Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U
Release Date: April 2, 2013
ESRB: M for Mature
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game
Last year, the original Ninja Gaiden 3 received quite a bit of backlash from its fanbase and critics, thanks in no small part to a significantly decreased default difficulty, no variety for weapons/magic and enemies, poorly implemented mechanics, and just a plain overall structure. Some time after, it would seem that Team Ninja took the critical feedback to heart by releasing an enhanced version almost a year later called Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge (originally released for the Wii U last Fall).
Featuring new weapons, spells, playable characters, mechanical tweaks, and an significantly increased default difficulty, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge intended to remedy the complaints of the original while also eventually making its way to PS3/360 so owners of those systems don't feel left out. However, since Razor's Edge is built upon the core framework of the original, it begs the question: Just how sharp can this enhanced version actually be?
Storytelling is, well, what you'd expect of a Team Ninja game (read: not great), but better than something like DOA5. The resilient ninja Ryu is being hunted down by a extremist sort of cult due for unknown reasons. This cult will not hesitate to kidnap political figures in the process of sending a message, so Ryu himself agrees to help save these hostages with the assistance of an undercover government faction. During the mission, Ryu confronts a masked individual believed to be the mysterious cult's leader, and who nearly ends his life. However, in desperation, the masked individual imbues one of Ryu's arms with an ancient magical curse that worsens based on the amount of lives Ryu claims. Needless to say, the curse brings more conflict for Ryu throughout, who is under constant siege by this mysterious group.
Surprisingly enough, the story is a bit more palatable than previous entries if only due to a slightly more comprehensible overall script and better voice work, but still rather weak.This preface also leads to some of the gameplay design choices of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge. In emphasizing Ryu's brutal and murderous nature, they really up the ante of the gory dismemberment compared to even what Ninja Gaiden 2 on 360 established as well as the vanilla version of 3. Also, in less pleasing news, they decided to have the curse mechanic tie into the gameplay where every time you get hurt, your maximum threshold for health is decreased until you reach very specific checkpoints, dismissing consumable healing items entirely. In conjunction to some other structure alterations with the increased difficulty, this leads to some balance issues.
Structurally, Razor's Edge will probably feel foreign to fans of previous Ninja Gaiden entries since the balance and flow of combat of previous games is anything but there. On paper, Razor's Edge attempts to retain the spirit of the series with its trademark weapons and relatively high level of difficulty; cosmetically, it will probably look familiar as well. That said, an important thing to establish when playing a difficult game is whether or not you are offered adequate tools to handle your opposition with some degree of consistency. Previous Ninja Gaiden games usually encouraged more methodical play, having players play defensively and learning to capitalize either through mastering the flow of combat or enemy attack patterns in situations like boss fights. Razor's Edge does not have that sort of intrinsic combat balance consistency; even as a fan of the previous games who is not unfamiliar with difficult games in general, I have a lot of complaints with this game.
Enemies in Razor's Edge are super aggressive, and you know what? That is probably a better alternative to the sleepy and pushover AI that the original NG3 had, since the series is known for its fast-pace and technical gameplay. The thing is, the enemies in NG3:RE don't have have much regularity to their attacks, blocks, and evade patterns. For example, when an enemy gets staggered for a combo, I have had plenty of baffling moments where I may be executing a combo and the enemy randomly decides to jump out of it and punish me. Another time I was doing the same thing with no problem, both without any visual cue as to what I did right or wrong.
Every enemy also seems to have very quick unblockable attacks or grabs, and while these did become more commonplace in NG2, they seem much more so in this game and often times there is nothing you can do about them, even if you even press a button. Going back to their attack patterns, Ryu's attacks (even the unlockable characters) against most enemies types often times hardly feel consistent, with the super cheap 'alchemists' enemy type embody this issue the most; which just block/avoid everything randomly except ultimate attack/magic spams, until you get certain overpowered weapons.
