maanantai 5. maaliskuuta 2012

REVIEW - Ninja Gaiden (2004)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: March 2004
DEVELOPER(S): Team Ninja

Tecmo originally planned to resurrect the Ninja Gaiden franchise as a 1999 arcade game for Sega. Plans for returning to the arcades were scrapped in a very early stage of development and work began on a Dreamcast game. When Sega announced the discontinuation of the Dreamcast, Tecmo announced that Ninja Gaiden would be a U.S. launch title for the Sony PlayStation 2. In yet another twist of events, the game was declared an Xbox exclusive at E3 2002, according to the will of the new head of the Ninja Gaiden franchise's development, Dead or Alive creator Tomonobu Itagaki. The game was originally scheduled for release in early 2003, but ended up being delayed by a whole year. After a rare five years in development, Ninja Gaiden finally hit the shelves in March 2004, and became one of the decade's most critically acclaimed games, not to mention one of the Xbox's most highly esteemed exclusives, and it has also been named the most difficult video game of the sixth generation of consoles. With two different remakes and two sequels of the game for both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 under Team Ninja's belt, how does the original article hold up?

D.D.E. 2004

He has a blue flame where his face should be.
Just so you know he's evil.
Young Ryu Hayabusa is out to destroy the Vigoor Empire for the utter slaughter of his clan, including that of his childhood friend, and the theft of their sacred Dark Dragon Blade. Even getting fatally wounded in the hands of an Imperial soldier only makes Ryu stronger and more determined to get his revenge.

All I've been hearing this past decade is how difficult Ninja Gaiden is. I wasn't much of a scene scout back when Ninja Gaiden came out on the Xbox; I knew much less of big releases on the Xbox and the GameCube 'cause I was a Sony flag waver to the core. I wasn't sure if Ninja Gaiden was a remake or a reboot - as it seems, even the developers were not sure what to call it! Anyway, the Ninja Gaiden franchise got a huge boost from the release of this game - but, I have friends who didn't realize at some time that the game is actually of the same series as a game called Shadow Warriors, a game they loved back when they were kids. They embraced Ninja Gaiden as a whole new, exciting franchise. Even when they found out of the connection, they just couldn't make it themselves. It's a whole different game. The most important common factor between the original Ninja Gaiden series and "Ninja Gaiden 2004" is that the original three games were regarded as some of the most difficult games ever released during the 8-bit generation, and Ninja Gaiden is regarded as the most difficult game of this generation. I found it very hard to believe that this game would be anywhere near as difficult as the 8-bit games. These days we have checkpoints, elaborate general strategies that are guaranteed to work, and all kinds of other ways to bend the difficulty level of the game to our will. It just so happens that Ninja Gaiden is a game that doesn't have any of these features and properties. It IS a very difficult game... believe me when I say that you will die dead enough! Even after all the blood, sweat and tears, I think it's appropriate to welcome Ninja Gaiden back.

This guy might seem a little frail, being nothing
but bones and all... but actually he's one of the
most evil bosses there ever was.

To me, it's criticism, but to a lot of folks, it's a sales point: being an Xbox exclusive, Ninja Gaiden is pretty much Microsoft's answer to Sony's Devil May Cry. The similarities are uncanny, all the way from the core gameplay to cinematic methods, general visuals including the layout of the main menu, chapter-to-chapter progression, a lead character with a whole variety of the most kick-ass moves ever seen, and of course, the high difficulty. It's criticism 'cause I loved Devil May Cry when I first bought it, but the further I played it, the more I grew to somewhat hate it. After finally finishing the game (with a sore throat from cursing life itself so much), I somewhat made a vow never to attempt it again, and eventually sold the game with not much parting tears involved. In time, I've grown to appreciate it more, and would like to have the game back in my shelf, if that's of any condolence to Dante fans.

When I first started Ninja Gaiden and saw most of the similarities between it and Devil May Cry unfold in under 20 minutes, I was sure I would at least end up being disappointed by it. Hours passed, I died dead enough a lot, the camera drove me to the brink of insanity five times in an equal amount of minutes, and making a long-ass trip from a save point to a boss only to get my ass kicked in two seconds and thrown back to the save point didn't really work wonders in calming my nerves. Still, I would call Ninja Gaiden a fun game. You know why? Because it's exactly what you would dream a descendant of the original 8-bit Ninja Gaiden to be. The first game gave you unlimited chances to learn from your mistakes and keep fighting like a man until you got to the end. This game is basically the same - only there's no trial and error involved, it's not a platformer. This game is the ultimate test of your skill and reflexes as a gamer. The better you get in utilizing all of Ryu's more or less essential abilities, the better shape you will leave conflicts in. Like I said and meant as somewhat of a pun, the original game trained you to be a ninja. I'm very serious this time around: this game DOES train you to be a ninja. It requires you to think and act like one. If you can't grasp the ways, you will never beat this game. Seriously. If you're the kind of player who likes to adopt one single strategy and rely on it throughout a full-length action game, you're playing the wrong game. In Ninja Gaiden, you must use all of your resources to your advantage if you wish to make it through one fourth of this game. Hell, you'd deserve a pat on the back if you made it through the very first chapter... out of 16.

