‘Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge’ Review

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Ninja Gaiden 3 has had a rough life. First released last year with tepid critical response, it was later ported to the Wii U as Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. With this port, Team Ninja included a few welcome changes, including more weapons, improvements to the combat, and the removal of many quick-time events. Now Razor’s Edge has found its way back to the PS3 and 360, and while these improvements do help, it still lacks the magic of the first two games.

In Razor’s Edge, players once again fill the role of master ninja Ryu Hyabusa. A mysterious terrorist organization has launched a series of global attacks, culminating in one demand from world leaders: complete surrender. Early in his investigation, Ryu is infected with an unknown curse, which he must struggle with while helping save the world the only way he knows how. This, of course, involves the slaughter of countless enemies. Unfortunately, the pile of dead bodies left in Ryu’s wake is far deeper than the story he finds himself in.

Events just happen in Razor’s Edge. Characters swim in and out of the plot seemingly at random, and their actions are hardly ever justified. Ryu hops from continent to continent, without any real explanation of why he’s going anywhere, and what his goals are. Considering how much Team Ninja wanted us to see the story this time around, the developer didn’t put much effort into deepening our understanding of them. Entire back stories are relegated to two or three lines of dialogue, and I never understood why I should care about anyone. The writing itself is middling to just plain bad, but the voice actors do what they can with the overly simplistic dialogue. But, the story is not the main attraction – the combat is.

The first two Ninja Gaiden games are notorious for their insane difficulty and the depth of their combat systems. Ninja Gaiden 3 hoped to take a different angle, providing an easy mode to allow newcomers to experience the story. Players can switch freely between the easy and normal settings during the campaign, which is what I did for this review.

Battles are still fun, to a degree. Over the course of Razor’s Edge, Ryu gathers an impressive armory. Various weapons help keep the combat interesting, and there are moments that can fill you with the satisfying empowered rush fans of the genre love. But, even while playing on the normal difficulty, button mashing was often a viable option. Despite the fun I had learning combos for new weapons, many encounters could still be brute forced. Boss fights were hit or miss as well.

Some of the bigger battles, although imposing at first, were often conquered with ease. That’s not to say they didn’t take some time, but the strategies needed were occasionally very simple. Veterans will find some satisfaction, however, as the game reaches its final third. Muscle memory becomes key as Ryu faces opponents just as agile and capable as himself. And, of course, this wouldn’t be a review of a Ninja Gaiden game without a mention of the annoying camera. Overall, the combat is fun, but very inconsistent. But, even with these caveats, what you should worry about are the quick-time events. Oh god, the quick-time events.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is a great example of how bad QTEs can absolutely ruin otherwise great moments. The most pressing change in from previous Gaiden games is the addition of a gratuitous amount of QTEs. Actions one must perform are usually very poorly communicated, and often lead to instant death. And even when death isn’t the outcome, Razor’s Edge will knock off some much needed health, creating the video game equivalent of a sucker punch.

They come out of nowhere, don’t give you enough time to react, and punish the player for the game’s shortcomings. QTEs are even present during boss fights. More than once I found myself down a quarter of my health at the top of a fight because of a cue-less QTE.

Checkpoints for these events are generous, but they still suck the life out of the experience. Even if I get to restart right at the failed QTE, having to struggle with them destroys the rhythm of the fight. It becomes downright infuriating. Time after time, Razor’s Edge pulls the rug out from underneath itself. There is a flow to the combat, a satisfying connective tissue between each encounter, but the QTEs constantly sever it. And it’s a shame, because they add nothing to the game.

They don’t aid in storytelling, they don’t build tension, and they simply get in the way of what makes a good Ninja Gaiden game: The combat. And this is after a number of these events were removed from the original product. I shudder to think what the first release entailed.

Outside of the campaign, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of extra content. “Tests of Valor” are unlocked in the campaign, which provide you with hidden bosses to fight. Jumping back into previous chapters to chase high scores is also an option, with a number of additional characters at your disposal.

Razor’s Edge also has the online multiplayer first introduced in the original release, and it suffers from its own set of problems. Much of my time was spent participating in a variation on team deathmatch, and the core concept is actually pretty fun. Working together with a band of ninjas seems satisfying, but the community simply isn’t large enough. What few matches I could get into usually involved the same small group of players, most of whom were far beyond my “rank.” Abilities are unlocked similarly to the main campaign, which means these other players were much more capable than I, making the difficulty curve a brick wall.

Surrounding all of this gameplay is a pretty average wrapper. Character models are superb, but everything else is sub-par. Environments, while utilizing a varied color palette, consist mostly of blocky architecture with unimpressive textures. The soundtrack isn’t bad, but quickly becomes trite. This, and everything mentioned beforehand, end up as symptoms of the main problem facing Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge.

The core gameplay is good, but very similar to previous entries in the series. It’s all been done before, and in much more satisfying packages. In a genre that is constantly charging forward, the competition is steep, and Ninja Gaiden is being left in the dust. The new additions to the series are mostly terrible, and everything else covers well explored territory. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge isn’t a bad game, but the series is no longer the best in the genre.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge was developed by Team Ninja and published by Tecmo Koei. A PSN copy was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.

Chris is an odd sort of thing from the wilds of central Pennsylvania. You can hit him up on Twitter under @chrishauge, PSN under faceless_page, or Xbox Live under teh sledge.