S T O R Y
Ryu Hayabusa is called back into action by the Japanese MoD. A renegade terrorist group has infiltrated London and demands that the dragon ninja must travel to the capital city. Ryu encounters a masked enemy who works on the behalf of a powerful syndicate known as the Lords of Alchemy, an evil organisation looking to purify the world and create a new era of global dominance. The masked figure places an evil curse upon Ryu called the `grip of murder', which also absorbs the Dragon Sword into Ryu's right arm. The ninja must travel the world in order to defeat his foes and rid himself of the powerful curse.
The narrative poses a little intrigue to begin with, but from there on it takes a serious nosedive. Team Ninja wanted to humanise Ryu and make him seem like less of a killing machine. Sadly, the pay off isn't successful and we don't really get to learn anymore about this super ninja. There are some touching moments when Ryu returns to his village, but those are the only redeeming factors. The dialogue is extremely cheesy and doesn't help when providing a purpose to the story. I didn't care for any of the characters and found it just as difficult to keep track of the story.
G R A P H I C S & S O U N D
Graphically, much hasn't changed since NG Sigma 2. There is nothing here that will really stick out and this can bring further scrutiny with regards to the inconsistency of the art design. Ryu's character model is the star of the show, it looks better than ever and the detail of his cursed arm is extraordinary. The female characters seem to have their sexually charged attributes toned down and not so prominent this time.
The enemies are miles away from the designs of the Fiends of the previous two games; Team Ninja attempts to employ human opposition a majority of the time, in order to keep a realistic approach to overall proceedings (it doesn't work). The dismemberment of limbs and other body parts completely take a backseat, but Ryu still places a great emphasis on creating a bloody mess wherever he goes. Blood will pour from every wound, spraying all over surfaces in very unpleasant ways. There are some nifty effects when Ryu unleashes his ninpo attack, the screen lights up and goes into frenzy when displaying the action. The soundtrack works well to compliment the relentless action and the same can be said for the meaty sound effects when hacking these terrorists to death.
Unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden 3 is plagued by a poor frame rate, which turns everything into slow motion. This wasn't much of an issue when playing on the easier difficulty settings. The voice acting isn't a strong component and a Japanese language option should have been made available.
G A M E P L A Y
The only positive aspects about Ninja Gaiden 3 are that it provides some intense action moments and the occasional scripted event to inject some carnage into the blood-filled mayhem. Boss battles require timing and precision, even though many encounters are recycled affairs. The rest is quite frankly a disaster...
Gone are the multiple weapons. Gone are the different ninpo attacks. Gone are the satisfying and diverse combos. Gone are the interesting boss battles. Gone are the upgrade systems and Muramasa statues. So, what does that leave?
Unfortunately, it seems QTE battles have been included as a way of providing cinematic gameplay. Team Ninja have stripped so much out of this game; it's hard for me to fathom the thoughts leading up towards the design decisions they were taking. QTEs take centre stage and it only takes the pressing of a button to make Ryu perform some outlandish move. It is an overused feature and you will see it all too often. A QTE is used to slice an enemy aggressively. A QTE is used to traverse a rope. A QTE is used to perform a powerful attack. It became tedious and boring, taking control away from the player countless times.
Ryu has one weapon throughout this game, which has basic combos to be repeated over and over. The idea of Ryu's cursed arm is used as a weapon, which enables him to unleash an Ultimate Technique. Ryu will whizz around the screen slicing and dicing enemies into confetti. Admittedly, it does look pretty cool, but it wears thin since it's an extremely overused asset. You do have access to shurikens and a snazzy high-tech bow, but these weapons aren't very exciting to use throughout the campaign. The ninpo magic does come in handy and is very useful for clearing large groups of enemies, but it's the only magic-based attack you have. There are some new features that allow Ryu to climb up walls and even fly through the air, but these do not save the game's weak design issues. The platforming elements rarely make an appearance; even the wall running has been severely toned down.
Combine all of the above elements together and you get a mind numbing hollow experience. The gameplay is lacking substance in so many areas and it is truly shocking to witness these gameplay crimes. Enemy A.I. is far too predictable and just comes at you in waves, finish one battle, get to the next arena and await another horde of bad guys to attack you. The camera is terrible, on many occasions it would get stuck behind an object, fail to track the action and just not respond well to manual rotation. Team Ninja have alienated the hardcore audience; Ninja Gaiden 3 is just an easy game that requires button mashing in order for it to become accessible to newcomers. At its core, Ninja Gaiden is all about skill and technical ability, but sadly those values have been abandoned in the pursuit of cinematic nonsense.
O V E R A L L
This is the first review I've written where so many negatives outweigh the positives, and above all else this is a AAA title with so many flaws. I'm truly shocked by the direction Team Ninja have taken with the series and what a mess they have made of it. If there is to be a Ninja Gaiden 4, the studio must listen to its dedicated fanbase, you know, the ones who made the series what it is! Writing this review has made me as angry as Ryu Hayabusa! The story is pants and makes no sense. The visuals are decent, but nothing to shout about. The gameplay spits in the face of the franchise and does nothing to provide the ultimate ninja experience.
N.B. I'm well aware that QTE prompts can be turned off, but this doesn't disguise the fact they are still a heavy gameplay feature. I did also try the multiplayer component, but it's implementation does nothing to make me want to keep the game disc in my PS3.