Tough as Nails: Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden

In Ninja, There Is No Word for “Easy”

There have been many iterations of Ninja Gaiden over the years, appearing on nearly as many consoles, but in this article we concern ourselves with one of the (somewhat) more recent entries  in the series: the Xbox version of Ninja Gaiden. Developed by Tecmo’s Team Ninja and released in 2004, this game turned out to be a prequel in the established canon of the franchise, and shared its setting with characters from Dead or Alive, another Tecmo creation.

Ninja Gaiden is as beautiful to look at as it is deadly – a trait shared by many of the female ninjas and warriors that Ryu meets during his quest. The then-graphically-superior Xbox really pushed the envelope in terms of character models and slick-looking combat; environments were by and large pretty, and bosses were as fearful as they were impressive to look at. In the case of Ninja Gaiden, looks certainly could kill; pity that the voice acting and writing weren’t up to par, but are rather forgettable and even mediocre (especially the spoken dialog).

Ninja Gaiden

The bone dragon is an actual boss you’ll face… enjoy!

There is no ‘Easy’ setting in this game; Tecmo believed that you can either go hardcore or you can go home. Even at the ‘Normal’ difficulty, the game will chew you up and spit you out faster than you can say “Hadouken!”…sorry, wrong Ryu. But regardless, this isn’t a case of poor controls or tough-as-hell bosses (although you’ll find those too!). Ninja Gaiden is all about making you fight for your very existence against every single enemy in the game, starting with the lowliest foot soldier on up. Hell, if they’d put the guy in charge of scrubbing the dojo toilets in the game, even he’d be giving you a run for your money!

Enemy ninjas have the same lightning-quick reflexes and sword slashes that Ryu brings to the table, so if you’re not on the top of your game constantly, they will drain your life in a matter of moments. An unblocked attack from the weaker enemies can take up to a fifth of your health gauge at once, and I’ve seen tougher opponents and bosses typically do about 25%-50% maximum damage. Keep in mind: this is on ‘Normal’! It’s quite insane.

Now, Ryu against one opponent is typically easy to handle, and you’ll come out on top without difficulty. Of course, one-on-one bouts occur about as often as boss battles, which is to say very rarely. Count your blessings when they do. But as a rule, you’ll square off against groups of opponents three or four strong at a time. Squaring off against four armed ninjas at once is hard enough already, but when you consider that they’ll attack from different

directions, and that they typically alternate their attacks so that one adversary’s combo begins just as you’ve finished blocking a combo from a different direction. Naturally, a hit from any one of them takes down your guard, opening you up to multiple chain attacks from all sides.

Enemies will also come equipped with projectiles, the least of which are automatic rifles. The nastiest throwing weapons I’ve seen are exploding daggers, which will stick in any floor or wall surface when they miss you, meaning you better get away as you have mere seconds before the blast damages you for about 15% health. Worse than that is when the projectile finds its mark and sticks in you. Ryu cannot remove the dagger, and there’s no way to escape the damaging blast.

Ninja Gaiden

You’ll have some help along your quest.

True to ninja form, enemies can also move swiftly and silently; it’s a frequent occurrence that the first I even know of an oncoming enemy is when he slashes at my head with his sword as he leaps across the screen – by the time I see him, he’s already hit me. The game is so unforgiving that it affords you one life only; die and you must return to your last save point. However, don’t be surprised if you don’t make it far – more than once did I die less than a minute after restarting at my save point, having only taken about three or four steps away from the save point before being pounced upon by a group who takes me out effortlessly. Ugh!

Ninja Gaiden was so intensely challenging that Tomonobu Itagaki begrudgingly conceded to players’ demands and included an ‘Easy’ setting in the two rereleases of the game: Ninja Gaiden Black, which also featured other bonus content, and Ninja Gaiden Sigma, a version released for the PS3. However, Itagaki himself stated that he is of the opinion “that, with persistence, any player was capable of completing the game.”

With a new Ninja Gaiden title on the horizon, and the excellent Ninja Gaiden II already gracing current-gen systems, maybe it’s time for you to go back a console generation, and re-learn the true meaning of pain and punishment. Ninja Gaiden will well and truly turn you into its bitch and make you cry sorry tears begging for mercy…but it has none to give, with its cold black heart, as it waits patiently for new fools to slowly crush and grind into gamer paste. Ninja Gaiden is truly tough as nails!


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