view the combo list and switch weapons on-the-fly. Unless Nintendo makes some changes to the Pro Controller’s overall layout, the default Wii U Gamepad is perfectly suited for Razor’s Edge.
I can honestly say I like the changes made to NG3′s formula in Razor’s Edge. Combat feels fast, fluid and responsive, steel-on-bone feels much more appropriate and rewarding and the enemies are actually fun to fight. It’s somewhat ironic that the Wii U version of Ninja Gaiden 3 is the goriest and most complete version of the game. The slogan at the end of the demo is, quite literally, “Violence Reborn.” Indeed it is.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge E3 2012 Trailer