In more artificial difficulty related complaints, Razor's Edge seems to have noticeable input lag and this makes the unbalances of combat even more stiffing. This goes from general movement to attacks, and makes the game feel kind of button-mashy for combos specifically, since the immediate timing just isn't there for a game that needs it. Spamming the charge based auto-combo 'ultimate attack' becomes all too tempting in this game, since it is the most reliable attack. Of course, a common complaint with the series that still remains today is the camera, which while is more flexible/speedy in Razor's Edge, it definitely has more than a few hiccups. It's a sad thing when there was a certain point while playing where I accepted that enemies/bosses were going to get free damage on me and winning an encounter in the campaign could easily be luck-based regardless of my game plan/execution.
My prior qualms are only emphasized because recent actions games, and even earlier 3D Ninja Gaiden games, have more than proven that there can and should be more finesse and balance to these action games. This holds especially true for players who are more passionate about higher level play and want to master the highest ranks/difficulties. Now that all of these complaints are out of my system, surprisingly enough, not all is bad with NG3:RE. 1st off, I think the new and very visceral 'steel on bone' mechanic is satisfying to execute almost every time in a sadistic gory sort of way, with very brutal attacks and flashy animations and plenty unlockable skills. Also, new characters like Ayane, Kasumi, and Momiji are fun to play with pretty different movesets. Even Ryu, which not necessarily my preference mechanically, since he feels sluggish and a bit more unreliable in comparison, does look pretty cool when wielding the latter unlockable weapons in the main campaign.
Game modes are to-the-point in Razor's Edge. There is the main campaign, chapter challenge, and the online focused "Shadows of the World" mode. Main campaign is straightforward, since I didn't make it clear earlier with my gameplay complaints, where it is a fast-paced romp with the only real breaks being the bookend cutscenes laced within. For the various unlockable characters and Ryu as well, there is also the ”chapter challenge, which is basically the main campaign but not being interrupted with most cutscenes in between. What is neat is that you can save replays of either the chapter challenge or Ninja Trials (tied to Shadows of the World mode). So, if you magically do a solid run of the game you can immediately capture it after finishing a stage.
Like the original, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor“s Edge sports an online multiplayer called Shadows of the World. Shadows of the World allows players to customize and level-up a sort of faceless ninja through cooperative and competitive modes. Ninja Trials is a relatively standard survival mode where you can solo or team up with another online player while you take on waves of enemies, which you can use your blank slate character or Ryu and the other unlockable characters. Clan Battle is a bit more interesting with what is basically a 8 vs 8 deathmatch with varying objectives. I did have fun in the brief time I played clan battle, but I could imagine it getting very unbalanced very quickly considering the leveling-up structure for skills and weapons. As a whole, for those who want something more than the solitary grind of single-player can certainly get more out of the online modes if they enjoy it.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor“s Edge is not exactly a bad game by itself, but in contrast to previous entries and even more recent games from this year alone, it can certainly feel that way since it feels less methodical/technical and very unbalanced in terms of difficulty structure. It's a weird thing when a series that helped accentuate the 'hardcore' action game feels rather poorly designed in many areas and a significantly improved re-release just can't completely fix it. The game does have its moments of fast-paced and bloodthirsty fun, and though the series does seem like it can be salvaged after 3, it is still likely to disappoint most longtime fans and newcomers as well. For a series that is known for its keen gameplay sharpness, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge sure does ironically have a lot of rough edges.
+ Flashy and brutal attacks and animations
+ Fast-paced gameplay with plenty of content
+ New characters and weapons are fun to play and use
- Serious balance issues with the game“s combat and enemies
- Some input lag for attacks and movement
- Camera issues (not new for the series)
- Trivial Story
Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
In some moments fast-paced and brutal fun and many more outright vexing in terms of design, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge is likely to be very divisive. For fans of the series and newcomers alike it will be a real test of patience if they want to extract enjoyment out of this title even with this enhanced version.