The series was originally known as Ninja Ryukenden (忍者龍剣伝 Ninja Ryūkenden?, lit. "Legend of the Ninja Dragon Sword") in Japan. The word gaiden in the North American Ninja Gaiden title means "side-story" in Japanese, even though the Ninja Gaiden series is not a spinoff of a previous series. The original arcade title and early home instalments of the series were usually known as Shadow Warriors in the PAL regions.
The series gained popularity on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System for its tight action-platform gameplay and catchy music. It was also lauded for being one of the first console games to have the story presented in cinematic cutscenes. The 8-bit trilogy was enhanced for the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1995. A new game, simply titled Ninja Gaiden, was released in 2004 as a 3D action game on the Xbox, developed by Team Ninja (the makers of Dead or Alive). This release lead to a revitalization of the series, with many instalments since
- Further information: Ninja Gaiden (Arcade)
The arcade version of Ninja Gaiden (released in 1988 in North America and Europe, and 1989 in Japan) was a belts-crolling style beat 'em up, in which the player controls a blue ninja, as he travels to various regions of America (such as San Francisco, New Jersey and Las Vegas) to defeat an evil cult. The player has a variety of techniques, such as a flying neck throw and a back-flip. The player can obtain power-ups by throwing enemies into background objects, such as street lights and dumpsters. The player fights primarily with his bare hands, although a sword can also be used for a limited time as a power-up; he can also use environmental objects as a prop from which he can deliver more powerful kicking attacks. Although the game takes place in different environments, there are primarily only five kinds of enemies, all of which appear in every level (although some levels have extra enemy types). The game is mostly remembered for its infamous continue screen (where the player character is tied to the ground underneath a descending circular saw) and high difficulty due to its checkpoint system.
While the game itself bears little or no connection to the later NES trilogy or modern revival (although the modern games do feature the same flying neck throw from the arcade game), certain aspects of it were carried over to the first NES title. The first stage in the NES game is a loose adaptation of the first stage in the arcade game and the opening cutscene in the NES game vaguely resembles the intro in the arcade version. Both games also feature Jason Voorhees look-alikes and the final boss in the arcade game vaguely resembles Bloody Malth from the NES game.
An emulated version of the arcade game exists in Ninja Gaiden Black, as a bonus feature.
Ninja Gaiden (NES)Edit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden (NES)
The first Ninja Gaiden for NES was released in Japan on December 9, 1988, in the United States in March, 1989, and in Europe on August 15, 1991. A ninja named Ryu Hayabusa finds a letter by his recently missing father, Ken (Jô in the Japanese version), telling him to go to America and meet with an archaeologist Dr. Smith, Smith tells Ryu that two statues hidden by Ryu's father and the doctor have the power to end the world - if united. Ryu ends up in South America and battles Jaquio, the evil mastermind responsible for the attack on Jô Hayabusa.
The game introduced many of the series' staples, including the cinematic cutscenes, the boomerang-like Windmill Shuriken and the magical techniques called Ninja Arts (or Ninpo). Like many games in the series, it is noted for its difficulty (particularly the infamous Stage 6-2). Specifically, if you get to the final stage, you had three boss fights to complete the game; if you were killed during any of the boss fights, you were sent all the way back to the very start of the final round and had to fight your way back. To use the ninja arts, users had to collect power-ups. Each art used up a certain number of power-ups.
Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of ChaosEdit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos
In the sequel, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, Ryu learns of a new villain named Ashtar. Ryu must rescue Irene Lew, a former Central Intelligence Agency agent, from Ashtar and destroy the Dark Sword, a weapon of great power, forged from a bone of the demon (presumably the boss of the first game), as the Dragon Sword is forged from a fang of a dragon. In the end, Ryu learns that Jaquio has been reborn and is the real mastermind behind Ashtar and the Dark Sword.
This game was the first to feature Spirit Clones, invincible copies of Ryu which would mimic his movements and fight by his side. Also introduced was the ability to scale walls without the need to constantly jump upwards.
Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of DoomEdit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom
The third game, titled Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom and set between Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, has what some considered to be a rather convoluted and, at times, contradictory story featuring rogue secret agents, genetic engineering and the eponymous warship. The gameplay is largely unchanged and more is revealed about Foster, the CIA agent who sent Ryu after Jaquio in the first game and his true intentions towards the ninja. This game is often considered to be the most difficult of the original trilogy, as continues are limited this time.
New innovations in the third instalment included a sword extension power-up that increased the range of the player's attack until the end of the level or until death, new types of surfaces from which the player could hang, and automatically scrolling areas.
