In the list of things that everybody thinks are cool, ninja rank pretty high. I mean, they probably definitely committed a lot of murder, but fiction seems to really enjoy a lot of murder. And, ethics aside, it usually makes for some pretty compelling stories. Case in point: Ninja Gaiden. If you’ve ever wanted to experience what it’s like to be a legendary assassin who commits legendary amounts of carnage, then have I got a collection of games for you. More specifically speaking: Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection.
Full disclaimer: I have never played a Ninja Gaiden game before; so, any element present in this re-release collection is new to me. So, while it might be well known or nostalgic to you, I had no idea that Hayabusa Village is the most flammable collection of buildings in either hemisphere. Seriously, better construction and a more thorough fire-prevention plan would’ve cut Ryu’s need for adventures dramatically. Also, Ryu is the main character: I assume you know that, but maybe you’ve never played these games either. Long story short: bad guys burn down his village, steal some object and/or person, Ryu goes out and murders everybody for the sake of revenge and/or justice. That’s the story. That’s all of the stories. Not the most original premise, but Ninja Gaiden certainly makes up for that by throwing everything it thinks is cool into the mix. I was not expecting these elements.
The prologue of the first game would have you believe that this is a series rooted in the world of ninjas, of honour, tradition, and ancient techniques. Then you finish the prologue and wind up on a blimp fighting a guy straight out of Warhammer. It’s quite a shift; one for the better. The unexpected pivot immediately grabbed my interest, interest that was kept and tested throughout the trilogy. I don’t want to give everything away, but the second game may or may not feature a demon who uses lighting to animate the Statue of Liberty…it does…it does have that. Does the third game have a one-on-one fight between Ryu and a futuristic jet? It does. It does have that. Why? I have no idea, but it’s awesome. The games consistently ramp up the spectacle, and I’m kinda down for that. The increased focus on drama and spectacle also lead to the franchise providing Ryu with slightly more personality, transforming him from a faceless vessel of fury and murder into a vessel of fury and murder who occasionally takes his mask off. The third game also has him question his penchant for murder somewhat, though it does this in between missions where Ryu carves his way through an entire mercenary force; so, that message gets a little garbled.
Speaking of murder…the gameplay is mostly murder. As a skilled ninja, Ryu has access to a tremendous amount of tools that aid in his quests for revenge/justice/world safety. More than skins for the thematically important Dragon Sword, Ryu can utilise nunchaku, tonfa, a staff, a scythe, a kusarigama, a bow, a cannon, and various forms of swords to slaughter his foes. In addition to being awesome, these weapons alter the combos you can perform, granting some variation to the combat. Though these weapons likely perform better against certain enemies, chances are that you’ll just find your favourite and roll with that. The second game makes this element of the franchise even cooler by staggering weapon upgrades throughout the story. Certain shopfronts in the game allow you to upgrade on weapon a single time, leading to a more vested interest in your gear. The third game relegates this, and all upgrades, to a point system which, while more convenient, takes some of the charm out of things. Also, the fact that the weapons change design as they level is fun, though said change in design generally means adding excessive amounts of spikes and blades to an already spiky and blade-y weapon.
In addition to weapons, Ryu also has the ability to use ninpo: a series of magical(?) skills to aid in murder. Usually elemental in nature, these skills can be used in conjunction with weaponry to truly decimate foes. Basically, put up a whirling vortex of fire and smack guys with a staff while they burn. Brutal, but effective. Outside of this, Ryu’s ninja skills allow for dramatic traversal in designated locations. This basically boils down to plot progressing wall runs, wall climbs, and sky dives (Though that last one is an addition of the third game). The mechanics behind these movements also generally improve as the games progress, as controlling Ryu’s direction in the first game can be…frustrating. Also, Ryu can run on water, which is neat.
Now, not trying to bury the lede or anything, the playthrough of this collection may or may not have involved use of Hero Mode…although it definitely did. For those unaware, Hero Mode grants Ryu a period of unlimited ninpo when his health is low, whilst also auto-blocking for a period of time. This mode saves the game for people like me: people who aren’t very skilled at video games and would prefer to not ram my head through a concrete wall in frustration over how often I’m seeing a game-over screen. Though the soul-crushing difficulty somewhat eases over the trilogy, there is no way I would’ve made it through the first game without Hero Mode. The combination of difficulty and dated controls is a real roadblock to enjoyment. Those damn sewer worms are a prime example of how frustrating this game certain;y is on higher difficulties. A one-hit kill move? Why do they even exist in games at all? Also, don’t have a multi-phase boss fight in a franchise known for difficult boss fights. I mean, you can, some people enjoy that kind of torture, but gee whizz. So, yeah…Hero Mode is good.
So, Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection, should you play it? I don’t know, I’m not you. Do you have nostalgia for the franchise? Then give this a go. Have you always wanted to give Ninja Gaiden a go but have been afraid about the difficulty? Then give this a go and proudly play Hero Mode. Sure this is a franchise known for highly skilled play and an unforgiving difficulty curve/spike, but it’s also a franchise where a ninja avenges the (first) burning of his village by killing the flame-headed fiend/ghost samurai who commits said burning…after having already been killed himself. Also, that’s the tamest storyline. You know, /cause the lightning demon who brings the Statue of Liberty to life is the second game’s first boss. The first boss. Yeah, this collection is utter bedlam…and that’s pretty darn cool. Oh, and Ryu definitely improves on his heroic timing after the first game’s prologue. Because, wow, that guy was not good at arriving just before a woman he knew succumbed to her injuries. Yikes.