Once Upon a Time, I Was Good at Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is here. I’ll admit I’ve been eagerly waiting for this game, mostly to relive some childhood memories. I had a fantastic time playing Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 back on the PlayStation 3, and I even owned the Vita exclusive Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus for a while. Also, there’s the third game in the series which I’ve never played and always wanted to despite hearing that it’s less than stellar. It was a win-win situation for me, right?

I am on chapter 3 of the original Ninja Gaiden. I am getting my ass kicked. I haven’t even touched 2 or 3 yet.

If you’re looking for a direct port of Ninja Gaiden Sigma that keeps all the things you loved about the game, this is that. I was actually shocked by how nice the game looked, despite being an updated port of an updated port of an original Xbox title that launched in 2004. The opening chapters take place in a ninja village, filled with blooming trees and other ninjas that you’ll kill, splattering their blood all over said blooming trees. It’s not just that it looks good, but it genuinely feels exactly like the kind of setting a ninja drama should be taking place in.

Well, a hilariously dumb ninja drama. It’s hard to take Ninja Gaiden Sigma‘s opening moments seriously. The game’s first cutscene is main character Ryu Hayabusa jumping out of a tree and killing a ninja with absolutely no context. You then violently murder a bunch of random ninjas before you find their boss, who serves as the game’s first boss fight. Beat him, and the following cutscene has him and Ryu being friends, because it turns out they’re actually family and Ryu was coming over to hang out with him. Which means, retroactively, Ryu just murdered a ton of his own clanmates so he could say hi to his uncle. Shortly after an evil samurai kills Ryu’s girlfriend and steals the super evil dark dragon sword, so Ryu goes on a quest to get it back. It’s pure nonsense, but at least entertaining nonsense.

But really, I imagine most people are here to partake in difficult ninja battles. Back when I was 14, the perfect age to obsessively replay a video game over and over again, I could beat the entirety of Ninja Gaiden Sigma‘s first few levels without being hit at all. Now I can barely beat the first boss. Part of this is because the game’s controls are kind of awkward. A lot of the time it requires you to be pointing the left stick in a specific direction while attacking, usually relevant to where an enemy is. However, you have to be very precise on this one. A great example is a jumping slash, which saw me zip past enemies while dealing tons of damage to them. Point in even just the slightly wrong direction, and instead I just uselessly slam to the ground.

Get it right? There is absolutely no feeling like getting combat right. When everything falls into place, when you get your combo perfect and watch Ryu and his opponents in a deadly dance. One encounter saw me dive at someone, decapitate them, run someone else through before kicking them away, then closing the distance with someone by nailing them with several shuriken before hitting them with a combo. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Just, you know, I’m not very good at these sorts of things anymore. I remember being to pull this off with ease. Now I’m happy if I manage to escape an encounter losing only some of my health. I can throw excuses at the game all I want, but here’s the truth: I’m just not good at Ninja Gaiden anymore. Maybe I can get good again, and I’m having enough fun with the game that I’m more than willing to put that effort in. Just, you know, it’s a process.

Like I said before, I still haven’t touched Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 or Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. I know I always liked 2 more than the original game and I’m really excited to play it again. I have fond memories of a totally random boss fight against the Statute of Liberty which is then followed by hunting four-armed werewolves in Italy. I’ve never played 3 before so that’ll probably be fun as well, even if it’s supposed to be the weakest game in the series by far (well, besides the forgotten Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, but the less said about that the better.)

However, I refuse to play any of those before I finish the original game again. At the rate this is going, I may be here a while.

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