Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge – PS3
Publisher: Tecmo Koei Games
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Genre: Action, Fighting
Reviewed by Arend Hart

Review Score: 4 of 5

Few would argue that the Ninja Gaiden franchise has had a rocky road since the unceremonious departure of famed game developer Tomonobu Itagaki, creator of Tecmo’s cornerstone Dead or Alive franchise and one-time leader of Tecmo’s esteemed Team Ninja development group. The iconic Itagaki and a number of his development team left Tecmo in 2008, days prior to the release of Ninja Gaiden II, to start Valhalla Studios, citing financial issues within Tecmo. The departure left a sour taste in the mouths of devout Ninja Gaiden fans, who long held Itagaki’s trademark black leather rock and roll image in nearly as high a regard as it did his penchant for developing games featuring blisteringly tough gameplay, astounding graphics, and well-endowed ladies.

Ninja Gaiden 2 seemed like a swan-song of sorts for the Team Ninja folks. The title introduced a number of new elements that enhanced the classic Ninja Gaiden gameplay, yet failed to garner the same degree of excitement as the original, most likely due to the black cloud that hung over the release regarding the Team Ninja dissolution.

When Tecmo announced in 2010 that there would be a Ninja Gaiden 3 with a “new” Team Ninja – sans Itagaki, of course – little hope was left for the series. Even with franchise veteran, Ninja Gaiden Sigma director Yosuke Hayashi behind the helm, Ninja Gaiden 3 was largely panned by critics and gamers citing issues with streamlined, linear gameplay and lack of traditional franchise tenets.

Nearly a year after the release of Ninja Gaiden 3, Tecmo released Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge for the WiiU. A remake of the Ninja Gaiden 3, Razor’s Edge purported to fix the “wrongs” of its predecessor, and in doing so, giving veteran Ninja Gaiden fans an experience that was more in line with the Itagaki-style games. Originally released on the WiiU in December 2012, Razor’s Edge received moderately improved scores as the original, but still nowhere near the critical acclaim of the first title.
Four months later, Tecmo is once again trying to revive the floundering franchise with a port/remake of the WiiU’s Razor’s Edge, this time for the PS3 and the Xbox 360. It is not all that surprising that they would do so, as any fan of the series would tell you, Tecmo sure knows how to milk every last bit out of the Ninja Gaiden franchise what with all of the “Black” and “Sigma” revisions of previous games they have released in the past.

For this review, I am looking at the PS3 version of Razor’s Edge – and just to set the record straight, this is my first experience with any Ninja Gaiden 3 title. I was a major fan of the original, and played through most of Ninja Gaiden II, but I after reading the reviews of Ninja Gaiden 3 I chose to avoid the title altogether. It wasn’t until this particular opportunity came to light that I chose to download the title off of PSN and give it a chance. And I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised.

Let me start by saying that regardless of which director is behind the helm, Ryu Hayabusa is one badass Ninja. A carry-over from the Dead or Alive series, the central character of Ninja Gaiden 3 is the epitome of ninja stealth, speed, and swordplay. However, Ryu is not the only player gamers will get to take control of, as fellow Dead or Alive veteran, the voluptuous Ayane comes along for the ride in her own playable story levels, and as playable partner in Razor’s Edge’s co-op mode.

Both characters come through with the trademark agility and ferocity that are hallmarks of the Ninja Gaiden series – and regardless of any oddball linear storyline, Gaiden fans will immediately feel comfortable with the familiar controls. New to the series is the “slide”, which the gamers use for dodging attacks during standard combat and during certain quick-time scenarios where gamers have to slide under careening troop transporters and the like.

As with the previous Gaiden games, blocking is every bit (and maybe even a bit more) important to the gameplay as attacking is. There is a certain fluidity that needs to be achieved to successfully traverse through each incredibly difficult story scene and boss battle – with gamers instantly transitioning between attack and block, as they fend off the half-dozen or more armed foes. Gamers will find that the key is to take down foes with ranged weapons (guns, grenades, rocket launchers) first, and then work their way to the uber-tough hand-to-hand combatants. It’s all an exercise in patience and timing, but as any Gaiden fan will tell you – success is seldom as well-earned and rewarding as it is in a Ninja Gaiden title.

With the WiiU finally being on par with the current generation of consoles, this PS3 port looks fantastic. We all know that Ryu his best work at night, and the folks at Team Ninja have done a standup job using lighting, shadows and reflections to excellent effect through the darkened streets of London. But not all of the story takes place under the cover of night, as Ryu is whisked off to the Rub’ al Khali desert of Saudi Arabia, where he gets a chance to step out into the light.

If there was one quibble with the visuals, it would be the awkward camera which far too often finds itself stuck to – or behind – scenery and/or enemies. I can’t count how many times I just blindly hacked and slashed, hoping that Ryu or Ayane would finally emerge from behind whatever pillar had grabbed the camera and give me some clue as to what was actually happening. I actually felt a longing for that old snap-back camera from the original title, long before Itagaki modified it for Black, because at least it was one less thing to have to constantly fiddle with.

The game features solid voice acting in the cut scenes, but the combat cries went entirely overboard. I still am not entirely sure if Ryu and the enemies were shouting kiais that just happened to sound like certain four-letter words, or if they were the actual four-letter words themselves. Regardless, they were far too overused with one character shouting something similar to “fudge you” maybe 6 – 8 times per battle. Considering most battles consisted of 6 enemies, that’s a lot of “fudge” to be throwing around, and it really made the game seem cheap…and corny.

A Gaiden title would not be worth its salt without nearly impossible boss battles, and Razor’s Edge is no slouch when it comes to slapping the gamer around. Even the seemingly easy first spider boss took me over an hour – and countless retries – to finally defeat. This certainly was not helped by the awkward camera mentioned earlier – but Gaiden has never been a game for the weak hearted and Razor’s Edge kicked my ass.

While the storyline might be a tad corny and predictable, it is not like the previous games in the series were not a bit odd in their plots. And while the London levels were a bit claustrophobic for my liking, I really enjoyed the Arabian Desert scenes which gave me warm memories of Uncharted 3 and those early Prince of Persia games.

Itagaki might no longer be with Tecmo, and I am sure the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive series will never be the same to some gamers – but it is hard to argue that the new Team Ninja did not pour their heart and soul into Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. And while it is nowhere near as groundbreaking as that first “modern” Gaiden title from 2004, nor even as polished as Itagaki’s final Gaiden II for that matter, it really needs to be realized that Razor’s Edge pays homage to those titles with its fantastic gameplay.