Ninja Gaiden TrilogyEdit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden Trilogy
Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (忍者龍剣伝 巴 Ninja Ryūkenden Tomoe?) is a 1995 Super Nintendo SNES collection featuring all three games. Few improvements were made, but passwords were included and the cinematic sequences were improved. The graphics were retouched and the soundtrack was updated. The third game was also made more playable by reverting the difficulty level to that of the Japanese version, with infinite continues and more reasonable damage from enemy attacks. Unfortunately, the ports suffered from slowdown, unresponsive controls and no credits. Some graphical changes were made that removed parallax scrolling from the backgrounds of the levels. Other graphical changes were made to comply with Nintendo's "Family Friendly" censorship policy at the time (i.e. a pool of blood changed from red to green, and the removal of pentagrams). Fans also complained about the omission of some music tracks (including removing two pieces of music from Ninja Gaiden III), and replacing any use of the first stage music in the Ninja Gaiden II cutscenes with a repeating footstep sound). Conversely, a degree of censorship was actually removed from certain parts of the script (for example, Jaquio's "Argh! He's awake" is replaced with "Damn, he's awake."), though the retooled scripts also featured new typographical errors not found in the original translations.
Ninja Gaiden ShadowEdit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden Shadow
Tecmo released a Game Boy version called Ninja Gaiden Shadow. It was actually a licensed edit of a proposed Shadow of the Ninja port by Natsume. Because of this, it differs slightly from the console versions, but is still fairly faithful. Taking place years before the original NES games, it stars Ryu fighting the evil Emperor Garuda in New York.
Ninja Gaiden XEdit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden X
Released in 2004 in Japan as Ninja Gaiden X, this cellphone game plays a direct prequel to the events of Ninja Gaiden for the NES. The controls are a bit floaty and awkward considering the input method was cellphone keys.
Sega, under license from Tecmo, developed three games but ultimately released only two: one for the Sega Master System and another for the Game Gear, both bearing the Ninja Gaiden title worldwide, marking the first time a game in the series was released with the Ninja Gaiden name worldwide.
Ninja Gaiden (Master System)Edit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden (Master System)
Released only in Europe and Brazil in 1992 for the Sega Master System, this game has similar looking and gameplay mechanics to the NES games, though it had faster gameplay and a few changes were made such as Ryu bouncing off walls instead of clinging to them. The game featured new storyline, characters and scenarios, not connected to any of the other Ninja Gaiden games.
The Dragon Village, home of the Dragon Clan and the ninja Ryu Hayabusa, has been brutally massacred. The last survivor of the village tells Ryu that the sacred Bushido has been stolen, a scroll with strong powers that allow control of the world. Ryu must embark on an adventure in order to regain the Sacred Scroll of Bushido from the hands of the Dark Samurai and his minions.
Ninja Gaiden (Game Gear)Edit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden (Game Gear)
Released in Japan, North America and Europe in 1991 for the Game Gear, this game was not very close to any of the other Ninja Gaiden games. It featured a smaller screen size, bigger character sprites, slower game speed, and unlike the NES and Master System games which were more oriented to platforming action, this was more a linear side-scrolling game in the likes of the Shinobi series.
As was the case with the other Ninja Gaiden games developed by Sega, it featured a storyline and characters which were not connected to the rest of the series. Ryu Hayabusa is pursued by certain enemies who try to steal his Dragon Sword, a blade which can be mind controlled by his ninja owner. Searching for answers, Ryu is embarked on a quest which ultimately will lead him to the responsible of the situation, the evil Siragane.
Ninja Gaiden (Beta) (Mega Drive)Edit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden (Mega Drive)
A Mega Drive/Genesis game was in development sometime in 1992. It was a belt-scrolling beat 'em up in the light of such games as Double Dragon, somewhat inspired by the original arcade game, but featuring different levels, a new storyline unrelated to the series, and the presence of cutscenes similar to the ones from NES trilogy and the other games developed by Sega. The plot, involved a trip of Ryu Hayabusa to the United States in a similar fashion to the one of the arcade, with some of the enemies from that game also returning, like the Jason Voorhees look-alikes.
The game was never released commercially due to poor development and bad pre-release critics. Many years later, a near finished version of the game was leaked online through emulation, having all the levels available for playing but also featuring programming bugs like odd moving controls and unfinished game sections.
There are also several other versions of the Ninja Gaiden games on other platforms.
The original Ninja Gaiden arcade game received several ports for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga and ZX Spectrum computers. The Amiga version in particular, retained almost all of the graphics and functionality of the original game, including the two-player cooperative gameplay and the introduction. All these versions, developed by Ocean Software, were only released in Europe as Shadow Warriors.
