I’m a huge Ninja Gaiden fan. I’ve been playing the adventures of Ryu Hayabusa since 1988 and have followed him from the Arcade to the NES and GameBoy to the Xbox and Nintendo DS, and finally to the 360 and PS3. I’m one of the very few people on this planet to like Ninja Gaiden 3 in its original incarnation. To say I’m a fan is an understatement. As I write this, I’m staring at a Ryu Hayabusa action figure and a Ninja Gaiden wall scroll hangs in my office.
So, when Tecmo KOEI announced a new game in the series, called Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, I was a bit excited…and confused. There is no one in the long-established Ninja Gaiden mythos named Yaiba, and a true Ninja Gaiden game would have been formally announced with magazine covers and tons of press. What was going on here?
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is more of a side story to the Ninja Gaiden story. The game opens with zero exposition as Yaiba Kamikaze and Ryu Hayabusa are locked in mortal combat in the forest outside of the Dragon Clan village. Of course, nobody beats the dragon ninja in one-on-one battle, and Yaiba is soon turned into human coleslaw by the dragon sword.
Flash forward a bit to the future and Yaiba wakes up, his missing arm and half head replaced by cybernetics. A strange, sexy woman known as Miss Monday begins to give him instructions right into his ear. A zombie outbreak has occurred in Russia, and Yaiba has been sent in to put an end to it by a mysterious organization called Forge Industries–the same organization that resurrected the warrior in the first place. Miss Monday takes the player through the basic moves, as Yaiba has a few different attacks, and then the zombie–here, called The Infected–onslaught begins.
Yaiba doesn’t like being used as a tool by a faceless organization, so he is offered the golden ring: Ryu Hayabusa. The man who killed him is also in Russia investigating the zombie outbreak and if Yaiba plays along, he will get his chance to avenge his own death.
That’s it. That’s the story of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. As the game progresses, we learn through hidden collectables that Yaiba was part of a clan that fought other ninjas to make them stronger. One day, Yaiba snapped and wiped out his clan and any ninja he came across–save for one. It never goes deeper than that.
Weak, and “barely there” story aside, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is actually a pretty fun game to play. It’s a full-featured hack ‘n slash that is more God of War than any previous Ninja Gaiden game. Yaiba gets stronger as the game progresses and his abilities and weapons can be upgraded. There is a Bloodlust meter that when full, allows Yaiba to unleash a devastating attack on all enemies in the vicinity.
The gameplay is fast-paced and chaotic, and the player must learn to block as the enemies are relentless and unforgiving. And they come in wave after wave.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is brutal in its checkpoints. Most levels/chapters end with an epic fight of waves of all different kinds of enemies and then a boss. If you fall during any wave–or against the boss–you have to go back to the very beginning of the fight, which is as frustrating as you can imagine.
I’m not against difficult games. I applaud them and enjoy playing them. Every Ninja Gaiden game has been difficult, sometimes painfully so. And the Dark Souls/Demon’s Souls are beloved for their brutality toward the player.
What I don’t like is when ten minutes of carnage-inducing play is wiped away if I miss one block on a stronger zombie enemy–and they do get stronger. Some higher-end enemies include huge, butcher knife-wielding clowns, and female zombies that have mastered electricity for some reason. Taking out one is a chore, but then the game throws three of them at you, in wave after wave, and it can get frustrating.
It also doesn’t help that the level designs are very similar and repetitive. I understand that killing waves of zombies helps fill the Bloodlust meter and earn points to upgrade weapons and skills, but it gets old too quick.
Keiji Inafune, the creator of Mega Man and the Onimusha series among many other Capcom classics, serves as a producer, but his influence is barely felt, if at all. Developer, Team Ninja, who famously lost their head of development in Tomonobu Itagaki in 2008, has yet to fully recover, and bringing in big names to produce does little to make a great Ninja Gaiden game.
If Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z has some bright spots, it’s in the writing and in the art design. The script, while as insane as it should be, is filled with funny quips and Yaiba is an asshole, plain and simple. His comments are what you would expect an asshole to say during a zombie outbreak. I have found myself chuckling and actually laughing out loud quite a few times.
The art design is simply out of this world. Team Ninja opted for cell-shading and it works very well. The red blood (and there is a LOT of blood) stands out more with cell-shading, and the character designs are equal parts Bernie Wrightson, Gene Colan and Mike Mignola; all three comic book legends. I’m reminded of the SEGA Wii game, Mad World in the level of gore and destruction, and it is so visually striking that it makes the game better, even while other aspects fail.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a good game that is actually hurt by the Ninja Gaiden tag being placed on it. This is NOT a Ninja Gaiden game, and just because Ryu Hayabusa is in the game does not make it so. The Dragon Ninja has also been in most of the Dead or Alive games and they aren’t called Ninja Gaiden.
With that silly business of the misnomer out of the way, Yaiba is a fun, frenetic button-masher that is gory, funny and sometimes brutal. It has a broken checkpoint system that leads to epic frustrations, and yet is amazing to look at. All in all, I enjoyed my time playing the game and will continue to do so to get better scores, find hidden collectibles and unlock new features. Wanting to keep playing is the sign of a good game on any scale, and Yaiba inspires me to keep going. Take that for what it’s worth.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z was reviewed on PS3 using a code provide by publisher Tecmo-Koei. It was released for PS3 and Xbox 360 on March 18, 2014.
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