A lot of franchises have recently been going through some changes. Maybe it’s a change-up in the overall game design or an entire facelift. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. It really does depend on who you ask. Ninja Gaiden, along with Tomb Raider, felt like the right candidate to get these changes made. Let’s focus on Ninja Gaiden for this review since this will be all about Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. I definitely thought Ninja Gaiden needed some drastic changes to the franchise. It didn’t help that Ninja Gaiden 3, even with the updated version, was not a well-loved game. It had some cool elements, but a majority of its gameplay felt stale to me. It doesn’t help that, in my opinion, the 3D games had a lot of flaws in terms of design and gameplay. It also hurts that we have seen much better action games than the 3D Ninja Gaiden games. Luckily, it was nice to see that the next game was going to be a little different. It had a new main character, it was going to have more colorful graphics, and it looked like it was going to take its over-the-top nature and increase it tenfold. How does the end product hold up? Well, let’s find out.
You play as Yaiba, the Ninja Slayer, voiced by Ian Gary. After getting into a fight with Ryu Hayabusa, voiced by Troy Baker, Yaiba ends up dead. I mean, you are going against Ryu Hayabusa, so I think you would be screwed. Anyway, Yaiba is then brought back to life as a cyborg ninja by Forge Industry. He is then put under the care of Miss Monday, voiced by Anastasia Baranova and her boss, Alarico del Gonzo, voiced by Tony Alvarez. They agree to help Yaiba take down Ryu Hayabusa. Yaiba is sent off to track down Yaiba and finish him off. Oh yeah, there is also this toxic chemical and a zombie outbreak because, you know, why not?
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is of course, an action game. You will be plowing your way through zombies of a couple of different varieties. Your main weapons will be your sword, your fist, and a chain-like item. Your sword attacks are your normal mode of offense, your punching attacks help break through guard-happy enemies, and the chain attack will hit a multitude of enemies, but won’t deal a whole lot of damage. The main gimmick to this game’s combat system is the elemental attacks you acquire as you play through the game. You will encounter enemies who use different elements or are a bit tougher. If you can pull off execution moves on them, you gain an additional attack. These additional attacks include an electric chain, nunchucks, a flame thrower, a rocket launcher, an acid attack, and a huge axe-like weapon made out of a shoulder blade and arm bone.
The tougher enemies will have different elemental weaknesses. You can hurt fire-wielding enemies with electricity (don’t ask me how that works) and acid-covered enemies will burn faster after getting hit with fire. If you pull off enough execution moves, you can unleash a berserker mode where you are invincible for a short amount of time, and can hack your way through the hordes of zombies you will encounter. Other than that, you have unlockable abilities, like new moves or stronger attacks for your elemental moves. Outside of the combat, you will find collectables to increase your resistance towards elemental damage and more health. When you beat the game, you get an arcade-style beat ‘em up mini-game. This is very cool if you love retro arcade beat ‘em ups. You will get about five or so hours out of the game with very little replay value. There are unlockable costumes, but the other costumes you could get from preorders might come at a later date.
The best thing about Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is the graphical presentation. It’s bright, colorful, very comic book-esque, and the game has some personality. Yaiba, while not the most well-made anti-hero around, has a good line here and there. The best story moments are some of the cutscenes, like when you get introduced to new enemies and when you solve certain puzzles. Some of my favorite cutscenes include when you throw a zombie into a steam roller and the zombie driving it tries to tell a zombie in front of it to move out of the way, or when a fire-breathing zombie burns to death and another zombie asks for someone to light his cigarette, or when you are introduced to the electrified female zombie bride and she gets mad that you killed all of her zombie guests. I love this since it gives the game personality, which more games could use if they are going to survive the market.
However, even with all the pretty graphics and personality within the game, everything else just falls flat. The game doesn’t just fall flat, it falls flat on the ground and breaks every bone in its face. Like I said, Yaiba is not a fantastic character. He has a great line here and there, but he is, for the most part, just boring and forgettable. The same goes with Ryu who is just there because who cares! Ryu only has like, three lines in the game, and Troy Baker sounds tired and bored with the character. Again, why didn’t you bring back Josh Keaton for this role? It doesn’t help that the overall story is a mess. It starts out as a revenge story, but that plot element gets thrown out the window for something even more generic. The main villain in this game is so bland, so clichéd, and so forgettable that I am surprised the person who created the character didn’t get fired for cheap simplistic writing. This character is obviously the worst villain I have seen this year. I ended up not caring for anyone in the story.
Man, I just realized that 2014 is filled with games that had stories and characters that I don’t care about. It doesn’t help either that the gameplay gets stale and boring. Instead of keeping said elemental abilities with you, you have to pick and choose which ability you want or else you are going to have to wait until you platform your way through to another fight. I feel like they wanted the combat to be strategic with what elemental ability you bring with you, but more than half the time, it doesn’t matter. Enemies become dull and repetitive as you go through the game; this is the same problem the last couple of games had. There is just nothing deep or complex about its combat system. There are barely any bosses, since enemies you encounter that are “boss-like” end up being mini-bosses later on. Even the big bad final boss is tedious. It obviously overstays its welcome. It seems like this game squanders every good idea it has. I mean, three freaking developers worked on this game. The three developers are Comcept, Spark Unlimited, and Tecmo Koei. You’re telling me that the almighty Keiji Inafune and his company that is also making the highly anticipated Mighty No. 9, were involved with this game? It feels like Inafune and his company were brought in for name value. Spark Unlimited is known for their work on one of my least disappointing games of last year, Lost Planet 3, and it seems like they were more focused on Lost Planet 3 than on this game. What about the music? I haven’t even talked about the music. That is because the music is forgettable and awful. You know what the worst part of the music is? It is composed by Grant Kirkhope. Yeah, the extremely talented composer known for many amazing soundtracks made the soundtrack to this game. He must have given terrible music to work with or something, because I am finding it hard to believe that he helped make such a lackluster soundtrack.
Final Verdict: Just download Mark of the Ninja
Unfortunately, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is not the change that the series needed. Sure, it might have a few good things about the overall design and experience, but to me, this is the first big disappointment of 2014. Even with the unlockable arcade mode when you beat the main game, it isn’t worth going through a monotonous single player campaign. There are so many flaws with this game that it boggles the mind that the game was released like this. I even consider this game to be this year’s Deadpool game.
At least with last year’s Deadpool, you had Nolan North’s fantastic portrayal of the character and a lot of funny writing to keep you going, whereas Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z has none. If you haven’t checked this game out already, I would only recommend renting it or waiting for a price drop to $15 or less. Maybe we need to either give Ninja Gaiden a few years to chill since the games have gotten worse after each release, or just seal the IP away and work on something new. I really wanted to like this game, but I feel like too many people worked on it. I think if you either let Tecmo Koei, Spark Unlimited or Comcept do the entire thing and not split it between them, we wouldn’t have this mess of a game. If you are looking for a great ninja game, just get Klei’s Mark of the Ninja. Check out Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z if you are a fan of the series, but if you aren’t, you can easily skip this game until a later date.