After a terribly disappointing 2012 release, Tecmo Koei and Team NINJA set out to right the many wrongs that were present in Ninja Gaiden 3. In our review of the game, we noted that so many elements that make Ninja Gaiden stand out as a franchise, were stripped away. Fans of the series were considerably outraged and I would say with some good reason. It was not at all what fans were hoping for. However, Team NINJA and Tecmo Koei didn’t just roll over and exclaim, “Deal with it!” They took all of that feedback the fanbase gave them and took action. The result? Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. The game was completely overhauled and launched – first for the Wii U and now for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. My initial apprehension and fears to go back into a game that let me down so much faded away almost as soon as I started playing the game. Would you believe me if I told you that the what was originally the worst entry in the franchise is now my favorite? Ninja Gaiden is back – and it’s better than ever.
The story from Ninja Gaiden 3 remains the same from the original release. One of the unique things about Ninja Gaiden 3 was that the game was actually fairly story driven. The other Ninja Gaiden titles had stories, but they weren’t a pivotal part of the game. The gameplay is what usually attracts people to the series. Yet, Ninja Gaiden 3 (and thus Razor’s Edge) brought you down to a more personal level with Ryu Hayabusa, the Legendary Dragon Ninja. From our original review:
The story follows “Ryu Hayabusa’s conflict with a mysterious terrorist organization that is luring him to his impending doom. Ryu is forced to not only face the enemies presently in his way but also the karmaic effects of those he slaughtered with the Dragon Sword in the past. The game features a slew of new characters including a Japanese Agent named Mizuki and her daughter Canna who have pivotal roles in revealing Ryu’s more human nature. A tiny treat for fans of the series included some brief cameos of characters from previous games. However, it became pretty apparent that this could easily be a stand-alone title, with few connections to storylines or plots from previous installments in the series.The story wasn’t exactly a masterpiece but definitely a more focused improvement over the last two games. There were noticeably longer cutscenes that helped [plot progression] and [developed] character relationships along with a bit more engaging dialogue. I didn’t feel the story really caught my attention much until near the end or climax when a few twists were revealed.”
Although the story was not overly interesting, Team Ninja definitely deserves applause for making the game more well-rounded with both a decent story and even better gameplay.
This fact still remains the same with these games: The main course comes with gameplay. A big turnaround from Ninja Gaiden 3, Razor’s Edge features the restoration of gameplay elements that we have come to know and love in the Ninja Gaiden franchise, in addition to some brand new features. Unlike the original release, Razor’s Edge has all of the gore and dismembering restored. However, there is no gore filter or option to turn it off like we found in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus on the Vita.
The action is still fast paced and very stylized. There’s hardly a minute that passes by where you are not slicing your way through enemies in the game. Fortunately, the return of multiple weapons will help you to get through all of the enemies out to kill you. In the original release of the game, all weapon choices were stripped away. You had your sword, bow, and shuriken – that was it. In Razor’s Edge, choices are back! While you do start out with the Dragon Sword, as you progress through the game, you will be able to find some of Ryu’s various other weapons and you can use at any time you please. Another returning gameplay feature that will help you to defeat the onslaught of ninjas, terrorists, and fiends includes the various Ninpo that you can once again use. Platforming is present in the game but it is still a lot less challenging and limited from what we have seen in other installments of the franchise.
A further change that came with Razor’s Edge was the difficulty. There are three modes that you can start the game with – Hero mode (that we saw introduced with Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus), Normal, and Hard. Now, I’m a guy who has always started his Ninja Gaiden games on hard mode. However, something was just telling me, play this game on Normal, and so I did. Ninja Gaiden 3 was one of the easiest Ninja Gaiden games I have ever played. As I noted in that review, it hardly felt challenging to me. Enter Razor’s Edge – Team NINJA turned up the difficulty a whole lot. Normal mode was so difficult that I had to change my settings to Hero mode three-fourths of my way through the game. Not only was this the first time I have every played a Ninja Gaiden game on the easy (Hero) mode, but this was the first game in my memory that has been challenging enough to make me change the difficulty at all. So be warned, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is not for someone who just wants to button mash and move to the next level. True mastery and skill will need to be involved when you play this game.
A brand new feature of this game includes the Karma Upgrade system. In previous games, it was common to collect items scattered around to upgrade your skills, or go to a shop to upgrade your weapons. In Razor’s Edge, a new grid upgrade system has been introduced. With this system, as you battle enemies, you earn “karma points.” How many points you get depends on how well you perform in each battle. These points then can be used in the upgrade menu (which can be opened up at any time) to obtain new moves, upgrade weapons, ninpo, and even unlock certain costumes. This fresh upgrade system even carries over to the online aspect of the game (which we’ll get to later). Collecting golden scarabs also can help you to upgrade your health bar.
Crystal skulls are back in the game but this time with an all-new use. With the shops gone, Crystal skulls are no longer used to get a discount but they transport you to challenge areas where you have to survive waves of enemies. The longer you survive the better your score and the more karma points you will obtain. You will recognize a lot of the challenge stages if you’re a long time fan of the series.
Other welcome new changes in the game include the following: New playable characters – Ayane is no longer only playable in chapter challenge and trials. She has her own part in the campaign too, albeit limited. In addition Kasumi is another character that you can play as, joining Ryu, Ayane, and Momiji in Chapter Challenge and Ninja Trials modes. On the same note of chapter challenges, there are new modes spanning all 10 chapters of the story where you can compete for the highest score.
The online mode of the game has also been expanded to include all of the previously paid DLC from NINJA GAIDEN 3 plus five new stages for Clan Battles. As we saw in the campaign, the Ninja Skills system is also available in online play. More customization options can also be found for your playable unknown ninja character and all of the weapons from the game’s campaign.
Graphically, the game seems slightly smoother than the Ninja Gaiden 3 release, but not much. The frame rates are much more stable though and Razor’s Edge can definitely be called the best looking Ninja Gaiden game so far.
After completing Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, my mind was made up. Team NINJA has atoned for their mistakes and all is forgiven. With the painful memories of Ninja Gaiden 3 soothed by the ointments of Razor’s Edge, I can confirm, this is the best Ninja Gaiden yet. The game is well-rounded and robust. Complete with a decent story, intense action, much more expansive and challenging gameplay, competitive and co-operative online modes, and all of the features that we know and love from the Ninja Gaiden series – Razor’s Edge is the complete package that does the series justice. If you skipped Ninja Gaiden 3 because of the negativity around it, make sure to pick up Razor’s Edge which has cut all of that away. If you played Ninja Gaiden 3 and were unsatisfied with it, pick up Razor’s Edge and let all of those bad feelings go free. Ninja Gaiden deserves some praise after a sour moment. The fans spoke and Team NINJA listened. Fans of the series or someone just looking for some grizzly action – Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is well worth your time.
[A free digital copy of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge was provided for review by Tecmo Koei]