Ninja Gaiden is an action-adventure game for the original Xbox video game console. Team Ninja developed the game for five years before Tecmo released it in 2004. It breaks away from the older Ninja Gaiden series for the Nintendo Entertainment System, starting off a whole new story. It has received much critical acclaim, with several publications proclaiming it one of the best and most difficult video games ever made, inducting it into their Halls of Fame.
Ninja Gaiden marked the first foray into the third-person, three-dimensional action-adventure market for the Ninja Gaiden series. Taking place in Japan and the fictional country of Vigoor, the game follows the ninja, Ryu Hayabusa as he fights hordes of enemies in a variety of environments to retrieve the stolen Dark Dragon Blade. Microsoft held an online tournament for it shortly after its release. The qualifiers played over Xbox Live established record-breaking participation, and culminated in the finalists having their showdown at the Tokyo Game Show 2004.
The game mechanics of Ninja Gaiden have gradually evolved through downloadable contents and two re-releases, Hurricane Packs 1 and 2, Ninja Gaiden Black for the Xbox in 2005, and Ninja Gaiden Sigma for the PlayStation 3 in 2007 and Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. Its saga is continued in Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword on the Nintendo DS, and further on in Ninja Gaiden II on the Xbox 360.
The game takes place within a single game world in which most of its game locations are connected in a continuous manner. Although the game world is loaded in stages, reviewers have called the load times negligible. The city of Tairon functions as a hub world, a central connection linking other areas to each other. The connections between new regions in each chapter are mostly linear paths going through points of interest. Enemy encounters populate these points and along the paths. Dragon busts scattered in the regions serve as save points. The player controls Ryu Hayabusa, guiding him in a third-person view, fighting foes and exploring the environment of the 3D world. Except for a few situations dictated by the story, Ryu is unrestrained in his exploration, running through the streets, jumping and running up and along walls, and swinging from pole to pole.
Ninja Gaiden's standard game mode, Story Mode, follows the pacing of the typical action-adventure game, where the protagonist starts off weak at the beginning of the story and can be built up to have a larger life bar, more powerful weapons and magical ability through items or purchases, by the end of it. The player's performance in this mode is based purely on the karma score, with "Master Ninja" as the highest rank, and "Ninja Dog" as the lowest.
Another gaming experience was Master Ninja Tournament, where players could upload their karma scores to Xbox Live upon completing the game. Team Ninja released two content packages known as the Hurricane packs. The first Hurricane pack added two costumes, new enemies and a new move known as the intercept technique. The second Hurricane pack added a series of missions the player fought through phases of enemies.
Reviewers have praised Ninja Gaiden having one of the deeper combat engines for an Xbox game, and the smooth interaction and responsiveness of its controls. The control uses a control stick, two melee attack buttons, a projectile attack button, a jump button and block button. With this the player is able to make Ryu block, dodge and attack with ease. God of War lead combat engine designer, Eric Williams, explained the combat engine of Ninja Gaiden prohibits players from stopping or changing attacks in mid-stroke. Once they have committed to an attack, they can only change their plans when their attack has hit or missed. Compared to God of War which allows players to cancel and change attacks anytime; and Devil May Cry which grants this freedom to certain attacks; Ninja Gaiden is a more difficult combat system to master but sets up a fair playing field for the player.
There are many weapons for the player to choose from. The light swords, such as the Dragon Sword and Kitetsu, allow Ryu to perform quick attacks; the Flying Swallow, a high speed leaping slash cutting through foes; and his signature Izuna Drop, an aerial spinning piledriver smashing foes into the ground. Heavy weapons, such as the Dabilahro, are slow but powerful. Flails and staves let Ryu string together long sequences of combo attacks. Shurikens and arrows make up the rest of his arsenal, allowing the player to hurt foes at a distance. The player has two defense options for Ryu. Firstly, Ryu can stand still and block attacks. Certain enemies, however, can grab him or deliver powerful attacks which break his guard. The second option is for the player to make Ryu dodge attacks by rolling in a maneuver called "reverse wind".
Essences are an important part of the gameplay. They are colored globes of energy released when enemies die; and serve as power-ups when Ryu steps near them by healing, restoring magic power or increasing his cash. The player, however, can actively pull essences into Ryu to unleash powerful attacks known as ultimate techniques. Each weapon has a unique technique; and besides dealing heavy damage to foes caught in them, ultimate techniques grant Ryu immunity to damage while they are active. In later versions of Ninja Gaiden, these techniques award karma points, making them an integral part of high scoring play.
Lastly, the player can make Ryu cast ninpos such as fireballs, ice storms or bolts of lightning. These spells function in a similar manner to the bombs of shooter action games, allowing players to inflict heavy damage on enemies while avoiding damage from their attacks. Itagaki, however, was not totally satisfied with the visual effects for ninpo attacks. As such, he intended to discourage players from using ninpo by giving a score bonus if they clear a stage without using ninpo.
The Intercept technique added through the Hurricane Pack allowed players to negate damage by blocking just as an attack is about to land. A blue flash appears to signify that the move was done correctly, it is even able to cancel damage done by rockets, tank shells, fireballs and thrown pillars. In addition to negating damage it also allowed Ryu to instantly absorb essence for an instant Ultimate Technique.
