The 2004 Original Xbox version of Ninja Gaiden will always hold a special place in my heart. I was too young to experience the Nintendo Entertainment System classics when they were released in the very late 80s and early 90s. I also never owned a SEGA system until the Dreamcast either. So this rebirth of the series became my first entry into Ninja Gaiden. At the time, the visuals were impressive, but the memorable part of the game is certainly the combat. From the moment you are dropped into that first level and you hear the sound of the Dragon Sword slash into an enemy and then hear the clang of an opposing sword after a sweet block, it all just clicks from there. Ninja Gaiden is a stalwart of the action genre that was the hallmark for difficulty before Dark Souls came and took up that mantle. Featuring close-range third-person combat, limited healing items, and excruciating boss fights. It was a game that you had to learn how to play, to truly master it. Although I never officially “beat the game” back then, It was so satisfying to play that I would keep coming back for more.
So when rumors of a Ninja Gaiden Master Collection started popping up I was excited for many others to get to enjoy that experience. However, once it was revealed that Koei Tecmo or Team Ninja could not recover the code for the original game, or its better version with the added DLC, Ninja Gaiden Black or even the maybe not equally as great, but still pretty good sequel Ninja Gaiden II, I became a bit downtrodden because it left the development team with some limited lesser options. So, what actually is in this Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is not the best possible versions of the first two titles, but rather versions that look good and play well but also include content that perhaps was better left in the past. At least it includes the best version of Ninja Gaiden 3, but that’s not saying a lot honestly.
Ninja Gaiden Master Collection: Two Great Games And One Not Good One in a Shined Up Port Package
Title: Ninja Gaiden Master Collection
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One [Reviewed]
Genre: Action Game
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: June 10, 2021
Let’s Get on With It
I danced around it in the introduction, but before proceeding any further I should probably lay out what this Ninja Gaiden Master Collection actually is. First of all, this is not a collection in a traditional sense as all three games download as separate files and appear separately in your game library with no connection to each other at all. Also, the standard version of the “collection” gets you no special extras. You have to buy the Digital Deluxe Edition to get an art book and soundtrack for $10, which is utterly baffling. At least most of the DLC is included for all three games, so that’s a plus. The other major pluses are that all three games run at a smooth 60 FPS and do go to 4K, so regardless of the number of enemies on screen the game never dips or loses quality. However, for those that like to play games with friends either in local form or in online play, there is nothing for you here. All of the online multiplayer or co-op modes that were added to the Sigma or Razor’s Edge versions of these games have not been brought over to the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection. So this is a singleplayer only deal.
Changes, Changes, and More Changes
The first Ninja Gaiden game is actually the PlayStation 3 Sigma version. Although it does introduce extra characters, new bosses, mission modes, an easier difficulty, better graphics, new weapons, costumes, and other minutiae. There are also cutscenes and content that have been removed too. One positive is they do add more save points, which were sometimes very few and far between in the original version. However, the most damning thing about Ninja Gaiden Sigma is the addition of Rachel as a playable character in three chapters. Unlike the main character Ryu Hayabusa, who is nimble, has various weapons and attacks at his disposal, and just fits the game in general. Rachel is slow, only has one weapon, a very limited move set, and treads the same levels as Ryu does as well. So you wind up seeing a lot of the same locales twice and do so in a much less enjoyable way. Rachel absolutely feels shoehorned into the game and her chapters are also introduced well after you’ve gotten used to playing as Ryu. So not only is it annoying to play as this character, but it is also extremely jarring and brings the game down too.
Ninja Gaiden II is also a PlayStation 3 Sigma version and includes a lot of the same things that I said in the first sentence for Ninja Gaiden Sigma as well. Sadly, the team also added some extra chapters with not only Rachel, but also Ayane (Yes, the same Ayane from the Dead or Alive series), and Momiji. Also, unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden II Sigma is the game that’s most affected by critical changes from its original Xbox 360 counterpart. The most obvious is the increase in health on enemies and the number of enemies that were removed overall in exchange for better graphical quality. Anyone that goes from playing the first Ninja Gaiden to this game will instantly notice the removal of puzzles, keys, and purple coloring on the limbs. In an effort to make the game appeal to a broader audience the amount of gore was scaled back and the game was streamlined into more of a pure action title.
Finally, this version of Ninja Gaiden 3 is an upgraded version that was made for the Wii U called Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge that includes all of the game’s DLC and some improvements such as removing some of the button mashing, bringing back limb removal, adding weapons, and having a technique upgrade system.
How They Play: Ninja Gaiden Sigma
Putting the annoying chapters with Rachel and easier overall difficulty aside, Ninja Gaiden Sigma captures the essence of what made the original game such a wonderful experience. The action is super smooth, Ryu has so many attacks and weapons to dispose of the throng of enemies that will appear throughout each level, (although there aren’t as many as in the original game), and the bosses are still these grand events that give you such satisfaction in defeating them. Although the nostalgia googles certainly wear off quickly in other aspects that certainly show the age of the original game. There is some loading that happens at random times which is quite odd. Especially, when you consider the power of these modern systems. The camera also has moments where it becomes an issue and attacks can happen off-screen. There is no lock-on option, but at least there is a camera reset button. This is just one of those “sign of the times” things that you can’t really avoid.