When all else fails, try fire.
As opposed to the trend of making worlds look big and detailed, Ninja Gaiden's general look is relatively reduced. Instead of making it look all-around fancy, Team Ninja opted to make Ryu's smooth movement and kick-ass combat arsenal count. I can definitely cope and live with that. The thing I don't get is why the cutscenes weren't made to stand out like they did in the original 8-bit series. The game is one of the most cinematically generic action titles of the 21st century - which makes it kinda stand out, yes, but not in the most graceful way when it comes to visuals and an authentic Ninja Gaiden atmosphere. Killer cutscenes were what I most expected out of this game as far as the audiovisuals are concerned - there are none to be had.

The soundtrack is a quite consistent mixture of electronica, techno and some simple guitar riffs that the Japanese are fond of. The music is at least on par the whole time, it's not nearly as annoying as Devil May Cry's similar soundtrack was at its worst. And, I think having techno for battle music is a little more tolerable in a game that stars a modern day ninja hacking through an Imperial city's defenses - instead of the spawn of an ancient demon exploring a medieval castle. The voice acting isn't the most high-spirited work around, but at least no one's overdoing their part like the guys and gals in Devil May Cry. I just love comparing these two games, if you still can't tell.

In Ninja Gaiden, your primary goal is vengeance. Now while the game might not be the most dramatic show of emotions there is, Ryu's personality as a combatant makes his thirst for revenge that much more plausible. In addition to being capable of carrying a whole variety of different ninja weapons - swords, shurikens, bows, staves and whatnot - and kicking a whole variety of ass with 'em, Ryu can do somersaults off walls, run along them, and with a little bit of practice, you can use these abilities to your advantage in combat as well. Nothing is more rewarding than bouncing off an enemy's shoulders, leaving him disoriented and running your Dragon Blade up his anus. Before long, this delightful combo becomes extremely hard to perform. Actually, there's less than a minimal amount of enemies for you to practice with. Ninja Gaiden turns extremely hard extremely quick. I've heard of people that have given up after being assraped by the very first boss.

Demons. Again.
The decision to give up easily is not a hard one to make at all. Ninja Gaiden has lengthy levels, yet no checkpoints. It's merciless; you're lucky to have two save points per level. Just one tiny mistake can cost you the game. Making a 45-minute trip just to get your brains mauled by one single enemy who you were not prepared for, and getting your ass thrown back to the save point in the beginning of the level is standard for this game. There's always that small glimmer of hope of you being able to hone your reflexes - something that keeps telling you that you'll be able to beat this game if you try hard enough. It's not a total crock of shit, but at least one checkpoint or well placed essence of health every once in a while would make the attempt feel a little less feeble.

Like most games, Ninja Gaiden has a shop for upgrades and items, which accepts yellow essence - gained from breaking background items and killing enemies - as currency. Everything you actually need costs a fortune, and you'd have to be one damn ace in this game to not need to spend a lot of essence on health items instead of new upgrades, techniques and combos, weapons or Ki spells. The spirit that runs the store also collects Golden Scarabs; by offering him these prominent collectables, you gain access to a whole lot of exclusive stuff from "under the desk", including access to the 16-bit version of the original Ninja Gaiden series, all three games, one at a time. Now that's cool - but it will take a lot of work no casual player fearing this game's unparalleled difficulty level would be willing to do.

Ryu sees the advantages in weird architecture.
The game is packed to the brim with action, it has good controls and a cool story - which is just not presented that well - but there are two major things wrong with it. First off, the camera is very clumsy and awkward. It doesn't matter if you're in or out of battle, the constantly shifting and warping camera will drive you crazy. The game has some of the worst camera-related problems I've ever seen. Secondly, the game is just too "difficult" for its own good. Once again, I'd like to remind each player, as well as each game developer out there, that "challenge" in this century does not stand for having the player bust his balls over and over again through an hour-long series of solving puzzles, overtly difficult combat sequences, maybe a few bosses, just to get his ass handed to him/her in just one random, totally unexpected situation, and being forced to start over from the save point which seriously can be an hour and piles of frustration away. Just rubbing your nose or wiping that sweat off your brow in the middle of a seemingly ordinary duel can fuck your game up, regardless of when you last saved. Games are supposed to be difficult, but not such a waste of precious time. Ninja Gaiden is a very difficult game for a lot of right reasons, but also a hefty amount of wrong ones. When was the last time I saw a basically good game I just simply couldn't play when there was someone else present? I guess there's never been one before Ninja Gaiden.

Despite a lot of nice efforts to drive the player batshit insane, Ninja Gaiden is an addictive game in its very own, unique, perhaps a little sick, way. It makes you sweat like an old school game; it's just too bad that most of that sweat comes from the constant fear of everything you've done in the last hour being all for nothing.

+ Ryu's moves
+ A cool variety of weapons, skills and spells
+ Unlike most action games released during the decade, Ninja Gaiden is downright impossible to beat in one weekend
+ It's not only challenging, it's also relatively lengthy
+ Cool unlockables, including the 16-bit Ninja Gaiden Trilogy 

- It's a little too much like Devil May Cry; to some, this is a big plus, and I don't blame 'em
- The story's good enough, but the game is not a cinematic breakthrough like the old school games were at their time
- The game is in desperate need of checkpoints
- The camera is horrible, and the sometimes necessary first-person view is just as clumsy
- The puzzles would've needed some more work; most of them are simple fetchquests
- Loading times shift between long and eternal

< 8.5 >

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