Gaiden is pronounced guy-den. According to IanOji, this word can translate as "foreign telegram" or "message from beyond." pfft tells me:

While that word is also pronounced "gaiden", the title screen shows it written in kanji, which makes the intended meaning unambigious. According to EDICT, 'our' gaiden means "side story, anectode"; it seems to mean a small story about the same characters as a longer epic, but outside the main narrative. It should be noted that "ninja gaiden" is the American title. In the original Japanese the game was called "ninja ryuukenden" (ninja dragon-sword legend). Presumably, that was judged too difficult to pronounce for English-speakers... The chosen title may have been inspired by the more logically named "Final Fantasy Gaiden".

Video game released for the Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom* gaming consoles in 1989 by Tecmo. The game has achieved a somewhat memorable status amongst old school gamers - probably because it was one of the first games with cut scenes between levels (on a side note, is it some sort of requirement that every Nintendo game with these have a villain say "ha, ha, ha, ha" every couple levels?) and also allowed the player to be a l33t ninja. This game was l33t in pre-l33t years. Ninja! Hiiiiiii-YA!

Um, yes. There wasn't any l33t sp34k but uh, anyway...

In Ninja Gaiden the player is Ryu Hayabusa, son of a ninja father (Ken Hayabusa) killed in a duel. In a note left by said l33t ninja dad, young Ryu is instructed take the family sword and go to America to meet a Dr. Walter Smith (who, despite his uncommonly common name, Ryu seems to have no problem finding). Along the way (after the first level), Ryu ends up captured (then escaping) and in possession of a mysterious statue. See, Ryu is getting attacked by all these weird people along the way. Eventually, we find out why! Apparently, the statue Ryu obtain, when combined with a similar statue, and placed on an altar somewhere deep in the Amazon rainforest, summons forth a powerful demon that does lots of bad things like killing people and breaking stuff. Bad, you know.

The game showed Ryu in a 2D world that would scroll to the left or right, depending on which way the character was moved. The primary weapon was Ryu's sword and the secondary weapons were the...

  • Shuriken - Ninja stars. Little circular things with points that get thrown at things that get cut up by them. The weakest of the secondary weapons but handy nonetheless.
  • Windmill Shuriken - A stronger version of the shuriken that attempts to return to its thrower (except when thrown at bosses). If the player dodges the windmill shuriken as it's returning, it can hit enemies behind the player as well before attempting to return again.
  • Art of the Fire Wheel - This weapon sent a stream of fireballs upwards diagonally from the player, killing anything (but bosses) in its path.
  • Jump and Slash - This causes Ryu to swing his sword around as he's jumping, therefore doing damage to enemies he hits in mid-jump without having to hit the attack button.
  • Invincible Fire Wheel - Creates a wheel of fire around Ryu for a limited time, protecting him from harm and damaging anything it touches.
In addition to these there were also various power-ups that increased the ninja's health or the game score. The secondary weapons were used by pressing up and B at the same time (B alone was the normal sword attack and A was jump).

Unfortunately, as the game progresses it tends to get really obnoxious. At first it's rather fun, running around killing all these guys with Ryu's sword and such, but eventually in an effort to make the game harder the designers decided to just throw irritating amounts of enemies on the screen at the same time. So while trying to jump over a pit which falling in would result in death, one must deal with things like an enemy shooting in Ryu's direction (horizontally only though) and standing in the way of a safe landing, a bat flying in a somewhat zig-zag pattern at Ryu, and some hawk (or similar creature) flying around with the intent of colliding with the ninja. Then, if the player manages not to fall into the pit, some guy that I think is supposed to be a soldier but looks more like a (American) football player in the 8-bit graphics, will come running at the ninja from off-screen in an attempt to knock him back into the pit. Admittedly, there really isn't much else to be done to increase the game's difficulty as it went on but that doesn't mean this wasn't annoying.

Nevertheless, the game is quite addicting and fun (for the first few levels at least). There are six acts, as the game calls them, which each contain several levels. Ultimately Ryu must defeat the horrible demon contained within the statues (of course), as well as an evil warlock that has brought them together called The Jaquio, and six weaker bosses that can be defeated by using one of the two following strategies:

  • Keep hitting the boss creature before it manages to bring the player's health down too far
  • Hit the boss creature as much as possible without getting hit, then climb a nearby wall for safety until the creature can be hit again.
There's some variations on these strategies that should be used for a couple bosses but overall this will do. Having recently played the game again on an emulator, I found the most difficult part getting use to how a NES-style controller would be setup again.

The game went on to spawn two sequels. I haven't played much of the sequels but from what experience I do have with them, they just seem to get progressively more obnoxious quicker. The original seems to be the most enjoyable. The three games were packaged together on the same cartridge and released for Super Nintendo in later years. The game was also ported to the Gameboy, Game Gear, Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, and the PC (possibly only in Japan for the PC though I haven't been able to confirm this).

Game Credits**:
Story: Sakurazaki
Screenplay: Sakurazaki, Faw
Image Illustrations: Runmaru
Art Works: Runmaru, Parco, Uma, Naga, Wild Tagou, Niwakamaru
Program Works: Madoka Southernami, Masita
Assistant: Nosuke
NES Translator: Kevin and Daniel
Sound Design: More Yamasan, B.B, Hakase
Director: Sakurazaki

*TheBooBooKitty says re Ninja Gaiden: YOU KNOW, *cough* - This was an arcade game first. But it was terrible. I own it, it is truly bad.

**These are taken from screenshots at http://www.geocities.com/lsteele42/NGaiden1/credits/credits.html. I no longer have the actual Ninja Gaiden game cartridge (or even an NES to play it on) nor anything that came with it. In the game full names weren't given in the credits so if anyone can fill me in on the missing parts of the names above, that would be great.

Title: Ninja Gaiden
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo
Date Published: 3/2/2004
Platforms: Xbox
ESRB Rating: Mature, for animated blood and gore.

Yes, we all remember it. Ninja Gaiden, the classic trilogy for the NES that epitomized everything we loved about thumb-wrecking action games. But Ryu Hayabasa, living proof of the truth in the law of inverse ninjas, has been conspicously absent except for appearances in the Dead or Alive series for the past thirteen years now. It is long past time for a revamp of this long-favored character, but is Team Ninja up to the lofty challenge left behind by the classic Ninja Gaiden games?

In a word: Fuck yes!

Story

Possible spoilers

Ryu Hayabasa is a member of the Dragon Clan of ninjas, charged with protecting certain items of great power. These items are the Dragon Sword, the Dragon's Eye, and the Dark Dragon Sword. The game begins with Hayabasa's trek to a school in the mountains. Once there, his village is attacked. He rushes back to find his clan slaughtered, and he is then badly wounded in a vicious battle by a man who has stolen the Dark Dragon Sword. After some time spent healing, Ryu hops an airship and mounts a one-ninja assault on the Vigoorian Empire, who he discovered was reponsible for the attack and the deaths of his brethren.

Poor Vigoorians...

Gameplay

Before we get started on the rest of the gameplay, one thing needs to be said.

This game is bloody hard.

Tomonobu Itagaki is reported to have said during the development of this game that he did not want there to be an "easy" mode. There isn't. It says that there is a normal mode, but that is a bit of a misnomer. Normal is hard, Hard is bloody hard, and on the unlockable Very Hard mode Team Ninja sends a black van full of jackbooted thugs to your house who beat the everloving hell out of you before you even get to play the first level. This game is designed to challenge skillful, experienced gamers, and it certainly shows.

In Ninja Gaiden: Black, the expansion pack released over Xbox Live and later in stores, a mode was added called "Ninja Dog", which is the closest thing to "Easy mode" this game allows. However, you can't just walk in and select it. First, you must die three times on the first level, demonstrating your need through applied suckage. Then you are offered an option window which asks "Do you choose to abandon the way of the Ninja?" Choosing "Yes" to this brings up another window that asks "Are you sure?" Choosing yes to this brings up yet another window which asks "Are you really sure?". This begins a cut scene which shows Ayane walking up to Ryu's body lying on the ground, derisively referring to him as a 'young ninja', and stating that she had greatly overestimated him. She then throws a kunai at his feet and walks away in disgust. You are then instructed to save, and you officially begin Ninja Dog mode.

There is, however, one last catch - when the game resumes, Ayane gives you a gift, and instructs you to wear it at all times.

The gift is a pinkish/purple armband with a trailing ribbon. You are indeed forced to wear it for the rest of the game.

All talk about difficulty aside, Team Ninja has created an absolutely stunning game, masterfully blending action/adventure and Prince of Persia style platforming to create a truly FUN gameplay experience.

Ryu is a joy to control, moving with grace and agility at a touch of the controls. The game uses a system that alters his movements based on his surroundings. For example, jumping straight at a wall will cause him to run up it, while jumping at an angle at a wall will execute a wall run. His repertoire of acrobatics is impressive. One of the first techniques you will need to learn is how to roll and jump to avoid enemy attacks. He may triangle jump between walls to reach high areas, and the wall run technique is essential. Ryu can even leap from a wall run onto another perpendicular wall, continuing from there, which turns any small enough room into a convenient spiral staircase.

Combat is visually stunning, as Ryu's combat abilities are nothing short of superhuman. I will go ahead and give you the first commandment of effective combat in this game: Thou shalt not button-mash. Trust me, it just doesn't work.

Combat is executed using a variety of weapons, each of them suited for specific tasks.

