Ninjas. Masters of stealth. Experts in the silent kill. The ninja is one of most recognizable figures in pop culture. From movies to music to cartoons, the ninja has always been shown to possess incredible combat prowess and mystic powers. In video games, ninja do awesome stuff like fight of demons, military soldiers and wield magical sword made from dragon fangs. You catching on yet? DevilDriver1313 here to take you “On the NXT LVL” with a Flashback Friday look at the NES classic (and one of the hardest games ever made) the original Ninja Gaiden series.
The Sega Master System had its own Ninja Gaiden game but that doesn’t not compare to the trilogy on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The first Ninja Gaiden follows Ryu Hayabusa, the next heir to the Hayabusa Clan, who finds a letter by his recently missing father, Ken Hayabusa (notice the reference) telling him to go to America and meet with the archaeologist Walter Smith. Smith tells Ryu that two statues hidden by him and Ken have the power to end the world – if they were united. Ryu tracks the statues to South America and battles Jaquio, an evil cult leader bent on reviving the ancient demon called “Jashin” and responsible for the attack on Ken Hayabusa. Yep, Ninja Gaiden did a Street Fighter reference. Ryu’s adventures continue in Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos. Ryu discovers a new villain named Ashtar who is the master of Jaquio. Ashtar is attempting to use the Dark Sword, a powerful weapon forged from the bone of a demon, to spread chaos across the world. Along the way to stop Ashtar, Ryu must rescue former CIA agent Irene Lew and defeat a resurrected Jaquio. The third game, Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (a title that Steven Spielberg might’ve had a hand in) reveals more about CIA Agent Foster who sent Ryu after Jaquio in the first game and his true intentions for the ninja.
Ninja Gaiden is noted for its difficulty. Levels were challenging especially later in the game where they became down right impassable. Throughout the game, you fight against rogue ninjas, those annoying eagles and Jason Voorhees look-alikes complete with mechanic’s outfit and machetes. Ryu can use ninja arts (Ninpo) such as the Fire Wheel and Windmill Shuriken. These had limited uses. The ninjas were a nuisance but those dang eagles were outright P.I.T.A. They’d swoop down from above and knock Ryu back like three character lengths and this would always happen near a ledge or a ladder. And forget about the platforming areas, those little buggers would knock Ryu into a chasm without warning. I know there are a lot of us who rage quit over this. The later levels of the first game were insane. Remember the infamous 6-2 level? Dear lord, was that stage hard as balls or what?! I don’t know too many people who ended that game on the third or even fourth go-around. And the boss fight with Jaquio was ridiculous. The only weak point was the star-shaped crest on his chest. The Fire Wheel helped in this but once it ran out, out had better have some serious ninja skills. However, the difficulty was toned down slightly for Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos. The challenge was still there but enemies were not as persistent except for the darn eagles that love to knock Ryu into chasms. Seriously, I was sick of those things. New power-ups and abilities appear in the sequel. Dark Sword of Chaos introduced the Shadow Clone power up which allowed Ryu to split himself into two to attack more enemies. He also gains the ability to climb walls without triangle jumping to ascend or use specified locations. The sequel also hosted one of the longest boss fights in an action title at the time. The final boss fight against Jaquio was divided into three stages. I recall having to be near perfect on the first two stages in order to survive the third stage of battle since there were no breaks in between.
Though the first game featured challenging levels and the sequel featured an over the top boss battle, they were cake-walks compared to the insane difficulty of the third game “The Ancient Ship of Doom.” Set between the events of the first and second titles, Ryu faces a new horde of enemies which break from the tradition of the previous entries. He has to take on rouge agents, bio-creatures and deadly mechanizations. Hardly any ninja or other enemies from before appear in this title. Gameplay is more challenging with Ryu losing two life points instead of one for each hit taken. With sixteen total life points, this means Ryu is dead after eight or less hits. That’s the same as a freaking boss character. “Ancient Ship” was made more challenging in the States release than Japan’s version of the game. Hey, I know we like a challenge but holy Hannah! Ninja Gaiden III was flippin’ hard. I don’t even think I made it half way through the game before I was getting my butt handed to me on a silver dining cart. (Hell, I don’t even think I made a quarter of the way through now that I think about it.)
All in all, the original Ninja Gaiden trilogy was a great series that many older gamers still recall to this day. Besides the challenging levels, it was also a series of firsts. Ninja Gaiden was the first game to use cinematic cutscenes to tell the story. The series was also the first to be released as a collection with the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy for SNES in 1995. And it was the first game to rip off names from Street Fighter. The games were added as a bonus in Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox in 2004. The character Ryu Hayabusa has become of the most well-known characters in gaming, having been introduced as a playable character in Dead or Alive in 1996. Ryu Hayabusa returned in a new “Ninja Gaiden” series in 2004, proving that more than one Ryu can be an icon.
Ninja Gaiden full play through
Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos gameplay
Ninja Gaiden III: Ancient Ship of Doom gameplay
Until til next time, I’ll see you “On the NXT LVL!”