The life of a ninja is disappointing by definition. You get no rewards, no recognition, kill people for unknown reasons, and wear the burden of countless lives on your sleeve every day. It’s a good thing you don’t have sleeves in this game.
The combat in this game is crap. You’ve got a quick attack and a slow one, with a billion combos combining the two, and you’ll be mashing ZL to slide all around the fucking floor at the slightest whiff of an enemy attack. It is an absolute clusterfuck of contrary movement and over-reactions.
So is it a good game? Fuck YES. The combat is crap but FUN! This discrepancy makes Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge really interesting to me. I hate the combat, but the controls are good, and I think the gameplay overall is good with some fun interactions with the environment, great pacing and solid movement.
Something very important I have to state early in this review is that I got this game for $4. It was a random impulse buy with the coins in my wallet and exceeding my expectations was a very easy task. That said, I had a lot of fun and that’s worth talking about.
This is actual gameplay. You dive towards this plane using the analog stick and ZL to dodge its missiles, then land on it by pressing X to stab the pilots through metal. Once you’re positioned on the wing you have a mini-fight with a turret gun and break it apart after strafing around its bullets. As you approach the turret on the other wing, dudes with jetpacks and rocket launchers will somehow appear in the sky and surround you, forcing you to bring out your bow. You pick them off one-by-one while avoiding the second turret’s bullets, then finish the turret with a few decisive slashes. The plane is now unstable and before the plane explodes you start free-falling again only to land on a building. There are tons of “events” like this that just happen, and the controls are consistent so it’s always obvious what to do. B when you need to jump, ZL + forward when you’re sliding under something, and analog stick movement in the air.
So how is the combat part still fun? Almost every fight in this game is with swarms of different enemies at different ranges. An important gameplay priority is to take out these distant enemies, because they are PACKED with rocket launchers that can fire 6 homing rockets at once. Immediately when they show themselves, the close-range fight becomes about them. You need to find about 2 seconds of breathing room to pull out your own long-range bow, target them, and let off the shot before several rockets explode on your head or another enemy interrupts you. THAT is fun as fuck. Even with the most basic, dumb combat in the world it becomes interesting with multitasking and the sheer amount of action.
Razor’s Edge handles positioning really well with a very good camera that is not too common in 3D action games. I’m not talking about the player-controlled rotation, but the angle, distance and how the game handles action. It keeps all the right things on the screen. Apart from using your bow there is no “lock-on” during battle, instead you alternate between enemies just by tilting towards them and it feels very natural.
The graphics are absolutely astonishing to me. I had the false impression this was some low-budget effort, but it feels like a top tier game in the technical department. Blood is EVERYWHERE and I wouldn’t call it realistic, but they put a LOT of effort into the blood physics, appearance and animations. I can say this game is bloody good with accuracy, and not because I’m bloody Australian. It’s not just blood but every effect like explosions, sparks and enemy movement are all wildly expressive. The environments feel alive with great lightning and background movement, with enemies that enter the playable arena in creative ways.
To top it all off there’s a great use of colour, with randomly strong shades of blue, red, yellow, purple and orange in things that aren’t normally coloured like that, for example plates of metal. Why is that thing orange? Because it’s a videogame. This game is what I wished “AAA” games from big western studios actually looked like. Instead of obsessively detailed realism, there’s a huge effort put towards making things look awesome. You can spend 10 seconds running through an absurdly detailed area, and only get a moment to look around at countless structures. Sometimes I wished I could stay. The whole game is like an over-the-top dream from a visual standpoint.
I didn’t even expect this game to have a story, but it’s there and I enjoyed it a lot. The plot itself is ridiculous with all the usual topics you see in Japanese action games. Technology, DNA, worldwide conspiracy, corrupt science, the end of the world. It mixes so many topics but it also has an honest, personal side to it that avoids the pretentious trap in games like Metal Gear Solid. There’s a campy sincerity to the way the characters express themselves, with a heavy “atmosphere” coating every small thing.
The music is not bad, but pretty generic overall and I can’t recall a single melody. I do remember being hyped during the action and engaged in deep thought after some philosophical revelations, so it does a good job setting the mood. The sound effects however are NOTABLY fantastic. Not many games stick out in this area but the sounds make Razor’s Edge feel awesome. The clangs of metal in combat, the tearing of flesh, the fast footsteps, the enemy chatter. When someone said “FUCK YOOOOUUU” in one of my first battles it seriously felt like an old school-yard fight.
There’s one sound effect in this game I’ll never forget, and that is rain falling on shipping containers at the docks. It sounds so convincing that I was looking outside my window to see if it was raining. Surely it was? It was hard to tell at night, so I couldn’t confirm without a doubt. I adjusted the volume of my TV up and down, just to make sure that’s really where it was coming from. I don’t know how they made the rain sound so good but it was an uncanny experience for me. Those particular drops disappear in that same level when you aren’t near a shipping container, so it’s a great example of the game’s accuracy and attention to sound.
As I look back on my experience with this game, I realise it was pretty short. That’s normal for a game in this genre as you are meant to refine your craft over multiple playthroughs and higher difficulties. I did that in The Wonderful 101 but I’m not sure I can in this game. I bet there’s a ton of replay value in the difficult modes and score chasing, but I could not give a fuck about optimising the combat in Razor’s Edge. It’s just more furious dodging really and if there’s depth there, I wasn’t good enough to find it. There’s a move where you can just stand there and restore health and I don’t want to use it ever again. The game to me was short and sweet and I’m okay with that. I almost finished the game in one 6 hour sitting after I bought it, because I was just so surprised by how fun it was.
I think Razor’s Edge got unfairly reviewed and shat on during the Wii U launch, just because it was a mature exclusive like ZombiU and the traditional media saw it as a threat to their established biases. Razor’s Edge has its problems, but there is no way in hell someone can do a full playthrough of this game and say that it’s average. I have about 14 games from the Wii U launch now and they are all good, it was one hell of a launch. It’s sad that it took me 4 years to learn for myself that Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a good game. If you’re looking for deep fighting mechanics then I’m not sure you’ll find them here, but you’ll get an incredible action game with an entertaining story and fun gameplay.