Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge – Xbox 360
Publisher: Tecmo Koei Games
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: Apr 2, 2013
Genre: Action, Fighting
Reviewed by Mark Smith

Review Score: 4 of 5

It’s just four days shy of a year since I played the original Ninja Gaiden 3 on the Xbox 360 and here we are with Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, the ultimate collector’s edition of the game if you will, loaded with all sorts of new content and expanded features. If you didn’t get Ninja Gaiden 3 last year then your patience (or sloth) just paid off big time, as this is the definitive version of the game you’ve been waiting for…even if you weren’t waiting for it.

Ninja Gaiden has always been one of those bittersweet franchises for me quite simply for the fact that I suck at the game, but the appeal of the fast and furious ninja combat keeps me trying again and again. Admittedly, I’ve never finished a Ninja Gaiden game although I did come pretty close to finishing Ninja Gaiden 3 last year before I stalled out near the final levels and never plowed through till the end. I hope to rectify that now.

Team Ninja has certainly gone off the rails with Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, creating a frantic hack-n-slash not unlike classics like Devil May Cry, Onimusha, and in later levels, Dynasty Warriors. While this type of gameplay certainly has its own merits, it certainly doesn’t hold true to the core gameplay values of the franchise and fans of the previous games are likely to revolt. Gone are the skill and finesse required from the previous games, not only for incidental encounters but those controller-smashing boss battles. Ninja Gaiden 3 has been reduced to a mindless button masher where you subconsciously tap out XXX or XXY combos until you can unleash an Ultimate Technique or Ninpo Dragon smart bomb then repeat until the room is clear so you can move on and do it all over again for a dozen-plus chapters that will encompass 12-15 hours of your life.

The designers try to mix things up by adding a collapsible bow as your secondary ranged weapon, far superior to your infinite dagger supply, but a weapon that can often be abused, especially once you get the explosive tips. While it’s not effective in smaller rooms or crowded combat, if you can get some distance between you and the enemy or an elevated firing position, you can sit there and tap RB+RT until everyone is dead. The same goes with the new characters who also have melee and ranged lock-on attacks and their own personal skill trees.

There is very minimal exploration or platforming in the game. Often, you will need to run along the wall or climb a vertical surface using alternating taps and releases of the LT and RT buttons, possibly with a dagger attack during the climb or a last-minute assassination when you reach the top. There are also numerous moments where the floor crumbles away or you find yourself sliding down a ramp and must tap A to launch yourself then momentarily skydive before tumbling to the ground below or, if you’re lucky, tap Y for a violent impaling takedown on some unsuspecting guard.

The story is quite interesting actually. A radical group known as the Lords of Anarchy seems bent on ushering in a new evolution of man and Ryu’s dragon blood is the missing link. LoA terrorists take over London and try to lure Ryu into a trap. Here, he has his first of many encounters with a Guy Fawkes impersonator who also moonlights as an alchemist and somehow disintegrates Ryu’s sword infecting his arm with the angry souls of everyone the sword has ever slain. Now, the more Ryu kills the more the red veins spread up his arm as the evil curse spreads its way through Ryu’s body.

The game starts off great and despite the repetitive nature of the button-mashing combat I really enjoyed the first few levels. London was a blast taking out soldiers, stealth-killing in the fog and defeating my first spider-bot boss. The second level was even better, starting in the desert, obtaining my trusty bow, and ultimately engaging helicopters on a fast monorail ride and going head to head with a giant aircraft on the top of a towering skyscraper. Having played the game already I knew what was next or so I thought, but instead of the jungle level that ends with an ego-crushing battle with a T-Rex all of the sudden I was back in London playing as Ayane. Hmmm…things were about to get different.

Razor’s Edge not only remixes the original story; it packs in a lot of additional content and it’s not just all the DLC previously released for the original game. The Chapter Challenge mode has ten new chapters with new characters and weapons and there are new Ninpo attacks and Crystal Skulls have now been hidden in each level that will trigger a special Test of Valor if you can find them. Online Clan Battles have been expanded with five new stages and 64 customizable features, and the co-op missions have been tripled from 33 to 100 and you can now use all the main characters in this mode. With all of the new weapons, characters, Ninpo, and level content this is nearly twice the game it was when it released last year, and with the redesigned battle system and improved enemy AI, it’s never been more fun or challenging to play.

Yeah – it’s crazy and repetitive and often ridiculously hard but not for the reasons you want. Despite some minor improvements the controls are often unresponsive and the camera is all over the place trying to give you all these cool “moments” with slow-motion, freeze frames, or quick-zooms as your blade pierces an enemy torso. But all of these camera moves only make it that much harder to intelligently fight, so you end up just button mashing and hoping that somebody or something is in the path of your blade. Blocking is replaced with side rolls and forward lunges that make you untouchable to all but the bosses. Press LT and forward and you are suddenly behind your target where you can easily get a few hits then just as he turns around repeat the lunge move and XXX until dead.

Visually, Ninja Gaiden 3 looks fantastic in places and other places not so much, but then it’s hard to keep track of the action with all fast cuts and cinematic effects. Some textures looks great while others are bland. Some enemies are cool while others are boring and then they start reusing enemies. Why am I fighting British SAS in some deserted desert facility? Did they suddenly join the LoA? And in a game that is rooted in some sort of reality, how does an 800-foot Asian spider queen fit into the mix?

The music is great and really amps the combat adrenaline and the sound effects are also really good with weapons and combat effects blended with plenty of environmental noises. The voice acting is average; some of it really good and some of it very bad. The main villain in the white mask is awesomely evil with the perfect delivery and pompous accent. Ryu sounds like Christopher Lambert doing his raspy Raiden character and there is one Asian kid in Ryu’s village that sounds a lot like Milhouse from The Simpsons.

You can polish off this game in around 12 hours depending on how long you get stuck on certain boss fights and if you go skull hunting, which is disabled on Hero difficulty by the way. The game will offer to lower the difficulty if it catches you repeating the same battle over and over, and I really enjoyed the unique spin on checkpoints and saving by having you interact with a falcon. These are just close enough that you seldom have to repeat too much of any level if you die or want to quit for the night.

I had some issues with this game when it released last year, but the new Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge edition is pretty damn sweet. They amped up the violence and tweaked the combat so it’s not as much of a button masher as it used to be – even though you still mash buttons – you just have to think a bit more while mashing and perhaps count your X’s a bit more carefully before throwing in a Y. I really enjoyed the new missions integrated into the Chapter Challenge that not only add to the story but also help freshen things up for those like myself who may have already played the original.

If you don’t already own Ninja Gaiden 3 then now is the time to buy, and if you already own the original you might want to consider a trade-in unless you’ve already invested in the DLC in which case it’s a bit harder to recommend. Either way; this is a great feature-rich and technical improvement that turns an average game into a must-play favorite.