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[Review] Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection - A worthy purchase or an outdated relic?

Arguably one of the greatest action series of all time, the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection combines the best versions of all three mainline entries into one freshly remastered package, but how does Ryu Hayabusa's journey fare by todays standards?

Ninja Gaiden Sigma

Initially released on the PS3, Ninja Gaiden Sigma made various tweaks to the previously released Xbox exclusive Ninja Gaiden Black, and where as Black was exclusive to the original Xbox, Sigma released exclusively to the PS3 just two years later.

The original 3D Ninja Gaiden was notoriously difficult and Black only served to make things harder, but with the release of Sigma, the fandom became divided over which was more difficult. Was it Black or Sigma that had the edge? It's a debate that will undoubtedly continue for years to come, but one thing fans of the series can agree on is that the first two games were way ahead of their time and absolutely fantastic to play.

A number of factors contributed to Ninja Gaidens success - For one, we had legendary Game Director Tomonobu Itagaki at the helm, guiding combat and the overall direction of the game. Additionally, the programming was so tight that there was next to no input lag when it came to the controller, making Ninja Gaiden quite possibly the most responsive title to ever release at the time.

Adding to this, the whole ninja setting wasn't incredibly overdone yet either. Sure we had titles such as Tenchu, Shinobi and Nightshade, but it was a theme that hadn't been hugely milked. As a result, it felt like a fresh, new and exciting game to experience, made even cooler by lead protagonist Ryu Hayabusa.

Ryu Hayabusa, wielder of the True Dragon Sword.
A man of few words, Ryu was born into the Dragon Lineage legacy and would be trained to fight to protect his honour and families legacy as a member of the Hayabusa Ninja Clan. Mysterious and quiet, but calculative, accomplished and wise, Ryu would become one of the most feared ninja's to ever exist and for good reason too.

The Ninja Gaiden series definitely isn't for the faint of heart where difficulty is concerned, but if you can bare with the incredibly steep learning curve, it's a game that'll make you want to become just as great as the legendary Ryu Hayabusa himself. If you're new to the series and love a good challenge, I cannot recommend this series enough. I've always played games for the escapism and absolutely love a good challenge, having completed games such as God of War & Devil May Cry on the hardest difficulties. I also mention these two in particular because the later sections of Ninja Gaiden on normal difficulty are actually on par with the hardest difficulties of both of these games. Just like God of War and Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden falls under the Extreme Action genre and if you're planning to get through the entire game, you're going to need quick reflexes and a good deal of adaptability as there are many different enemy/boss-types that will unequivocally tear you a new one if given the chance.

The remastered version of Ninja Gaiden Sigma in this collection still holds up today, which is impressive for a now fourteen year old title. The visuals are crisp and while you shouldn't go into this expecting a complete overhaul, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is still very much the masterpiece many of us remember, and it was an absolute joy getting back into the series after so much time had passed. As for Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2? I never did finish it back in the day, but this time I made sure to do so and it's a much more refined experience, but is it better? Let's see.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 takes everything we came to love in the original, builds upon it and delivers one of the most satisfying experiences to date. Sure, it's a little more arcadey with a type of style-meter on the screen to indicate how well you're doing in any given combat encounter, but ultimately it's a much more stylish and ultra-violent take on the original Sigma.

All of your favourite weapons are back, only this time the combo's are bigger, better and more over the top than ever before. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 introduces a vastly improved limb-loss mechanic, where even if you lop off an arm or leg of your enemy, they still pose a fairly significant threat and so you're encouraged to perform one of many new and stylish finishers, to remove them from the combat as soon as you can.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 absolutely oozes with style and is my personal favourite of the bunch. Being a super fan of the Devil May Cry series, the stylised kills and finishers introduced in Sigma 2 were like the icing on the cake for me. Everything is super vibrant, super flashy and super satisfying. It's a pure joy to play and picks up roughly where Ninja Gaiden Sigma ended. It's also a lot easier on standard difficulty, so if you're looking for the same challenge the previous entry offered, I'd recommend starting one difficulty level up.

This time around Rachel gets to fight Marbus for the brief
time you get to play as her.
While the combat is absolutely phenomenal, if I had to pick fault with Sigma 2, my main gripe was the lack of a consistent story. Sure the antagonists had absolutely awesome character design, but the story itself felt somewhat disjointed. Rachel who you'd have met in the original Sigma just kind of pops in without much context and by the time you reach the games conclusion, she's already gone with no real indication as to what her true goal or purpose was.

We're also introduced to a Rachel clone known as Sonia who basically becomes a forced love interest. There's very little character development with her, so it feels like a mess of fan service for sheer plot convenience. That said, it's still not a real detriment to the series, as Ninja Gaiden at this point is all about stylishly sadistic Demon slaying. What is a detriment to the series however is...

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge

Supposedly the improved revision of the original release of Ninja Gaiden 3, I guess there's only so much a team of people can fix without having to remake a game entirely, and what an unbalanced mess this game is!