Plot and settingEdit
Ninja Gaiden takes place in the same fictional setting as Tecmo's fighting game series Dead or Alive and features characters from the fighting game. Its game world comprises fictional locations in Japan and the fictional Vigoor Empire in Asia. For the Japanese locations, the ninja fortress and the Hayabusa village are designed with Heian period architecture set in the mountains. The art style of the Vigoor Empire blends a variety of real world cultural influences. The city of Tairon comprises European structures, and has Arabic letterings on several of its gates. The monastery bears the looks of Gothic architecture with its large spacious hall, and multiple levels of windows and archways. The hidden underground level carries the influence of ancient Egypt with its sand-colored round pillars and cat-headed statues, whereas an Aztecan-styled pyramid is located before a labyrinth. The hodgepodge of cultures in Ninja Gaiden is a result of Itagaki's desire to throw in everything that he wanted to create.
- Main article: List of Ninja Gaiden characters
The protagonist of Ninja Gaiden is super ninja, Ryu Hayabusa. Ryu has a long history with Tecmo, starring in the old Ninja Gaiden series in the 1980–90s and joining the Dead or Alive roster since its first game in 1996. These appearances have made him popular among the gaming industry. He is by the voluptuous Rachel, the relationship between her and the Greater Fiends serves as a plot device to move the story.
The player faces a variety of enemies in the game. Itagaki preferred to create monsters which are not humanoid in appearance, saying he gets more ideas from thinking up something not human. Hence, the bulk of enemies are non-human creatures called fiends who were humans transformed into monsters by a curse of their blood. Among them, three Greater Fiends play more significant roles in the story, Rachel's sister, Alma; the primary antagonist, Doku; and the guardian to the Emperor of the fiends, Marbus.
Team Ninja paid attention to detail when it came to creating the 3D computer models for the game; they studied human anatomy to create realistic skeletal and muscle structures for the characters. Hayashi also said the pistols of the henchman, Gamov, are modeled on real-world handguns. Although Team Ninja has motion captured the moves of martial artists, they did not directly used the captured animations in the game. Instead, the animators used the captured animations as references, and added their own ideas to animate the characters. Players can customize the appearance of their characters by changing their costume.
The story of Ninja Gaiden takes place two years before the first Dead or Alive game, and is mainly delivered through cut scenes at the start and end of each chapter. The player starts taking control of Ryu to infiltrate the Shadow clan ninja fortress and visit its clan leader, Murai, who is also Ryu's uncle. During the visit, the female ninja Ayane delivers news of a raid on the Hayabusa village through a cut scene. Ryu fights his way back to his village, and encounters Doku who has taken the Dark Dragon Blade and killed Kureha, the Hayabusa shrine maiden. The first part of the story ends with a cut scene of Doku cutting down Ryu with the Blade. The scene ends with a falcon, the Hayabusa's spiritual animal, watching over Ryu's fallen body.
The story continues with the falcon bringing back Ryu to life offscreen. Ryu prepares for his quest at the ninja fortress where Murai tells him the raiding party was from the Vigoor Empire. Ryu stows aboard a Zeppelin to begin his vengeance on the leaders of the Vigoor Empire. Ayane performs as a guide throughout the game, informing the player of the next objective and tips to handle situations. Ryu fights through the streets of Tairon, cutting down those who stand in his way. Most of the characters encountered are enemies, with no other interaction option except to fight. However, the swordsmith, Muramasa provides a shop for the player to purchase and upgrade items, and dispenses back-stories, quests, and hints; he tells Ryu to locate the Dragon Eye jewel back at the Hayabusa village to upgrade the Dragon Sword to its full potential. The Fiend Hunter, Rachel, offers expositions and serves as the occasional damsel in distress.
The player faces several bosses in Ryu's rampage through Tairon. Most of them are giant non-human fiends, and the humanoid bosses include the three Greater Fiends. Ryu first defeats Greater Fiend Alma in a battle which wrecks the city. However, the two sisters' fate are entwined with Lord of the Greater Fiends Doku, and he captures Rachel to sacrifice her. Ryu rescues Rachel, and destroys Doku's spirit in a showdown in a labyrinth. Doku, however, casts the blood curse on Ryu with his last breath. Ryu battles through the palace to lift the curse. He kills the Holy Vigoor Emperor's guardian, the last Greater Fiend Marbus; and enters the gates to the Emperor's personal realm. The player has to clear two successive boss fights to destroy the Emperor. The realm starts to collapse with the Emperor's death, and the player has to navigate Ryu up a series of ledges to escape.
Ryu loses his grip on the recovered Dark Dragon Blade in his escape, and it lands at the feet of the Dark Disciple who has been shadowing Ryu throughout the story. The Disciple picks up the Blade and unmasks himself as Murai. He admits to planning the entire scheme to restore the Blade's evil power with souls harnessed from Ryu's quest of vengeance. Ryu overcomes the dark power enhanced Murai in the final boss fight. In the last cut scene, he shatters the Dark Dragon Blade with the True Dragon Sword; and after stating "it's over...", turns himself into a falcon and flies back to the Hayabusa village. Ryu places the Dragon Eye back on Kureha's tombstone before disappearing into the night. The story of Ninja Gaiden continues on in Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword, and further on in Ninja Gaiden II, after that the retroactive story is then continued by the NES series: Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom, and Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos.