Monday, December 8, 2014

#GamingBucketList: The Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (NES)

Three of the NES' best offerings in everything that it does. An awesome series that at the time was revolutionary in its action, gameplay and storytelling and has since changed how games are approached & created. However, these 3 games are not without their special flaws and faults which in turn makes them special and fondly remembered for better or worse. This GBL is going to be a bit different because these are 3 games that I could explain to you but to me there's something organic about the experience in 2014 that's a ride that needs to be taken at least once in full. My job here today is to take a look at what these 3 games have to offer and really take a look at what would've made these games even greater then and more legendary and playable now.

Before we start though a very important thing you need to know and understand.

The above and also their inclusion in Ninja Gaiden (XBOX) isn't the proper way to experience these games. Now the versions in the Trilogy do fix some small problems especially in comparison to the US version of NG3 and adding the password system for all 3 games but it butchers everything else in translation on top of not fixing some major things that were wrong in the NES games to begin with. So avoid at all costs especially in 2014 where you can easily get the NES games on the eShop.

Now that you know that you should never play Ninja Gaiden Trilogy for any reason let's get to the gritty of the matter.

What's right and what's so wrong with these 3 games?

The one thing I can say is that in the design of the 3 there's a lot of ebb and flow. Each game in the series does what its supposed to do. 1 laid the foundation and 2 & 3 improve on the original concept while trying to be its own independent entity in which all the games do wonderfully well and in a game series such as this that's all you can really ask for.

For all the games do to innovate they're held back by horrible design decisions that don't hold it back for the admiration they've received and continue to but when looked at in the year 2014 stick out like a sore thumb.

THE horrible design decision that is on trial here is...balance! In one way or another each game does something or multiple things that upset this balance which lead to horrible gameplay experiences.

The biggie that all 3 games share is how enemies work and how Ryu works in those confines.

With 1 & 2 you have some questionable and I mean QUESTIONABLE enemy placement, respawning enemies & Ryu's horrible knockback when hit which all combine for lots of frustration until you learn how to work around these things. Yeah, I'll mention just for the sake of mentioning it is that why in NG1 does a bullet do 1 point of damage but a hawk flying at you at high speed does 3? They at least adjusted the hawk damage to 1 in NG2 but there was no way I was going to talk about these games and not mention that hawk.

2 did add the ability to climb up the sides of most surfaces and being able to use Ninja Powers while doing so didn't leave Ryu so defenseless in those situations and made having a 1 sided wall jump as a part of your advanced tricks less of a must but still great to have anyhow.

3 sees to the majority of all these problems especially the whole knockback issue which is godsend except in trade for non-respawing enemies is that there are a whole lot more of them instead. You also can hang on and cross certain ledges as well (Shouts to Shadow of the Ninja but actually Ninja Gaiden Arcade did it as well just so you know.) which does help in your offensive approach to either sneak by or get the jump on enemies.

When it comes to how Ryu fights back is that trilogy goes on a vision quest to find the right balance but I don't know if it actually works out.

1 I believe started on the right path with what you had available and in keeping the cost of of using Ninja Powers low even though you could stock 99 Ninja Points is that you'd never find enough pickups at any given time in an Act to take advantage of this fact because you were too busy using them because of the onslaught of QUESTIONABLY placed & respawning enemies. 1's only fault was how the Invincible Fire Wheel was handled. While being an awesome powerup is that you gave up a whole lot for 8 seconds of invincibility because not only do you give up your current Ninja Power to use it but if you didn't make it to where you were going or picked one up when you didn't mean to is that it could put you in a real bad spot. 6-2, I'm talking to you here!

2 added the Fire Dragon Balls which while having their use is in my honest view should've been an additional use of the Art of the Fire Wheel so you didn't have choose to whether you wanted have a Ninja Power that shot up or down at an angle; Shadow Clones which some people say break the balance of some boss fights but as in Highschool DxD having a balance breaker in game like this one isn't such a bad thing. Also given the fact that in order to even use the Shadow Clones to even break those fights takes proper positioning of the Shadow Clones and in some cases having the correct Ninja Power and enough Ninja Points to cheese the boss to even make it work that way. Shadow Clones are very helpful and proper use of them will see you to the end though.

When it comes to the Ninja Powers from the transition from 1 to 2 is that the normal & Windmill Shuriken now cost 5 & 10 Ninja Points & the Art of the Fire Wheel now costs 8 and so do the Fire Dragon Balls for the record. The Invincible Fire Wheel is now a normal Ninja Power that can be collected and used at will. It's still a great Ninja Power to have even at 15 Ninja Points a use but the duration is 5 seconds instead 8. The balance of Ninja Powers in this game seem to be that while Ninja Powers cost a tad bit more is that Ninja Points are a lot more plentiful in trade and come in either 10 point or full refill pickups instead of the more common 5 and less common 10 in part 1. Also, instead of having a hard max at 99 is that you start at 40 but in every Act except 1 and 2 in Act 7 is you can find secret scrolls that raise your total Ninja Points by 10 which as you get further in the game help to make sure you have what you need to make it through the tougher sections. A big change from 1 to 2 is the fact that not only do you start every life with a Shuriken so you're not without a Ninja Power and if you so happen to die is your Ninja Points are no longer cut in half which does help a bit if you have a bunch of Ninja Points upon death is you'll have use of the Shuriken if you so need to during a hard section on that next life. Continuing does start you with 10 Ninja Points upon restart which even then should be just as helpful in a tough room starting fresh.

