Title: Ninja Gaiden Master Collection
Developer: Team NINJA
Release Date: June 10, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Video game difficulty has become a controversial subject matter despite how fundamental it is to gaming as a whole. In today’s gaming climate, the prospect of making each release as approachable as possible is frequently of debate. With the release of Ninja Gaiden Master Collection, we see elements that encourage approachability for those not accustomed to the genre. However, above all else, it is a collection intended for those who love punishing action games, even if not every title is equally as memorable.
Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is a compilation of Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. The games are all enhanced ports of their respective original entries with several gameplay additions. It focuses on Ryu Hayabusa, who is also the primary protagonist for all three titles in this collection.
In the opening, Ryu visits his uncle Murai, who is informed of a raid occurring on his village. This kickstarts the plot and builds tension by not revealing too much. In each entry, the narrative, not only in the first title but in the trilogy, is hit or miss. The quality of the cutscenes is evocative of the early 2010s, so expect some awkward exchanges and stilted deliveries.
I enjoyed these scenes as I have a history with Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. The characterization of Ryu was enough of an enticing strength for me to at least pay attention. Still, I can’t deny that the lack of screen time for secondary characters and the general plots themselves weren’t as prominent as I’d like. This efficacy will obviously vary from player to player, but I would advise not to expect attachment to the narratives.
Not to worry, though, because for as cutscene-heavy as these titles can come across, the story is far from the primary selling point here. One does not need to pay attention to the plots to derive delight from the trilogy’s centerpiece, the combat.
The collection consists of intensive action titles with a collectively clear focus on timing, situational awareness, and paying mind to one’s toolkit. The first entry, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, is understandably where new players may find the most difficulty.
When first playing, it becomes clear that each action has momentum accompanying it, and careless spamming will lead to death. Aside from swinging weapons, simply moving has a weightiness to it. While I would not describe Ryu as heavy or tank-like, it comes off that way when comparing his moveset to the second and third games, where his actions were smoother.
Stages throughout these titles are fairly linear, with collectibles like healing items and Golden Scarabs coating the environments. Despite this, the presence of well-hidden treasure chests and pathways make progression more than a mindless affair in some cases. I’d argue the first title is where this shines the brightest, as I found myself checking area maps far more frequently here than in the other titles.
Bouts against enemies are more than simply dodging at the right times and spamming attacks. The environment plays a crucial role, too, by forcing players to be mindful of Ryu’s dexterous capabilities. Wall-running and attacking from the air can be a saving grace. Ryu can also use Ninpo, which are essentially spells with their own unique uses. Fire, for instance, does a stellar job of decimating singular foes.
All of these mechanics are overwhelming if considered in conjunction with one another, especially for those not used to action games. I recommend honing in on one combo or move at a time and then gradually incorporating it into your overall playstyle. The depth of these mechanics is both a blessing and a curse, but playing comes with patience. Death is constantly in the cards, and overreliance on healing items will do little to improve your skills as you progress.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 felt like it checked all the right boxes from what worked in 1 and upped the ante. While the difficulty came off as lessened, the smoother movements from Ryu went a long way into making gameplay addicting.
Some may disagree, but Sigma 2 felt more approachable. However, a potential expense of this is the lack of pronounced accomplishment and satisfaction that Sigma 1 provided. I found myself having a tougher time in the first entry, but as a result of that, the gameplay felt more gratifying.
That being said, both Sigma 1 and 2 were absolutely addicting experiences that I could not get enough of. Swift action is my forte, and these games excel in those endeavors tenfold. Unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor’s Edge is where I began to fall off from the joyride. Whether it be due to the wildly different tone and atmosphere, or other such factors, this third entry did not grab me in quite the same mesmerizing frenzy as the first two games did.
Razor’s Edge was a mixed experience for me. While I would not consider it to be a significant downgrade, it felt like a spam-fest of inputs. Enemies upon enemies jumped out like clockwork, and at times was akin to a lite-Musou than a carefully scrutinized action title. The dull environments and colors didn’t help matters either. I found myself growing frustrated and bored, and that could certainly be my own fault for diving in with erroneous expectations.
The difficulty the Ninja Gaiden franchise is identified with is still present in Razor’s Edge, though some elements are stripped away. The passable level design that did more than enough to push events and gameplay forward in Sigma 1 and 2 has been replaced with mindless and unmemorable setpieces.
Additionally, there is the presence of quick-time cinematic events that are pretty damn cool visually. Still, these instances felt like replacements to the intricately combative thrills found in the previous titles. Regardless, Razor’s Edge has its moments, and there’s a clear effort put into making this experience unique, but it loses its charm along the way.
Ninja Gaiden Master Collection features a Hero Mode difficulty for each title, which is designed for newcomers to inch their way through the difficulty this series is known for. This added option is an accessible novelty that may attract new players. Still, I believe over-relying on it will never result in the growth needed for getting better. Rather than treat Hero Mode as its own separate, full gameplay mode, I recommend it as a way for players to dip their toes into a challenge that tests their resolve.
It is no secret that you will die—a lot. Rather than running from that eventuality with Hero Mode, diving in headfirst and gradually learning while trying to maintain a cool head is the more rewarding and thrilling experience, I’d argue.
There is an impressive degree of content in this collection, including mechanics and features I have not detailed, such as multiple playable characters who act as enjoyable diversions as well as skill upgrades. Still, I am sure you have a solid enough idea of what to expect from Ninja Gaiden Master Collection, a trilogy of gruelingly punishing action titles that, above all else, necessitate patience.
Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is a must-play for action fans, especially those seeking titles demanding on-the-fly reactions and arduous trials of failing and learning. The first two entries are as masterclass as you can get, and the third, while questionable in several areas, also proves to be more than an adequate investment of time. With a steal of a price, you really can’t go wrong with purchasing this compilation and diving into dozens of hours of high-octane ninja fun and busty babes.
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