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Ninja Gaiden (XBOX) 10 Year Anniversary Retrospective

Two days ago was the 10th anniversary for one of the greatest action games of all-time and also in my personal top ten, which is Ninja Gaiden for the original Xbox. This was the reboot of Tecmo’s franchise that started at arcades, but more known for the three NES games. Back in 2004, character action games were starting to come on their own. Capcom’s Devil May Cry series pretty much got the genre more attention, but Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden was a whole different beast. While not focused too much on style, Ryu Hayabusa’s first foray into 3D action is deep, technical, and more importantly, difficult. The result is that Ninja Gaiden not only set new standards for the genre, but also popularized one of the industry’s more polarized developers, Tomonobu Itagaki.
Right from the beginning, Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox was no slouch in terms of challenging you. Every enemy encounter felt like a boss fight and one wrong move means a game over. The game’s deep and technical combat system with a long move list makes you work to defeat the opposition and surviving them is no easy task. Ryu definitely has offensive maneuvers that make him a badass ninja, but defense plays a big role throughout the whole game with blocking and evading. The combat feels both brutal and satisfying to the point it becomes a fighting game where outsmarting your opponents are key.
The boss fights themselves are also memorable throughout the game and most of them were cheap as hell too. I’m pretty sure most of you remembered Alma, who is still one of the most hated bosses of all-time. The difficulty was no joke in Ninja Gaiden just like the three NES games where it can take numerous tries to defeat the game’s tougher adversaries. Most of the fights in general feel like you actually need a gameplan to just survive than being lucky. Plus, if you thought the normal difficulty was hard, the harder ones as definitely there as advertised.
Ninja Gaiden not only was an amazing game from a gameplay standpoint, but also superb in terms of what is truly like to be a badass ninja. Sure, there is no stealth like the Tenchu games, but the feeling of throwing shurikens, wielding different weapons, summoning magic spells, and wall jumping with ease was something special then. Ryu Hayabusa was the total package to be a great video game character. He may lack the personality compared to other action characters such as Devil May Cry’s Dante, Kratos from God of War, and Bayonetta, but the “actions speak louder than words” approach is better suited for him.
While the gameplay and brutal difficulty were the stars of this game, it was also beautifully paced and one of the best looking games on the original Xbox. The majority of the game takes place in one overworld as Ryu navigates through military bases, ancient cities, ice caves, temples, and more. Plus it was also one of the longer character action games before developers realized to make games like these a bit shorter last generation. Ninja Gaiden did come out a little late in the Xbox’s era, but the graphics were pretty impressive for the time and ran smoothly at 60 frames per second as well.
Tecmo and Team Ninja went on provide Ninja Gaiden with numerous updates and sequels. The original 2004 game was updated the next year with Ninja Gaiden Black, arguably the best iteration of the modern series. It was later ported to the Playstation 3 and the Vita with Sigma. The sequel came out in 2008 on the Xbox 360, but never had the same impact as the original. Ninja Gaiden III followed sult with the same results and arguably was the most disappointing of the modern games. The franchise is trying to get back on track with Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, helmed by a different team led by Comcept’s Kenji Infaume. Itagaki, while outspoken during his heyday at Tecmo and Team Ninja, continues to work on Devil’s Third, which is still in development limbo. We may never see the Ninja Gaiden franchise be back to what it was back in 2004, but the Xbox original is still highly regarded as one of the best and hardest games of all-time.



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