Although it’s not unusual for a game to receive a post-release improvement, entries in the Ninja Gaiden franchise have habitually received extensive revisions. Beginning with Ninja Gaiden Black, an upgrade that brought additional content and polish to the 2004 Xbox iteration, the series has received several enhanced editions designated by the Sigma subtitle. When last year’s release of Ninja Gaiden 3 neglected to provide the controller clinching intensity of its processors, developer Team NINJA responded with Razor’s Edge- a major overhaul that restored the intensity to Ryu Hayabusa’s conflicts.
Initially released as a Wii U launch window title, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge has made its way onto the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms. While there are still a handful of niggling blemishes, series supporters who skipped the third chapter due to critical disparagement may want to give the reduced-price revision a try. That said, it’s a shame that publisher Tecmo-Koei didn’t offer any extra incentive for Ninja Gaiden 3’s early adopters; they’re a constituency that truly deserves the game’s enriching amendments.
One of the core changes with the original version of Ninja Gaiden 3 was the entry’s shift to a more intimate storyline- which attempted to render protagonist Hayabusa as more than just an imperturbable killing machine. This time out, the impetus for the bloodshed is more personal, as a villain melds the ninja’s iconic weapon, The Dragon Sword, to his arm. While this fusion endows Hayabusa with manic power, it also compels the character to massacre enemies in order to sustain his own existence. Although, Team NINJA’s reliably sumptuous in-engine cinematics push the globe-trotting plotline along, much of the storyline’s poignancy is lost on its incredibility; it’s a bit hard to sympathize with a character amidst a world teeming with peculiarities such as soldiers on hooverbikes, zombie T-rexes and a lavender-haired kunoichi.
While Ninja Gaiden 3’s narrative-based fumbles were permissible, as they are archetypical Team NINJA idiosyncrasy, the game’s mechanics missteps were less forgivable. Most notable, the game ruptured the franchise’s trademark fluidity, interrupting taut battles with quick-time events. Smartly, Razor’s Edge largely confines QTE’s to concluding actions at the end of combos or as a quick breather during frantic boss fights, restoring an urgency to combat. One example: now the contentious ‘steel on bone’ maneuver has been automated, mending the oft-irregular cadence of combat. Also altered are the ambivalent attacks issued up by routine enemies, now foes with severed limbs fight frantically, until their fury in extinguished by Hayabusa’s blade.
Pleasingly, Gaiden 3’s abbreviated arsenal has been augmented, giving the protagonist access to a variety of new weapons. While some armaments, such as fearsome Eclipse Scythe and lightning-fast Falcon’s Talons are DLC relics from the original game, Razor’s Edge best additions are entirely new content. From the crowd-clearing Lunar Staff, a formidable sickle and chain combo called the Kusari-Gama, and twin threat of the Dragon’s Claw and Tiger’s Fang dual katanas, each new weapon brings mutability to combat, as players study the speed, striking distance, and moveset associated with each new arm. Complementing the expanded armory is the addition of the Ninja Skills system. Now, unbroken strings of strikes reward players with Karma, an in-game currency which can be used to purchase extra abilities, weapons, costumes and Ninpo upgrades. In effect, these unlocks endow Razor’s Edge with both a comforting sense of progression as well as another way to goad gamers through the title’s campaign. Beyond Hayabusa’s journey, the title also devotes two chapters to Ayane’s playable exploits. While shared screen time between the two ninjas is fleeting, the teenage ninjutsu master appends additional diversity into the game’s campaign with her blisteringly fast play style.
Like previous revisions to the Ninja Gaiden series, Razor’s Edge also makes some smart tweaks to the game’s challenge level. Beyond assistance from the aforementioned skill trees and weapon upgrades, Hero Mode makes the title accessible for players that lack shōtō-sharp reflexes. When playing in at this difficulty level, autoblock is activated once the health bar dips below a certain threshold. Effectively removing the difficulty spikes that might cause a gamer to put down the title, Hero Mode’s advantage does come with a few tradeoffs. When autoblock is activated, players are assessed with a karma tax; additionally, they are prohibited from accessing the challenges associated with uncovering the game’s crystal skulls.
Beyond Razor’s Edge’s ten chapter single player campaign, the game also sees the return of Ninja Gaiden 3’s Shadows of the World component, which submits several additional Karma-earning opportunities. Ninja Trials is a succession of increasing difficult tests for solo, or cooperative duos, while Clan Battles are competitive bouts for up to eight online participants. Nicely, this edition integrates Gaiden 3’s DLC as well as adds supplementary content, giving a bit of bulk to the game’s peripheral pursuits.
Technically, the Xbox 360 iteration performed admirably, habitually running at sixty frames per second, with only sporadic instances of split-second slowdown. More concerning was the initial load time of Razor’s Edge, which would take up to three minutes to reach the title screen on our two retail 360s. A bit of research revealed that a handful of players were having similar problems. Hopefully, the performance is linked to media error which can be isolated and rectified.
Upon its release a year ago, Ninja Gaiden 3 failed to make an impact, mainly due to its tepid combat mechanics which seemed to favor accessibility and embellishment over the type of controller-clenching precision that the series is known for. Pleasingly, the release of Razor’s Edge remedies many of those flaws, delivering the game that Team NINJA’s devotees have longed for.