Ninja Gaiden 3 isn't a good as its predecessor. Just as Ninja Gaiden II wasn't as good as the first. But...
To really get this game feeling like some form of a NG title you need to play it right. And by right I mean on the hard difficulty setting, unless your a casual player. Also, I always recommend Jap. VO over the English VOs. I have only played this game in hard mode and don't plan on dropping down to normal, because I know normal mode is easy. Normal mode has always been easy in ALL the NGs in my opinion. As a Ninja Gaiden vet you owe it to yourself to play this one in hard mode.
The game opens up with a cool cinematic scene. Ryu rips off his mask (which in my minds eye is a Ninja's ultimate way of saying "SCREW YOU!") and plunges his sword through someone's torso, cutting through bones and all. Then you are prompted to walk to the edge of the sky scrapper, that all of this is taking place on, and plunge your sword into a giant enemy wielding what appears to be a giant Dragon Sword. You give this giant nemesis a huge middle finger and then the game really starts.
You are Ryu Hayabusa, protagonist and hero of all previous Ninja Gaiden titles. This time around he is looking cooler than ever and is ready to kill some more badies. The first stage starts you off with a command to leap off of the building you're on and plunge literally head first into the conflict below. As Ryu is "flying with style" through the air you're prompted to hit the Y button and plunge your sword into the unsuspecting target below. This immediately gets you in the mindset that this isn't the same Ninja Gaiden as before. This game does feature quick time events, also QTEs. I've never been a fan of these events outside of RE4 or God of War. But, they do add some cinematic flare to the combat and some of the cut-scenes. And typically, Ryu performs a pretty cool action when you input these QTEs. The combat does feel quite different than before (as did NGII from NG). Ryu starts committing brutalities with his blade, and it seems like it's out of your control. Once you get use to how different everything feels, from the flying swallow attack to the izuna drop, you realize that these brutal slashes Ryu is performing is the renewing of the executions from NGII. You perform them almost the same way. After you've "downed" a target (instead of dismembering that target) moving in close and pressing either the X or the Y button will cause Ryu to finish them off in a rather pissed off way.
These attacks look really cool and are more satisfying to pull off than they were in Ninja Gaiden II. (By the by, you only have a katana sword in this game to boot. Team Ninja has free DLC weapons coming that I know add the claws and the scythe from Ninja Gaiden II. I can't remember what the third weapon is they were adding. If you can't stand the katanas just be patient. They've got you covered soon.) During the first half of the game, while using the Dragon Sword or Jinran-Maru, Ryu will close in automatically on a "downed" target to perform the execution. You almost can complain about this, except that performing these executions help build up your ki gauge quicker. Which is extremely helpful because ninpo is handled differently in this game. You have your ki guage that builds with successive attacks. Once it's full, and only when it's full, can you perform a ninpo attack. You, unfortunately to some, only ever have the one ninpo attack. Granted, it's a big AOE attack that will ALMOST wipe out everything around you should you feel cornered, but you shouldn't view it as a terrible thing. It's really useful, and much like Street Fighter's super gauge, you better use it or lose it. The gauge doesn't stay charged once combat subsides. This, in a way, plays off tactically because the only way you can heal yourself in Ninja Gaiden 3 mid-combat is by using this ninpo attack. And should combat end before you used it, your health replenishes much the same way it did in Ninja Gaiden II, however not quite as much, and whatever ki gauge is left adds a little bit onto your health gauge.
The best time to use ninpo is when a ton of enemies are on screen. Which happens a lot on hard mode. You will find yourself being killed repeatedly should you fail to use your tools correctly. And these enemy encounters usually last for a while. I don't know how long they last in normal mode, but in hard mode be prepared to fight intensely. In Ninja Gaiden I could counter-attack most everything that came my way. In Ninja Gaiden II all I had to do was jump away from enemies, land into a ult. tech. charge and let Ryu do all the hacking and slashing himself. You can't really spam either of these in Ninja Gaiden 3 (not to say NG3 is better than both of them, more on that later). Counter-attacking in Ninja Gaiden 3 feels about as weak as it did in Ninja Gaiden II. There were so many attacks that would hit through my guard, and so many attacks happening at once, that I didn't see the point in risking attempting them. The same pretty much applies here in Ninja Gaiden 3. The game handles ultimate techniques in about the same way as it does the ki gauge. With enough killings your sword starts burning red, when this happens you can hold the Y button to charge your attack. When you release Ryu will instantly kill three (seemingly random) enemies within your combat zone, doing a ninja-esque teleport and cut style attack. It looks really cool and it gets the job done. Later in the game, events take place, and you get upgraded from killing three targets with this to five. And that number varies to a lower set depending on the toughness of the target killed by the technique. It balances out.