  • Dragon Sword - Fast and powerful, probably the best weapon overall.
  • Nunchaku - Good for stringing together large combos, but not very powerful at all.
  • Vigoorian Flail - Like the nunchaku, but with large blades attached. This weapon looks like it may be even more painful than swordchucks, yo.
  • Dabilahro - This sword looks remarkably like Cloud's Buster Sword from FFVII. Slow, but powerful.
  • Warhammer - Good for bashing down cracked walls, and not much else.
  • Spear Gun - For some reason this is listed under melee weapons. Really only good for shooting things underwater.
  • Kitetsu - This no-dachi slowly drains your life, but you can suck life from enemies with it. One of the more powerful weapons.
  • Wooden Sword - The weakest weapon in the game. It has few combos, and does next to no damage. If you upgrade it enough, though, you get...
  • Unlabored Flawlessness - This is the fully-maxed out version of the wooden sword. It looks like a large oar, but you can lay some massive beatdowns with it. Perhaps this a reference to when Miyamoto Musashi killed an opponent with the oar to his boat?
  • Dark Dragon Blade - A hidden weapon. To get this weapon, play through the game on "successive play" after beating it. Go back to Hayabusa Village in Chapter 13, and check the building above Mayamusa's shop. You should find it there.

As if this isn't enough, Ryu has a variety of ranged weapons that he can interweave with his melee attacks.

  • Shuriken - Small, but not very damaging. They are best used as an opening salvo before a combo, or for interrupting an enemies attack.
  • Windmill Shuriken - A large, four-bladed folding shuriken which will return like a boomerang. This can decapitate enemies. Very useful.
  • Incendiary Shuriken - A small knife with an explosive device in the tip. These hurt. A lot.
  • Bow - A bow. Duh. Can be fired from third or first person perspective.
  • Strongbow - A stronger version of the bow. The arrows follow a straight line rather than an arc, as with the original bow.
  • Explosive Arrows - Like the incendiary shuriken, but launched from the bow.
  • APFSDS Cores - Made from a titanium alloy, these arrows have superb penetration ability. "Death on a stick"

Ryu just kicks major ass in this game. Even new players are able to choreograph breathtaking fight scenes. There is just something wonderful about wall running past an RPG and leaping from the wall to decapitate the offending soldier. Ryu's defensive abilities are superb, as he is able to dodge or block everything from shuriken, to machine gun fire, to salvos of missiles. He is able to use counter-attacks to instantly switch from defensive to offensive and back with ease, making him a truly formidable combatant. He even has magical attacks, called Ninpo, which he can use in combat to supplement his physical capabilities.

Speaking of which, Ryu is not so lame as to only fight other martial artists. Oh, if only it were that simple... If I may toss in a couple of other spoilers below, here is a small list of things I have sliced-and-diced into bite-sized pieces in this game.

  • Ninjas.
  • Samurais.
  • Sai-wielding magicians.
  • Mounted spearmen and archers.
  • The living dead.
  • Pistol-wielding security guards.
  • A four hundred pound fat man in powered armor with a laser cannon. On top of an airship.
  • Infantry armed with machine guns, bayonets, and rocket launchers.
  • A Greater Fiend.
  • Two tanks. That's right. Two. Back to back.
  • A Tomahawk helicopter.
  • Colossal electrified sewer-snakes.
  • A big... thing.
  • The Lord of Hell Himself.
  • And bats. I fucking hate bats.
Did I mention that this game is hard?

Graphics

You may want to keep a roll of paper towels handy, as you will be drooling while playing this game. The animation is fluid and beautiful, and runs at a clockwork-steady 60 frames per second. The scenery and level design is nothing short of breathtaking, as you run through European cities, underground ruins, and military installations. Battles are simply amazing, as Ryu unleashes all grades of ninja-badassness on his opponents. Particle effects are common from blocked strikes, rockets, grenades, and the copious geysers of blood from Ryu's latest decapitated foe.

The CGI cutscenes are some of the best ever created, rivaling even the work done by Square in the Final Fantasy series. If one starts playing, try not to blink.

Sound

Superb. While traversing a mountain ninja monastery, you will be treated to sweeping orchestras, but while fighting in a military installation against technological enemies, the music switches to modern electronic music, helping to establish the mood of the stages. Many of the bosses have their own soundtrack. Sound effects are wonderful as well, with different sounds for different weapon impacts, the anime-style sound of steel cutting through flesh, and the realistic battle cries of Ryu as he fights his way through the Empire.

Final Thoughts

Did I mention that this game is hard? I did? Ok, good.

In the end, Team Ninja has taken the lofty ideals left behind not only by classic gaming, but by one of the most beloved classic games of all time, and created a game that not only meets, but exceeds those expectations. This game provides a challenge and experience that many of us miss from the Golden Age of video games. The new Ninja Gaiden is easily one of the best games available on any console, period.


Damn it feels good to be a ninja.

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