I really wanted to love this, but there are so many things wrong with it, that instead of the hard but fair approach of the previous two entries, this game is just hard for the sake of it, and you can't even quickly heal in battle as you could with the previous two games. What you could do as standard in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1 and 2, you now have to unlock with in-game currency and where they've done away with items (such as the Herbs of Spiritual Life that healed you and the Devil Way Mushroom that refilled your Ninpo magic), good luck trying to heal mid-fight with the Meditation skill when you're constantly being bombarded with rockets, fully automatic weapons, melee fighters and Apache Helicopters. In short, I truly believe the game was balanced to have restoratives like the previous two games, only at some point during development they decided to scrap this idea in favour of a buyable upgrade system.

Level design is also horrendously linear. I'm sure the majority of you will be aware of point-to-point on-rail shooters such as The House of the Dead or Vampire Night, but this is effectively an on-rails arena. Once you're done with one arena, a cutscene will lead you to the next and so you effectively have a series of rooms to run around and fight within, but none of the map exploration which made the two previous games so great.

Razor's Edge is so unbalanced it's untrue. You basically have to survive all boss fights without taking a single hit, because more often than not, one swipe will deal serious damage and two will outright kill you. This is on normal difficulty, and so you're forced to find ways to exploit and utterly cheese your way to victory. It's hugely disappointing, not satisfying in any way and utterly frustrating because of forced limitations. A shame, this was the first game without Tomonobu Itagaki and it shows.

Sadly, there are an absolute ton of things wrong with Razor's Edge and after getting about halfway through I decided it just wasn't worth the stress or frustration anymore.

For instance, a cutscene which should have held a direct connection to a sword in the previous game proved more a distraction when said notification popped up, fading the screen to black mid-cutscene just to tell me I had a new sword, before resuming at an awkward point mid-sentence, making me lose track of what was going on and effectively ruining the cutscene. It didn't help that the scene was already relatively quiet, so this immersion-breaking issue made it hard to work out exactly what was going on, other than "Oh, Ryu's back to the final battle grounds of Ninja Gaiden 2, presumably to reclaim the sword he left there", which is exactly what was happening, only due to the interruption throwing me off, I had no real context as to why this was.

As cool as this looks, sadly Razor's Edge leaves
a lot to be desired.
Mission briefings also disappear so fast you don't ever get a chance to fully read them (I counted roughly 5 seconds read time per briefing) and at one point I had the command list of combos pop up, taking up virtually the entire right hand side of the screen and couldn't work out how to turn it off whilst in the middle of a relatively difficult fight. This is something that should have 100% been in the control options but wasn't and so I had to google how to remove it. Turns out you need to press down on the d-pad which I didn't ever realise I pressed to begin with. Go figure.

The main offender for me however was unfairly dying in a cutscene of all places. After an absolutely gruelling fight where two hits would effectively cost you the entire fight, I survived a boss encounter on an actual slither of health at the end of chapter (day) 4, only to discover I didn't have enough life to survive a mandatory bit of damage you're forced to take in the in-game post-fight cutscene, so I had to do it all over again until I eventually beat it again nearly 20 minutes later. If that wasn't problematic enough, your health bar extends as you progress through the story, only during this segment of the game your health bar is halved, which only increased the frustration I felt. With only two grab attacks needed to kill you, working with half a health bar and having no way to heal mid-fight is an incredibly unfair way of making the game more punishing. With Devil May Cry (the original) on Dante Must Die difficulty, I'm used to brutally punishing but fair encounters, because any slip ups are on you, but when a game is forcibly handicapping you to make itself more difficult, it just creates an unpleasant, frustratingly stressful experience and one that I wouldn't recommend to anybody.

It's a shame, because Razor's Edge had the potential to be a good game, but with the removal of restorative items, bland and badly designed, unrelenting enemies, downgraded graphics and a frustrating way to build up Ninpo, plus all of the other things it has wrong with it, we're left with a game that couldn't keep up with its predecessors. It lacks the excitement the previous two entries had, is visually (and thematically) a lot darker, and with a ton of bland voice acting, a poorly written plot and awful balancing issues, Razor's Edge is like playing a cheap knock-off of the legendary games we came to love. There's no love here, only frustration and bitter disappointment. If Team Ninja had stuck with the tried and true formula which worked so well for the original two entries, I think we'd have ended up with a much better game, but sadly I'd go so far as to say Razor's Edge should be avoided entirely.

Overall, ignoring Razor's Edge, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1 and 2 are fantastic titles that have aged incredibly well and still hold up as two of the greatest action games of all time. The updated visuals are very much welcomed and both games are just as responsive as ever. I should also add that as unbalanced as Razor's Edge may be, it's not essential to the overall experience and shouldn't dissuade you from purchasing the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection, because if you're new to the series, this is a must-have purchase for Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1 and 2 alone. On the flip side, if you're a fan of the series and looking for a brand new experience, the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection offers little more than upgraded visuals, and while Sigma 2 especially looks fantastic, there's little reason for you to pick up the Master Collection. That said, Team Ninja rarely disappoint and with modern greats such as Nioh 1 and 2, and the upcoming Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, I'm sure we have a lot more to look forward to going forward. Let's just hope we'll one day get to play a proper sequel to Ninja Gaiden 2.

Great Game! is the second highest rating we award and is reserved
for great titles that still have a little room for improvement.

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