A PC port of the original Ninja Gaiden was also developed by Hi Tech Expressions, this time for its release in North America as Ninja Gaiden, as opposed to the other computer versions. However, it featured shoddy gameplay and a low, 16 colour palette at best.
There is also a port of the first NES Ninja Gaiden developed by Hudson for the PC Engine and released only in Japan, although the game features an unlockable English mode (with a different translation than the NES game). Other differences include enhanced graphics, reworked music and rebalanced difficulty.
Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos received computer ports developed by GameTek for the PC and the Commodore Amiga, both for their release in North America. They featured a 256 colour palette (32 on Amiga) and were translated faithfully (though animation and movement were choppier) and also offered a save-and-load function, where your exact position in the game could be saved at any given moment.
Lastly, the arcade game Ninja Gaiden and the NES game Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom, were both ported to the Atari Lynx handled system. The original title was a solid port of the arcade title and is a more sought-after title for the Lynx. Part III was a very-faithful port of the NES game and is virtually identical from beginning to end, albeit with a more distorted-sounding soundtrack and slightly-jumbled visuals due to the lower in-game video resolution.
Ninja Gaiden/Black/Sigma/Sigma PlusEdit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden (Xbox)
The series was revived after several years with the 2004 release of Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox. The title was developed over five years by developer Tomonobu Itagaki and his Team Ninja, and eventually released to high sales and critical acclaim. An upgraded edition with new content, modes and features came out the following year under the name Ninja Gaiden Black. Later, it was ported to the PlayStation 3 as Ninja Gaiden Sigma on July 3, 2007. The latter version has its graphics reworked to high definition standards, and Rachel as a playable character. Later on, in 2012 a new version of the game, titled Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus was released for the PlayStation Vita, adding new accessories and a new "Hero Mode" that works as an easier difficulty.
Since the main character, Ryu Hayabusa, is also a main character in Team Ninja's Dead or Alive fighting game series, The continuity has been adapted to fit more with the aforementioned Dead or Alive series. This is complemented by including Ayane as a supporting character to Ryu's quest. The main story of the game involves Ryu Hayabusa setting out on a quest to retrieve the Dark Dragon Blade from the hands of evil after most of his clan was wiped out.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon SwordEdit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword was released for the Nintendo DS in 2008. The game plays in 2.5d, a diagonal top-down view with 3D graphics, and the player needs to hold the Nintendo DS sideways, like a book. Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword is played using full potential of the stylus. This is the reason why Team Ninja chose to make the game for the Nintendo DS, instead of the PSP. The story is set six months after the event of 2004's Ninja Gaiden. 
Ninja Gaiden II/Sigma 2/Sigma 2 PlusEdit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden II
Ninja Gaiden II is the third game in the modern series and set two years after the events in Ninja Gaiden. It was published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360. Shortly afterwards, a new version for the PlayStation 3, titled Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 was released. This version included three new chapters, in which you played as Momiji, Rachel and Ayane and added a new projectile weapon, a new main weapon and co-operative missions. However this version also remove other things like three projectile weapons, excessive amounts of blood (replaced with a colourful flashes of light), and decreased the amounts of enemies at once but increased their health to compensate.
Later, in 2013, a new version of the game for the PlayStation Vita, titled Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, was released adding two new modes: Turbo and Race, and replacing Co-op Missions with Tag Missions.
Ninja Gaiden 3/Razor's EdgeEdit
- Main article: Ninja Gaiden 3
Tecmo Koei announced at the Tokyo Game Show 2010 in a closed-door event in September that they were currently developing Ninja Gaiden 3.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden ZEdit
- Main article: Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
Revealed in 2012 as a cooperation between Team Ninja, Spark Unlimited and COMCEPT's Keiji Inafune, this game is the first game in the series to explicitly not star Ryu Hayabusa, but instead stars Yaiba Kamikaze a ninja killed by Hayabusa. Even before release the game was criticized for its crude humour, and more simplistic gameplay.
- The regional differences between the Japanese and foreign editions of the Nintendo Entertainment System trilogy are minor. The Japanese version of the third game (Ninja Ryukenden III) featured a password system where the player could jump to each stage by inputting symbols based on the power-ups obtained in the game, and was also significantly easier than the US version, with reduced damage and infinite continues. The name of Ryu Hayabusa's father was changed from Joe to Ken in the US version, but was changed back in the later, modern, instalments.
- Ninja Gaiden series at MobyGames
- Ryu Hayabusa - The Japanese Chuck Norris' at Tha-D.com
- The Ninja Gaiden Homepage
- Ninja Gaiden at the Killer List of Videogames
- Defunct Games: Ninja Gaiden Review (Atari Lynx)
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