The story this time around is the best it's ever been for a Ninja Gaiden title. The original Ninja Gaiden on the NES was the first game ever to have had cinematic cut-scenes to tell its story. Ninja Gaiden 3 finally embraces this fact, and presents its story in some pretty interesting cut-scenes. It wont win any awards for originality, but you get to experience more of Ryu's heart in this time, and his new curse. During a few combat moments in the game Ryu will suddenly be interrupted by this curse and be in intense pain. It pretty much keeps him grounded for the time it lasts, and you get a sense that Ryu is suffering really bad from this. The new villain is intriguing, primarily because he, in a way, he reminds me of V from V for Vendetta... but in an evil way. You'll draw your own conclusions about that, this was just me. You'll find yourself becoming pretty close with a couple of figures from the story, mainly a little girl name Canna. I found myself really caring that nothing happened to her.
The only thing I really don't like about the story are the voices cast to deliver the lines. Again, Ninja Gaiden has never done this well. But, simply changing the language to Japanese and setting subtitles on fixes this. Ryu's original voice actor has been replaced in this one, and I really did not care for it personally. Good news is that the Japanese actor for Ryu, the one I was used to hearing, is still the same. All in all, the story isn't bad for this just being an intense action game through and through.
Ninja Gaiden 3 has a more fleshed out online mode this time. You have your trials to play (solo or with a friend) as with previous Ninja Gaiden titles, but there are death match modes this time. Now, I've only played with the trials, which have been a lot of fun. I was able to level up several times and unlock some new customizable features for my ninja, as well as new moves and techniques. Basically you are training your ninja to operate at Ryu Hayabusa's level. If you want an in-depth review of all the online features you will have to look to a different review. I'm not much for online competition.
I have really talked this game up despite all the negative reviews it has been receiving. I have gone into detail about all the features I've really enjoyed in this game. It's not without it's flaws. One minor combat feature I miss was being able to do an air jump off an enemy, onto a wall, and ending things with a flying cicada slash. In Ninja Gaiden 3 you can jump off an enemy, but you cannot immediately land on the wall to do a cicada slash. In fact, I find myself doing a lot less wall related attacking in this Ninja Gaiden than what I've done in the past. My general strategy for all Ninja Gaidens is to stay off the ground as much as possible. And without certain abilities being there, this tactic becomes almost a chore to complete. So, I don't do it often here, and I hate that is has to be like that. I also do not like that I cannot run and doing the rolling shuriken throw that I've always been able to do. But, I've simply forgiven these things and moved on.
Another thing that most will not like, though I actually really liked it, is the fact that you do absolutely no upgrading at all of any kind in this Ninja Gaiden. You have a katana, a ninpo spell, and a health bar, now do work! The game says. Ryu is just as powerful at the end as he is at the beginning. I like it like that because that means you must rely on skill more than upgrades to get things done. But, on the flip side, I see how people really wouldn't like this.
And last but not least the camera. Sure, the camera has had it's problems since Ninja Gaiden. Heck, most 3rd person adventure games suffer from the same issue. But, the biggest screw up in this game, one that I still can't wrap my head around, one that is so absurdly annoying to me I want to puke when I think about it, is the fact that the center camera button is on the right bumper key now instead of the right trigger THAT IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN ON SINCE NINJA GAIDEN FOR XBOX (RELEASED IN 2004)! It's incredibly minor, but it drives me absolutely CRAZY!
Ninja Gaiden 3 is a good game. It by no means is the best in the series. If you ask me, I will always tell you that Ninja Gaiden Black in the best in the series. And no other game has ever come close to accomplishing what Ninja Gaiden Black has for action/adventure games. It is my golden standard of what an action/adventure game should be. Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden II, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 did not live up to its standard and neither has 3. Is that a bad thing? No. It's just that it's hard to improve on a game that had almost no room for improvement.
Overall, Ninja Gaiden 3 (when played as it should be) is a good game. It doesn't have some features from the previous titles, but it does add some in there in other places. Do not fret if you're a long time Ninja Gaiden fan as myself. This is still a good Ninja Gaiden, just not as good as those before it. Tomonobu Itagaki wouldn't be pleased with it, but I'll settle since there is no chance he will be making a Ninja Gaiden ever again (unfortunately). My verdict is if your a fan, get it. It will tide you over. It will have DLC soon, and hopefully it will be supported for a while. I've had more fun with it than I thought I would, and you will too. Don't let all these incredibly pessimistic reviews cloud your vision. A true ninja wouldn't let that happen.
Sword on Bone your way through @7.5/10