What happened to the Ninja Gaiden franchise? Back in 2004 when the franchise was revived, it felt like such a breath of fresh air. It was difficult, rewarding and original. The sequel may not have improved anything, but was still a fun addition to the series. Ninja Gaiden 3, the first game not directed by Tomonobu Itagaki, was also the first major fumble with repetitive enemies and design. For Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, instead of looking at what was wrong with that entry and improving upon it, Team Ninja, along with Spark Unlimited (Lost Planet 3) and Comcept (Might No. 9) decided to fumble the series even more with this joylessly repetitive and unrewarding game which proves that the series left the true tenants of the franchise behind a long time ago.
You play as the titular Yaiba, a never before seen ninja that bears a grudge against the hero of the series Ryu Hayabusa (for some reason), challenging him to a dual. After dying during the fight and losing an arm, Yaiba is revived by a mysterious organisation, given a robotic arm, and thrown into a zombie infested Russia, which Ryu is trying to save, giving Yaiba a chance for revenge.
The developers never felt that context was particularly that important for this game, leaving the player and even fans of the series, out in the cold. Who the hell is Yaiba? Why is he mad at Ryu? It can’t just be “challenging his strength” as he seems downright vindictive in his quest, willing to let Ryu’s innocent ward die just to make his death “better”. What’s with all the wacky zombies with colorful personalities? Why are there so many clowns?
While some of the questions are (kind of) answered by the end, it’s not a very entertaining tale. There is some mutterings about Compound 72 or something but I’d be lying if I said I ever cared.
The zombies themselves are something of a non-factor and don’t particularly change the game in any meaningful way. They simply exist as standard enemies that need to be defeated. There’s no worrying about infection, no melodrama about the end of the world or even any joy in fighting them from a gameplay standpoint (more on that later). Another issue with revolving your game around zombies is that ZOMBIES HAVE ALREADY BEEN IN NINJA GAIDEN. In at least the first game, you fight shifting, limbless zombies, some holding weapons, but zombies all the same. Having zombies be the unique selling point of this game just feels pointless and shows the lack of care put into this title.
To the game’s credit, it does try to include light-hearted characters to mach the bizarre goings on. Yaiba seems to love smashing up enemies, his sultry assistant with skimpy clothes and massive breasts (sigh) isn’t short a quip or two and the Spanish bad guy Del Gonzo who acts as your boss is perhaps the most fun to listen to, I certainly enjoyed him far more than Yaiba who just seems like a massive tool, and not in a cool way.
The game’s attempts at humour are largely misses. Zombies are occasionally funny in cutscenes, especially when you make them drive stuff and Del Gonzo is actually pretty fun when he becomes the Aztec God of death at the end (spoilers, I know, but I don’t really care). The banter between Yaiba and the assistant is standard boring stuff, but one joke revolving around her having sex with his dead body just came off as creepy and borderline rapey. There was only ever one time that I actually laughed however; that was when you kick disembodied legs in the balls. Yip. That’s right. That’s the only laugh.
Ninja Gaiden has never been applauded for it’s story, but there was at least a sense of style and uniqueness that hasn’t been there since arguably Ninja Gaiden 2. All this has been replaced by misguided attempts at raunchy humour and unrestrained adrenaline fuelled characters that fail to be entertaining and just become annoying. The Ninja Gaiden I once loved is dead and buried.
Even if the quality has fallen over the years, the gameplay has always still been fast and responsive with great game feel (a tacky phrase I know but it works here). Even Ninja Gaiden 3 still had (mostly) the gameplay we all know and love. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z on the other hand takes the sense of fast, powerful and fun action and throws it out the window in favour of a game that is both button mashingly simple and mind numbingly difficult at the same time. You don’t have the ability to control enemies with a swallow dive or have any reason to memorise combos for each situation, you simply go in and button mash. Maybe you’ll have to run from tougher enemies every so often but you’ll soon return to button mashing once their attack miss.
It is possible to utilise weapons to find enemy weak points (electric enemies are weak to fire attacks etc), but you rarely have the right weapon for the right time so the tactic is useless. Every so often weapon drops will be provided during tougher areas, but an inventory system would have made me much more mindful of it.
Complaining about a Ninja Gaiden game being hard sounds silly, but where games in the past asked you to become a better player, learn the game and reap the rewards, here you already know what to do, it’s just that some enemies can kill you in up to 3 hits and can take about 30 in return, therefore wading into groups of them is just asking for death.
Boss fights are just more of the same, big enemies with tough life-bars that can kill you in a few hits. The fights with Ryu are somewhat different, infact it felt like a breath of fresh air, but I still wouldn’t call it good.
I can totally see the appeal of playing as an overpowered badass who tears zombies apart with ease, but you aren’t overpowered at all. You simply mash buttons until the fall over. It starts of boring and ends up tedious and frustrating.
The game certainly isn’t helped by the music, which is mind-numbing, especially the menu theme which is some obnoxious repetitive techno beat that pretty much sums up the game. The cell-shaded graphics are nice enough but I found myself getting lost in crowds far too often, it’s just such a mess.
While this isn’t the worst game ever made, there isn’t a single thing worth recommending here. No fun to be had or laughs to enjoy. Play the original Ninja Gaiden again for a great action game. Let this game fade into the ether where it belongs.