Even though ninjas are always super cool, I have somehow managed to avoid playing Ninja Gaiden games all these years. Although, the trilogy hides in my gaming cabinet with several other titles that ended up in my sad backlog pile. Now, however, Koei Techmo America lands a solid roundhouse kick with the release of the remastered version of the whole Ninja Gaiden trilogy to the present-day consoles. So let's tighten our headbands and rush toward dangers with a sword ahead!
If you are into ninjas at all Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection should be like pure catnip for you. By jumping into the main character, Ryu Hayabusa's, ninja pants, the player becomes part of a bloody revenge story that is filled with ninja-related topics. For example, we get to see mystical artifacts, evil forces, ninjas jumping through paper walls, iconic ninja weaponry, epic boss battles, severed limbs, and buckets full of blood. Action in these games is so tense that if I wouldn't have to focus so hard to stay alive, I might even be out of breath.
The infamous degree of difficulty in Ninja Gaiden games is definitely not cut from whole cloth. As a fledgling, I approached the games carefully with the easiest level of difficulty, and yet I got beaten like a rented mule. Ninja action, which is experienced from the third-person perspective, cranks out enemies to the screen at an alarmingly heated rate. The character needs to use actions like light and heavy hits, jumping, throwing, and blocking to stay alive. By combining these actions to the point where your fingers cramp, the goal is to charge forward from one enemy wave to another. The block action is especially vital since the enemy doesn't take turns to attack you or hesitate to even use firearms to get to you.
Although, you need to be quite a ninja to stay alive in these games, at least you can't blame the controls. The characters vigorously react to the given orders and cut the flesh of the enemy sharply. Good button order is instilled quickly in your muscle memory and when you start to get the hang of things, the action becomes like a violent ballet soaked in blood and guts. Where the first two games of the trilogy feel more like a tactical fighting game, the third entry in the series feels rather different and it's not only because of a few weirdly rearranged buttons. Because of the larger number of enemies with more health to spare Ninja Gaiden 3 shifts more to the numbing arcade beat 'em up style. It feels like the developers have tried to replace quality with quantity. Although, at the same time the third ninja game brings new and refreshing content like QTE-action and sneaking to enrich the gaming experience.
From the technical side, only the camera causes some issues to the gaming experience. Especially in the first Ninja Gaiden, the camera follows the character lazily and stiffly, making particularly the jumping sequences disturbingly troublesome. In the sequels, the camera is improved but it still drags behind and can even get stuck behind items that make the fighting even harder for nothing.
Taking into account that the whole Ninja Gaiden trilogy is largely over ten years old, it has been remastered quite nicely. Although, I almost choked on my fortune cookie when I saw the extremely blurry intro video of the first Ninja Gaiden. Apparently, the source material of the videos hasn't been in such a high resolution and the cutscenes are just harshly scaled multiple times over their resolution into this Master Collection. In the second and third Ninja Gaiden, the video scaling is better, thanks to the better source material. The gameplay in its entirety is looking pretty stylish with the cleaned textures and high resolution. Surely the old age sticks out as blocky characters and empty levels but the action is still eventful, bloody, and atmospheric. Graphics and the amount of gore clearly get better along with the games and with evolving technology. Although, in the third Ninja Gaiden the amount of characters combined with brutal bloodshed, and severed limbs flying through the air escalates into the incoherent mash at worst. There are some primitive light and particle effects in the games but I was hoping that the mastering would have been done properly all the way. For example, by adding HDR effects and enhanced visualisation as Bioware did with Mass Effect Legendary Edition, what should be expected from the modern console games. At least the frame rate is spot on where the game calls a properly timed press of a button, where fate between life and death can be decided, is not dependable on a badly running game. Also, the loading times on Xbox Series X feel more like a formality disguised as a breather besides the action.
The Ninja Gaiden trilogy packs surprisingly vigorous sounds. Sword slashes cut deep and the cries of pain of the enemies are convincing. The manly way to open doors and loot boxes by kicking them gets hilarious extra credibility from the pithy kick sounds. In a traditional Japanese game style, the voice acting is full of emotions and it fits tastefully in the mouths of larger-than-life heroes and diabolical bad guys. The menu music of the first Ninja Gaiden got me worried with its embarrassing generic heavy tunes but thankfully while playing the music's atmospheric oriental vibes fit the mood perfectly. However, Ninja Gaiden 3 restored that generic electric guitar whimper into the battles, which are just very stale.
I find Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection to be like a recovered ancient treasure. It effortlessly utilises everything from the ninja topic and it includes not only gorgeous and blood-soaked action but also an adequately vivid story, and plenty of inventive areas to explore and epic enemies to butcher. Sure, a stiff camera and brutal level of difficulty flatten the mood, but that's why there is the easiest level option for Sunday ninjas like myself. The fans of the trilogy should be aware that the first two remastered Ninja Gaidens are Sigma versions, that as far as I know slightly differ from the original ones. However, the third Ninja Gaiden is the Razor's Edge version, which can be considered as a full experience of the game. This should slightly help to balance the possible resentment the Sigma versions might cause. The Master Collection also includes a digital soundtrack and a bunch of digital art from the games, that can be used to savor the treats of this classic game series.