3 while keeping most of 2's conventions dropped the Shadow Clones and the regular Shuriken so now you start every life with the Windmill Shuriken instead. The Invincible Fire Wheel now costs 20 Ninja Points for 4 seconds of invincibility making it a bit less potent this go around. You also have a new Ninja Power in the Art of the Vacuum Wave which given the placement of some enemies mainly when you're hanging on something is very, very helpful. The 2 major changes are that now you can see what's inside a Dragon Spirit Crystal before you hit it which is a hugely welcome change of not knowing at all or having to memorize what's where like the previous games and there's also a power up for the Dragon Sword that increases its range and power which is very helpful for clearing paths and keeping Ryu a bit more out of harm's way in situations that call of careful spacing.

The one thing I've always praised the series upon when it comes to balance is how the time allotted per Scene, checkpoints and continues are handled.

When it comes to checkpoints is that you'd always start at the part of the Act at the Scene & screen in which you died unless that death was at the hands of the boss which would send you back to the last screen of the Scene before the boss. Using a continue would send you back to the first screen of the Scene in which you died which I've always believed was fair and encouraged players to give it another go without losing too much progress in not only the game itself but in learning the game inside and out.

NG1 is famous for 6-4/5 for which I now understand is a programming error seeing as somebody almost fixed the checkpoint marker but somehow broke the game in process. The side of the story that doesn't get told is that if you make it 6-4 and defeat one of the bosses or 6-5 is that the game does remember that you have so you don't have to fight that boss again. When you think about it in that context and seeing as it wasn't fixed in Trilogy is that going back to 6-1 upon death in 6-4/5 may have been intentional and not some glitch. Hopefully whomever was working on that patch finishes it because that would change how people enjoy and perceive the game as a whole with that being fixed. You could always just save state at the beginning of 6-3 and give yourself an artificial checkpoint that way if you choose.

2 fixes this and you can take huge advantage of that fact to beef yourself between the final battles by picking up additional Scrolls to increase your Ninja Points.

3 stays the course except for the fact that each individual Scene no longer has its own timer so what becomes a thing in this game in later stages is making it to a boss with no time to fight it on the life you made it there on which is weird in and of itself.

However, the US/Trilogy versions of NG3 buck everything that came before it by not only sending you back to the beginning of a Scene no matter what screen you died in but limiting you to 5 continues as well. This from my own personal understanding had a lot to do with the climate of gaming back then.

Once Upon a Time there was place called Blockbuster Video where you could rent a game for 3 to 5 days and in order to keep people from beating games in one go is that games were altered to increase difficulty which was supposed to encourage actual retail purchases of said games but instead may have had the inverse effect instead.

In 3's case, Ryu took more damage from enemy attacks, item placement was altered and the password system was taken out as well.

Because we live in 2014 is that you have options to deal with this. My suggestion is just to play the Japanese version which is the answer in a lot of cases to be honest. In that case you can do what most people do is YouTube the cutscenes between Acts so not to miss a beat. If having the game in English but having most of what the Japanese version offered outside of the Ninja Points & Dragon Spirit Crystal placements is you can patch a NG3 rom WITH THIS and have at it that way. Humongous shouts to MottZilla for the hard work it took to get those features back in there! Awesome, awesome work!

That is this series laid to bare but what does it all mean though?

For me, getting this from experiences to thoughts and then to you is that I can see what would've made a Ninja Gaiden 4 THE 16-Bit Ninja Action Experience! I honestly think 3 was on the ball for the most part and would've been a great foundation for it. That game would have to up the ante because for its time Tecmo Theater was revolutionary. That's not to say there weren't story scenes in games but the Ninja Gaiden series showed what you could do and thankfully gaming never turned back from that. All the game needed to do was follow up on 3 in a way that was challenging but balanced and with 3 damn near doing that is it wouldn't have taken much. What could've been!

When I think about the 16-Bit era and the Ninja games within it is that Shinobi took the ball and ran with it. The Revenge of Shinobi & Shinobi 3 are 2 of the best Genesis games point blank period. I will though take the time to shout out a not widely known SNES game in Hagane: The Final Conflict that I really feel was that game that brought that Shinobi feel to the SNES. The game is a must play and it's a damn shame it isn't on the eShop because I would love nothing more for more people to experience that game in a legal way but that's a Konami issue so I wouldn't bet on seeing it anytime soon.

Regardless, I do urge you to spend some time with it and while you're out go pick up 3D Shinobi 3 on 3DS. M2 worked hard to bring you every game in that lineup, put all their love and soul in it too and that deserves to be rewarded by them for doing it and you for getting an opportunity to experience a classic like Shinobi 3 in a brand new way!

We all know what happened next. Itagaki reintroduced Ryu back to the masses in Dead or Alive which lead to some of the best character action games ever seen and if somebody has an NG1 XBOX Intercept save they'd wish to share with everybody else then please do so!

For better or worse the NES Ninja Gaiden Trilogy changed the game in everything that it did and those revolutionary things are still seen and felt in games even right now and that's something that can't be denied no matter how much you try!

It feels so good to get another GBL out there. It has been way too long since the last one but I got the gaming bug and it lead to this for you so I can't be mad at that!

You know what to do next and I expect you do it as soon as possible! I do nothing more but provide the map but it'll always be up to you to take that first step and the following ones on your journey!

Until next time!

-Triple Da G.O.D!

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