The game does contain puzzles, hidden collectibles, shops, and other things to find when exploring the area, which is sadly removed in the other two titles. It provides a nice break in the constant onslaught and allows for you to experience the world that Ryu is trying his darndest to protect. Considering there are many different types of locations in the first Ninja Gaiden, it is certainly a welcome sight. Although I do wish the original game had a way to quickly figure out the correct path (which is in the other two games,) as exploration can lead to getting lost. Especially when you need to unlock a certain thing to keep progressing.
Overall though, there is a lot to love about the original Ninja Gaiden game. The weapons are just so satisfying to use and Ryu is just such a badass that you’ll want to keep going through the game’s many chapters. From a pure action standpoint, it is still one of the best titles to experience for anyone that loves the Devil May Cry series.
How They Play: Ninja Gaiden Sigma II
Once again putting those silly extra chapters aside, Ninja Gaiden Sigma II is an enjoyable game that I probably spent the most time with, out of the three that are on offer. I love that from the outset Ryu has a lot of his attacks at the ready. It feels like a continuation of the first game and plays extremely well. If you are a pure action fan, this may be the one that appeals to you the most because it removes all of the extra elements that make up a Ninja Gaiden title and just pushes the fights to the forefront. The problem with the game is the beefing up of the regular enemies becomes a total pain. There are so many times where it feels like “this guy should be dead already.” So it forces you to constantly interrupt combos to use the finishing attack to make sure they are out of the way. Especially because enemies also have the ability to self implode even while missing limbs. Speaking of, the limb removal system adds some cool moments where Ryu can just slice and dice, as literal pieces of enemies just come off like swiss cheese. But I still preferred the system of NJ Gaiden 1 much better. I hated feeling like I was just obliterating various dudes, only for them to keep coming at me, because I was merely only cutting off limbs.
Ninja Gaiden II also changes the way damage is dealt, as your health bar just gets smaller and smaller instead of seeing pieces of it go down as Ryu is hit. If you are able to come away still standing, the health bar then gives back some health depending on how much you lost in that particular encounter. Although it seems weird at first, eventually it becomes second nature to understand that health isn’t always what it seems. This is also made less of an issue because save points heal Ryu as well. Another cool thing is Essence being available for Ryu to just absorb and gives him an extra oomph when it is needed for that finisher or special maneuver.
Mostly, I like Ninja Gaiden II a lot and from an action standpoint, it is on a similar level to its predecessor. However, I did miss the exploration, finding keys, and solving puzzles that is in the first game. Not to mention, the back half of the game feels rushed and not as though out as the first half of the chapters. For those reasons, along with the aforementioned enemy damage issues, I still find Ninja Gaiden to be a better overall game. Luckily, thanks to backwards compatibility, anyone that has either an Xbox One or Xbox Series system, for the same price as the entire Ninja Gaiden Master Collection, you could actually purchase the original Ninja Gaiden Black and original Ninja Gaiden II and totally not worry about playing this last title that I’m required to cover. However, if you only game on PC or the other systems you are kinda out of luck here.
How They Play: Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge
For some reason, this game had to bear the Ninja Gaiden name. Honestly, I really wish it didn’t, because it mightily tarnishes the first two titles and it won’t take very long for anyone that plays through one of the first two games to realize why I say that. To be fair, I should note that Ninja Gaiden 3 was made without director Tomonobu Itagaki and the new team in charge decided to take the story and series in a new super flashy direction. However, this direction fails at actually evolving the series and is truly a tale of what can go wrong when you try to add things to something that’s already firmly established.
Essentially what makes up the bulk of Ninja Gaiden 3 is taking Ryu Hayabusa, unmasking him, and placing him into a Call of Duty. Yes, this creates a gigantic spectacle of everything that makes up the ninja archetype but it just does not coalesce with the series at all. It felt totally weird to go through stealth sections, and although it is vastly improved in Razor’s Edge, the Kunai Climb is still clunky to use, and having dudes with rocket launchers in every single encounter is quite frankly unnecessary. They added bombast for the sake of it, not because it actually made the game better. Yes, this was also a “sign of the times,” but the running sequences where you have to use QTEs are also just awkward as well. I get that this game has its fans, and that’s totally fine, but everything aside from the combat just did not vibe with me at all. It’s understandable why it needed to be included in the collection, but my recommendation is to just forget about this game and move along.
This collection was reviewed using a digital code provided by the publisher (Koei Tecmo).
At a base level, the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection does contain two very good to great games. They are also shined up to 4K and 60 FPS as well. But it also the bare minimum of what you would expect when someone announces that a collection of games is being brought to modern consoles and PC. As far as a recommendation goes, if you are a fan of action games or do not have access to the original versions of Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II this is a decent way to experience them. But just know that you are buying lesser versions of those games and forget that the title “collection” is even a thing because you can barely call this one.