I remember when I was much younger, watching adverts of Ninja Gaiden Sigma on television for the PlayStation 3 and wishing I could somehow have the means of playing it. This was at a time where I did not even own a PlayStation 2, let alone dream of playing Ryu Hayabusa’s saga. Now, however, with the advancements of technology and consoles, KOEI TECMO is bringing the whole ninja trilogy back in one single package, for the benefit of those who, like me, never had the means to play them.
Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is the collection of the three mainline Ninja Gaiden games following Ryu Hayabusa’s story, and it is releasing on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Steam, giving plenty of people the chance to try out this great collection on a variety of consoles. Despite the games being a trilogy, they all follow the events of each other but they do not act as a continuation of one single story, but three different tales all following each other.
Having all three titles in one collection re-released together with Ninja Gaiden Master Collection lets you appreciate all the changes which happen from one game to the next, and be able to realize which changes have improved the game – and those which unfortunately have not.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma, the first title of the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection, puts you immediately into action, fending for yourself an attack from other enemy ninjas. This first level serves as a tutorial as you slowly learn the controls and the basic movements of the title, yet your enemies will still seek your blood, so taking it easy is not an option. Sigma is a pure slasher, where you need to cut your opponent before they cut you, plain and simple.
Your arsenal slowly starts to grow, starting with the Dragon Blade and acquiring more weapons and techniques as you progress the story. These techniques are called Ninpo, and are activated by pressing Y and B buttons on an Xbox controller. These Ninpo techniques can be lifesavers at times, but the problem is that there are not many opportunities to use them unless you purchase the consumables to restore, as red essence needed to restore Ninpo charges are quite rare.
This arsenal of weapons can be upgraded through the blacksmith, an option in shops where you can spend your currency to boost the strength of one of your weapons, once per visit. The upgrade system in Ninja Gaiden is quite an interesting one, if not convenient at least – your most upgraded weapon can only be one rank better than the next in your army, meaning you cannot keep upgrading a single weapon on and on. The decision is surely one to force weapon variety in the game, and considering how fun all the weapons are, it is not a bad one by all means.
The general flow of the game is quite good, with missions of varying length and plenty of boss fights setting up a very interesting tempo to the game. Boss fights in Ninja Gaiden Sigma are quite tough but have a nostalgic touch as they are all about figuring out the attack patterns and striking whenever you find an opening.
The second title of the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 then picks up after the events of the first game, with very obvious graphical enhancements which are even more evident in the remaster. Some features are much more polished in the second title, namely the combo system which now includes much more straight-forward executions. These finishing moves, which are the most fun part of a very solid combat experience, can be triggered by pressing Y after any limb has been separated from an enemy’s body.
There are plenty of animations for these executions, and these differ from weapon to weapon and also from character to character, meaning an incredible variety of finishing animations are present in the game.
Another great change from the first to the second game is the items menu, which now also pauses the game to let you choose carefully your options. This menu, triggered by pressing down on the controller, enables players to either use a consumable item – which can be a small healing item, a medium healing item, or a Ninpo restoring item – or changing the weapon currently equipped. Saving points also heal Ryu to full HP, making sure you will not find yourself with 30% health going into boss fights, which made these encounters in the first title very tedious and frustrating to face.
The HP system was also changed for the second title, with a portion of the bar showing red as the permanent damage, which slowly increases as you continue take damage. The first instance of healing will stop up until the red bar, so you will need to use two items to remove the red bar as a whole. It is a welcome change as it makes healing items more precious, but at the same time makes players use them with more caution than before.
The upgrade system remains pretty much the same, and although there are more weapons than the first title, you will have more occasions to upgrade them to the max given the generous number of blacksmith statues littering the various levels in the game. Unlike Sigma, you don’t spend any currency on upgrading your weapons, so you have more resources for buying healing items, therefore making the permanent damage change a little less significant in the grand scheme of things.
All of this brings us to the last game in the collection, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 3: Razor’s Edge. For some reason, some of the best features from the second game did not make it into the third title, leaving a feeling of confusion and wondering what could have been if these were kept in the third game. By all means the game still feels very much Ninja Gaiden to its core, but some features from the second title would have lifted it to even greater heights.
First of all, the permanent red life subtraction was removed from the HP bar, and while not a big change it felt like you had to manage your health in Sigma 2, while in 3 you simply try to survive through the hordes of enemies coming your way to then heal up when the waves end. Ninpo in 3 also recharges by killing enemies and not through the use of consumables, and while this change makes for a good idea on paper, it does not translate well in practice as the Ninpo gain from one kill is minimal, resulting in only one to two Ninpo uses for each set of enemies faced, which can feature a large number of enemy soldiers.
Executions are back in Sigma 3 but it is far less clear when you have grievously wounded an enemy soldier, as in the previous title the severed limb flashed but in Razor’s Edge you need to pay extra attention to see more blood spilling from the wounds to realize you can finish off an enemy. In this game however you can chain executions together if you manage to dodge a red attack, which is a more powerful enemy attack.
Dodging and striking at the right time can chain together executions to rid yourself of a number of enemies in quick succession, also making for an awesome looking transition as your blade glides from enemy to enemy leaving blood and death in its wake.
The targeting in Sigma 3 feels worse than the one of its predecessor, which is weird as you would think games would improve on this mechanic. The lack of a lock-on, which was one of the worst flaws of the series ever since the first game has always been felt in honesty, but the second title made it not as bad. The third iteration however cancels the improvements of the second game, making for a tedious fight both against your enemies and against the camera.
Air attacks are just as bad – you need to face the direction you are attacking, as otherwise you will simply slash the air and give your back to enemy soldiers, and in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 3, they are quite unforgiving.
An excellent addition to Sigma 3 however is the Ninja Skills tree, which unlike the previous games in the series actually lets players decide the upgrades Ryu will get, and not magically obtain them from a scroll lying on the ground. Ryu will still learn important techniques through story progression, namely Ninpo for example, but the less key abilities are up to the player to spend Karma upon. This Skills Tree also gives the Karma earnt an aim, after being only a scoreboard for players for two whole games. There are separate skills available for both Ryu’s abilities and for Ninpo, allowing you to empower whichever of your abilities you wish.
Graphically, Sigma 3 looks gorgeous and KOEI TECMO’s remaster really brings out its beauty in HD. Smoke and reflections are done exceptionally well, and sneaking behind an enemy rarely felt as satisfying, considering Ryu almost disappears from vision while doing so. These stealth kills are one of Sigma 3′s highlights, and a much welcome addition to a series that, after all, is about these stealthy assassins.
The charge attack in Sigma 3 is animated so much better, as you can clearly see the blade ripping enemies open one after the other. A new mechanic added to Sigma 3, Blood Rage, is triggered after killing a certain number of enemies, and keeping it active will increase a modifier which boosts the amount of Karma earned from slashing opponents. Blood Rage can instead be used in the charge attack, which will be much more powerful but will end all bonus opportunity to earn extra Karma.
Ninja Gaiden Master Collection overall thoughts
The Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is quite a large amount of content, and although priced as one full game, it contains pretty much three. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 took a great formula in the first game and made huge improvements to its basic components like swordplay and targeting system (which is quite frustrating in 1) and added even more great features like the ones mentioned above and reached a peak for the franchise.
Unfortunately, Razor’s Edge, for some reason reverts some of these changes and while still delivering that high octane, ninja slashing experience, it feels a downgrade considering how fun Sigma 2 is. That said, all three games in the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection are incredibly fun, and is compiled in one single collection is an amazing price for hours upon hours of vintage hack and slash action.